By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
BAGHDAD, June 23 -- Two U.S. soldiers were killed and three were wounded Monday when a council member opened fire on them after a meeting in a small town south of Baghdad, the U.S. military said.
An Iraqi interpreter also was wounded in the shooting in Salman Pak Nahia, which is about 20 miles south of Baghdad, said Capt. Charles Calio, a U.S. military spokesman.
Two Salman Pak residents identified the assailant, who was killed, as council member Raed Hmood Ajil.
Residents Rafi Suleiman, 39, and Abu Dawood said in phone interviews that Ajil, a Sunni tribal leader, opened fire on the soldiers without provocation.
Suleiman said the soldiers were in town for the opening of a park built with U.S. funds.
Also Monday, the U.S. military announced that a Canadian man working as an interpreter for the U.S. military in Iraq was sentenced to five months of confinement after pleading guilty in the stabbing of a colleague in February.
The contractor, Alaa "Alex" Mohammad Ali, was the first civilian prosecuted since a 2006 amendment to the Uniform Code of Military Justice allowed the military to court-martial civilian contractors.
According to the military, Ali stabbed another contractor with a knife at a military facility on Feb. 23 near Hit, in western Iraq. A judge dropped the most serious charge filed against him, aggravated assault, after Ali agreed to plead guilty to obtaining a knife without permission, disposing of the weapon after the assault and lying to military investigators.
Civilians working for the U.S. government in Iraq were exempt from prosecution under military and Iraqi law for several years. That immunity, which has long been controversial, sparked anger among Iraqis last September after employees of Blackwater Worldwide, a private security company, opened fire on civilians in Baghdad, killing 17.
The FBI sent a team of agents to Baghdad to investigate the shooting. None of the guards has been charged.
During a visit to Maysan province in southern Iraq, where the government launched a crackdown against militias last week, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Monday expressed concern about the situation in Diyala province.
On Sunday, a suicide bomber killed 15 people in Baqubah, the capital of Diyala. In a town north of the provincial capital, 10 members of an Awakening Council, or armed neighborhood watch group, were killed when their office was attacked with mortars Sunday night, according to Lt. Gen. Abdul Kareem al-Rubaie, the commander of the province's security operations center.
Maliki lauded the work of Iraqi security forces in Maysan, a stronghold of anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Few clashes have been reported in the province since hundreds of Iraqi troops were deployed there last week.
The government announced Monday that political parties and religious organizations that have been squatting in government buildings in Maysan will be evicted. Maj. Gen. Mohammad al-Askary, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, said the first building on the list would be the local Dawa party headquarters. Maliki belongs to the party.
Special correspondents Saad al-Izzi and K.I. Ibrahim contributed to this report.