- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 18, 2003

BAGHDAD — An American soldier fired into a hostile crowd of former Iraqi soldiers as they surged toward the headquarters of the U.S. occupation authority here demanding back pay, killing two demonstrators.

In another part of Baghdad, two assailants shot and killed an American soldier at close range and wounded a second serviceman in a drive-by shooting at a propane-gas station, the second killing of a U.S. soldier in Baghdad this week. No further details about the soldiers or their attackers were available last night.

The incidents highlighted the escalating tensions between the Iraqis and Americans here, as tempers soar amid daily hardships such as a lack of electricity for fans and air conditioners in 115-degree heat.

“We had a larger demonstration of [former Iraqi] soldiers here last month,” said 1st Sgt. Alec Lazore of the 1st Armored Division.

“But these people were 100 percent more aggressive. We pulled out the fixed bayonets, which is usually the last resort, and they unbuttoned their shirts,” as though to dare the soldiers to stab them, Sgt. Lazore said.

About 1,000 soldiers had gathered in the intense heat at the headquarters of the U.S. civilian administration, demanding back wages and new jobs. The former soldiers, thrown out of work with the collapse of the regime of Saddam Hussein, have become an increasingly intense source of unrest for U.S.-led coalition forces here.

The group hurled large stones at a military police convoy that rolled up to the checkpoint, and began swarming and rocking the vehicles.

Though the checkpoint’s soldiers fired warning shots, the crowd continued to swarm the street across from the post, which was ringed by barbed wire. A soldier inside the convoy shot into the crowd, killing two.

“One demonstrator pulled out a weapon and began shooting,” said a statement from Central Command hours after the incident. “U.S. forces responded, killing two of the demonstrators.”

Another demonstration is planned for this morning, said several frustrated former soldiers. Many said they would bring their weapons.

“We need a leader, a big American officer to tell us what to do,” said Hussein Kabul Hussein, a soldier for 13 years. “Tell us where we are going.”

Many others said they wanted the Americans to pay their salaries and then leave Iraq immediately.

Soldiers said they gathered after officials at a pension office told them they would be paid there yesterday morning. One soldier said a newspaper article urged the soldiers to turn up for back pay.

The grassy square across the street from the main entrance of the provisional authority’s compound has been the site of regular demonstrations over the last two months, as Iraqis quickly came to appreciate their post-Saddam freedom to assemble and protest.

U.S. military and civilian officials speak carefully of preserving the right of Iraqis to express their grievances, but they note that the demonstrations are frequently getting out of control.

On Tuesday, L. Paul Bremer, the American who heads the Coalition Provisional Authority and the de facto ruler of Iraq, said the authority had issued an edict outlawing public speech or writing that incites violence against the coalition or various ethnic or religious groups.

But that order, which has been criticized by human-rights groups, has not stemmed the frustration many Iraqis feel.

Baghdad residents still suffer from unreliable electricity and gas shortages in a country that has the world’s second-largest proven oil reserves.

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