U.S. Soldier in Iraq Kills 5 Comrades at Stress Clinic

By Ernesto Londoño
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, May 12, 2009

BAGHDAD, May 11 -- An American soldier opened fire on comrades Monday afternoon inside a combat stress clinic at a large U.S. military base in Baghdad, killing five and wounding three in an attack that prompted officials to promise to try to ease the strain on troops deployed to war zones.

The gunman was taken into custody shortly after the 2 p.m. shooting at Camp Liberty, part of a sprawling military installation near Baghdad International Airport, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Brian Tribus said.

The military did not identify the gunman or shed light on what his motive might have been. Tribus said the gunman's name will be disclosed when and if charges are filed.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and President Obama vowed to conduct a thorough investigation.

"I would like to express my horror and deep regret for today's shooting incident," Gates said at a briefing at the Pentagon. "Such a tragic loss of life at the hands of our own forces is a cause for great and urgent concern."

Gates said the Pentagon needs to redouble its efforts to relieve the stress caused by repeated deployments in war zones with limited time at home in between.

The shooting, among the deadliest attacks on American troops in Iraq in recent months, comes as U.S. commanders are grappling with the rising rate at which service members are committing suicide. Military leaders have attributed the increase to the stress of multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Monday's attack was the deadliest incident involving a soldier opening fire on comrades since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The rampage shook up soldiers at Victory Base Compound, which includes Camp Liberty, in large part because most feel relatively safe at the heavily guarded base.

"A lot of soldiers are wondering why," said a senior military official in Baghdad, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We will be asking as leaders: What could we have done? How could we have protected the soldiers?"

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that Obama was "saddened" and "shocked" by the shootings and that the president's "heart goes out" to the families of those killed.

Obama will press Gates in a meeting Monday afternoon to investigate the shootings to "ensure we fully understand what happened," Gibbs said.

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