- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2008

BAGHDAD (AP) — An Iraqi soldier fatally shot two American troops while they were patrolling together north of the capital, the U.S. military and an Iraqi official said yesterday. The Iraqi official said the suspect has links to militant groups.

Three other U.S. soldiers and a civilian interpreter were wounded in the Dec. 26 attack, the military said. The shooting occurred as American and Iraqi soldiers were trying to establish a combat outpost in Ninevah province in northern Iraq.

According to Brig. Mutaa Habib Jassim al-Khazrachi, commander of the Iraqi army’s 2nd Division, an initial investigation has indicated that the Iraqi soldier has links to local militant groups.

Brig. al-Khazrachi said the shooting occurred in eastern Mosul as American and Iraqi troops were in a firefight with gunmen.

The Iraqi soldier who purportedly opened fire fled but was identified by other Iraqi army personnel and captured, the military said. Two Iraqi soldiers are being held in connection with the shooting, the military said.

The U.S. military identified the two Americans killed as Capt. Rowdy Inman and Sgt. Benjamin Portell, both assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.

Sgt. Portell, 27, was from Bakersfield, Calif., and Capt. Inman, 38, was from Panorama Village, Texas. Both were stationed at Fort Hood in Texas.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, meanwhile, offered his strongest public support to date for U.S.-backed Sunni Arab groups that have joined the fight against al Qaeda, promising to integrate a “large number” of them in the security forces.

The comments, in an interview published yesterday in the London-based Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat, came as the Shi’ite prime minister returned to Iraq after spending a week in London for what his office described as a routine medical checkup.

In the interview, Mr. al-Maliki said: “A large number of them (Sunni groups) will be integrated by the police and army according to health, age, academic qualifications and criminal and security records.” He gave no details, but his government has said only 20,000 members of Sunni militias will be absorbed in security forces.

In violence yesterday, a roadside bomb struck a passing minibus about 56 miles north of Baghdad, killing six persons, said an official in the joint coordination center of Diyala province — which remains one of Iraq’s most violent areas.

In the province’s capital, Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad, another roadside bomb wounded three civilians, police said.