- The Washington Times - Friday, March 4, 2005

Friendly fire incidents by the U.S. military against coalition members trying to blend in with the local Iraqi population have increased dramatically over the past few months, according to security sources in Baghdad.

The situation has been described as “critical” by one of the private security companies taking the lead in trying to rectify the problem.

Yesterday’s incident in which U.S. troops opened fire on a vehicle carrying just-released Italian journalist and kidnap victim Giuliana Sgrena, wounding her and killing the Italian secret service agent that negotiated her release, was just the latest in a series of fatal mistakes.

In one incident in December, two vehicle convoys were fired upon by U.S. military forces at checkpoints as they headed toward the Baghdad International Airport. On the way back, they were fired on again.

In another case, a Hummer tried to take out a Mercedes. Details of that incident were not made available.

Security companies, frequently the target of terrorist attacks, now regularly travel heavily armed with their clients in beat-up cars or armor-fitted sedans so as to not attract attention.

Some security experts say that the number of incidents — which have left both dead and wounded — could be due to the recent changeover of troops.

Some of the forces scheduled to leave are so eager to go home that they fire on anything seen as a potential threat. Some of those arriving are nervous and still green — and also shoot at any vehicle or person seen as a possible threat.

Coalition forces, one company representative said in an e-mail, “must be briefed to exert greater discipline as per the Rules for the Use of Force.”

Cars traveling along a five-mile stretch of highway that crosses the capital and slices its way over to the airport are repeatedly attacked by gun-toting terrorists or hit with roadside bombs.

Although the number of the “blue-on-blue” friendly fire incidents is not public, it is high enough that security companies responsible for ferrying around officials and those working on Iraq reconstruction have called on the military to come up with a solution.

Ideas such as marking security cars or having special lines of communication have not worked — the former because the terrorists would very quickly catch on, the latter because of the logistical nightmare of trying to coordinate the hundreds of security vehicles that zip through the main cities every day.

As it is, if there are convoys of cars planning to visit a work site or offices, those involved will normally give the military a heads-up so they do not get shot up at any military checkpoints.

The military appeared stumped by the problem when it was pointed out to them three months ago.

“Going out low profile is a really bad idea now. Please give me some ideas for near and far recognition. If I were a contractor, I would come up with something the troops could readily identify,” one colonel said. “The problem will be that the bad guys will figure it out and mimic it. Not sure what the solution here is.”

Some personal security detail vehicles now use a simple system of a neon-colored sign propped up against the windshield when approaching military checkpoints — then whip it away when they leave.

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