- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 6, 2004

From combined dispatches

BASRA, Iraq — Iraqi police yesterday opened fire on hundreds of stone-throwing former Iraqi soldiers demanding monthly stipends promised by the U.S.-led coalition, and reporters saw at least four protesters shot in the southern town of Basra.

Near the city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, two French citizens employed by a private U.S. company were fatally shot on a road Monday night and a third was injured, the French Foreign Ministry said in Paris.

They were the first deaths of French citizens in Iraq since the U.S.-led war.

In other developments yesterday, the Associated Press reported that the U.S.-led administration in Iraq will release 506 prisoners from detention camps, while simultaneously offering bounties for 30 more Iraqis wanted in the anti-U.S. insurgency.

Coalition officials said the releases — out of about 12,800 detainees — are aimed at fostering more good will and intelligence tips, which they said have surged in the three weeks since the capture of Saddam Hussein.

Most to be released are suspected of being low-level “associates” of insurgents, and none has been involved directly in attacks, three senior coalition officials said.

The first release is to take place tomorrow, when about 100 prisoners will be freed from the sprawling, Saddam-era Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad. Further releases are expected in coming weeks from detention camps countrywide, the officials said.

The protesters in Basra marched on the Central Bank and then tried to force their way in to get money, pelting the building with stones and then turning on police, who initially tried to stop them by wielding batons. Police then opened fire.

British forces arrived on the scene and calmed the situation, using loudspeakers to say in Arabic: “You will get what you deserve, but not in this way.” They did not fire, even after one was hit in the leg by a stone.

At the hospital, officials said one ex-soldier had been killed, and relatives said they had come to claim the body of 40-year-old Abbas Kadhim, a noncommissioned officer.

Coalition spokesman Dominic D’Angelo said police and British forces based in Basra had been sent to try to calm the demonstrators.

The ex-soldiers said they had not been paid a monthly stipend equivalent to $50 since September.

The Coalition Provisional Authority had been dogged by protests by former servicemen after it disbanded Iraq’s military in May, leaving more than 250,000 ex-soldiers destitute. In one incident in June, U.S. forces killed two demonstrators when a protest turned violent. Later, authorities agreed to pay monthly stipends of $50 to $150 to rank-and-file troops of the former Iraqi army.

The funds for the payments were supposed to come from the general Iraq fund seized from the former regime. Initially, the soldiers received the payments from the coalition offices. They later were asked to collect the stipends from banks. The system gradually broke down as the money ran out amid confusion among banks.

Also yesterday, 705 Iraqi soldiers graduated in a colorful ceremony at Taji military base outside Baghdad. It was the second battalion of a reconstituted army to finish its instruction in two months. The soldiers are the core of a 40,000-strong army that officials hope to field by September.

Borzou Daragahi contributed to this article from Baghdad.

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