By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, September 17, 2007
BAGHDAD, Sept. 17 -- A U.S. State Department motorcade came under attack in Baghdad on Sunday, prompting security contractors guarding the convoy to open fire in the streets. At least nine civilians were killed, according to Iraqi officials.
The shootout occurred in the downtown neighborhood of Mansour at midday after an explosion detonated near the convoy, police said. In response, the security contractors "escalated the force to defend themselves," a U.S. Embassy official in Baghdad said.
Iraqi officials alleged that the response by the security company, which was not named, involved excessive force and killed innocent civilians. The Iraqi government will investigate the incident and "probably will withdraw the authority for this security company in Baghdad," said Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman.
"The security company contractors opened fire randomly on the civilians," he said. "We consider this act a crime."
Early Monday, Iraqi state television reported that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had condemned the "criminal operation" in Mansour and said he would "punish" the private security company and shut down its operations.
A Washington Post employee in the area at the time of the shooting witnessed security company helicopters firing into the streets near Nisoor Square in Mansour. Witnesses said they saw dead and wounded people on the pavement.
The U.S. Embassy official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the incident was under investigation and that he could provide no further details.
The incident punctuated a day of violence that left at least 40 people dead across Iraq, police said.
Gunmen believed to be affiliated with the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq stormed predominantly Shiite villages in Diyala province, north of Baghdad, burned more than a dozen homes and killed 18 people, said Lt. Mohammed Hokman, of the Diyala Joint Coordination Center.
A suicide bomber detonated a belt of explosives in front of a cafe in Tuz Khurmatu, 40 miles south of Kirkuk, Col. Abbas Mohammed Amin of the Kirkuk police said. The blast killed eight people and wounded 22, all of them Shiite Turkmens, he said.
The Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella organization believed to have been formed by al-Qaeda in Iraq, has pledged to increase its operations during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began this past week.
"Ramadan is always a peak period every year. None of us have any reason to believe that won't be the case again this year," Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson, chief of staff to the No. 2 commander in Iraq, said in an interview. "Hopefully we've been successful and they don't have the materials they used to have. We've put a dent in a lot of things."
Meanwhile, U.S. soldiers announced the capture of a man they believe was responsible for killing Abdul Sattar Abu Risha, the leader of a Sunni tribal movement in western Iraq and a close U.S. ally.
During a raid of three buildings west of Balad on Saturday, U.S. soldiers captured Fallah Khalifa Hiyas Fayyas al-Jumayli, also known as Abu Khamis, described in a military statement as "closely allied with senior al-Qaeda in Iraq leaders in the region."
The death of Abu Risha was a blow to U.S. efforts in Anbar province. The charismatic tribal leader, who helped form the Anbar Salvation Council last year, had risen to prominence because of his public partnership with U.S. troops and his commitment to forcing al-Qaeda in Iraq out of Anbar. He was killed Thursday when a bomb exploded outside his house in Ramadi, the provincial capital. A week earlier, he had met with President Bush and expressed his continued support for U.S. efforts in Iraq.
The U.S. military statement said Jumayli was plotting to kill other tribal leaders and allies of Abu Risha's in Anbar province. "He is also reportedly responsible for car bomb and suicide vest attacks in Anbar Province," the statement said.
U.S. soldiers continue to pursue other suspects in the bombing, said Rear Adm. Mark Fox, a U.S. military spokesman.
"We do not think the murderer acted alone," Fox told reporters in Baghdad.
U.S. and Iraqi leaders hailed the Anbar Salvation Council for reducing violence in what had been some of the deadliest terrain in the country. The enlistment of Sunnis to fight alongside American soldiers against al-Qaeda in Iraq has spread to several other predominantly Sunni areas of the country. Sunni and Shiite political leaders praised Abu Risha as a pioneer in those efforts in the face of great personal risk and said they did not expect the movement to diminish in the wake of his killing.
"The Sunni society was under the domination of al-Qaeda, and they were refusing even to condemn them," said Humam Hamoudi, a senior leader in the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, the dominant Shiite political party. "And Sunnis now are fighting al-Qaeda as the Shiites were trying to fight al-Qaeda, so the Iraqi people are united against one enemy."
Staff writer Megan Greenwell, special correspondent Naseer Nouri and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.