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U.S. Troops Kill 2 Iraqis Going To Anti_Israel Protest
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Aug. 3 — American troops opened fire today on a vehicle carrying armed Shiites to an anti-Israel demonstration in Baghdad, killing two occupants and wounding at least 16, officials said.
While details of the incident remained murky late today, an American military spokesman said the occupants of the van and two other vehicles had first fired at watchtowers at an American military base near the town of Mahmudiya.
American troops responded by firing on the vehicles, killing two people and eventually capturing the van, according to the spokesman, Lt. Col. Barry Johnson.
An official at the Ministry of Interior said the vehicles’ occupants were followers of the radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, who has called for a mass demonstration on Friday against Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon.
The shooting comes at a time of rising tensions between the American military and Mr. Sadr’s organization.
In recent weeks, American and Iraqi forces have conducted a series of raids against bases of Mr. Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army, and have arrested high-ranking militia leaders.
American commanders say they are intent on destroying the country’s death squads, Sunni Arab and Shiite alike, that have fomented the sectarian violence ravaging this country.
Mr. Sadr’s militia has been blamed for many of the abductions and killings of Sunni Arabs, though officials in Mr. Sadr’s organization have denied any institutional involvement in these crimes and say they are attributable to rogue elements operating beyond of their control.
Thousands of Mr. Sadr’s supporters from Shiite-dominated cities in southern Iraq began converging on the capital today in anticipation of the rally. They boarded buses decorated with pictures of Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasralla, waved Iraqi and Hezbollah flags, and chanted “Death to America! Death to Israel!” according to news agencies.