U.S. helicopters targeting insurgents mistakenly killed at least five allied Kurdish militiamen in the northern city of Mosul early Friday. The military also reported three more American soldiers killed in combat, pushing the U.S. death toll to 33 in the first eight days of the month.
Officials said the Kurds were killed about midnight as they guarded a branch of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a political party led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, a key supporter of U.S. efforts in Iraq.
The U.S. military said the strike was launched after American ground forces spotted armed men in a bunker near a building they thought was being used to make bombs for al-Qaida in Iraq. The troops called out in Arabic and Kurdish telling the men to put down their weapons and also fired warning shots before the helicopters opened fire, the military said.
Five men later determined to be Kurdish police officers were killed and nine others were detained, the U.S. military said, offering condolences to the families of those who died. Kurdish officials put the casualty toll at eight killed and six wounded.
Kurdish lawmaker Mahmoud Othman denounced the airstrike. "This is not a good sign for the new security plan that they (U.S. forces) have started," he said.
However, a spokesman for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, Azad Jundiyan, said the party realized the airstrike was a mistake. "We are allied with the coalition; it was a friendly fire incident, not an intentionally hostile act," he said.
Jundiyan identified the dead as peshmerga — Kurdish militiamen who once battled Saddam Hussein's regime. Many peshmerga have been incorporated into the Iraqi army since the U.S.-led invasion.
The incident far from Baghdad underlined a rise in violence in northern Iraq, where it is feared some insurgents are fleeing to avoid the security crackdown in the capital.
U.S. and British forces also face mounting casualties as they step up their presence to shore up Iraqi forces.
So, the cowboys continue to fire up their "allies."
UPDATE: From the NYTimes:
An American military helicopter killed as many as nine Kurdish militia fighters early Friday in the northern city of Mosul when the aircraft mistakenly attacked a guard post.
The guard post protected the local offices of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the political party of the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani. The attack stunned Patriotic Union officials, whose leadership and militia are close allies of United States forces. They said their base and the surrounding guard posts were well known to the American military in Mosul.
“Everybody knows that it is a P.U.K. base and is used for protecting the main road between Mosul and Erbil,” said Kabir Goran, a senior Patriotic Union official, who added that the guard post was less than a mile from the party offices. “We have daily contacts with the Americans and they have been to the base.”
An aide to Mr. Talabani said he had asked the American military for information about the mistake.
The United States command in Baghdad said American troops erroneously believed that they had identified insurgents near the hide-out of a bomb-making cell linked to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia. The command said the strike killed five Kurds, described as policemen; Kurdish officials said as many as nine were killed.
[ . . . ]
The American helicopter attack in Mosul struck members of a militia force that is a crucial ally of the United States. The Kurds and their fighters, known as pesh merga, live in mountainous northeastern Iraq, but their control extends west to the Tigris River and Mosul, a city of close to two million. Sunni Arabs make up most of western Mosul, but Kurds dominate the eastern half.
In a statement, the American military said that after observing armed men near the guard post, American troops fired warning shots and called out in Arabic and Kurdish for the men to put down their arms.
An American helicopter then “observed hostile intention” and fired on the guard post. The military statement did not describe specifically what the soldiers saw the Kurdish troops do. But it said that as the helicopter attacked, American ground troops took fire from the bunker. Kurdish officials said six other pesh merga were wounded, some cared for later by American troops.
The Americans were in a helicopter, and therefore better able to see their target than in a jet--even though they could clearly see the British convoy they fired up back in 2003--and what, exactly, does it mean to "fire warning shots?" I mean, if you're in Mûsil and you hear shots, how do you know if they're warning or not? What, exactly, does it mean to "observe[d] hostile intention?" Why was "hostile intention" not specifically described?
According to the LATimes, the Americans claim the pêşmerge fired on US forces, while the IHT quotes a pêşmerge survivor of the American attack as saying that the Kurds did not fire "so we wouldn't be considered terrorists — we did not even shoot a bullet."
The LATimes reports a Mûsil resident's account of the attack:
Ali Sourchi, a 30-year-old grocer, said he had been watching a movie shortly before midnight when the power suddenly went out. He went outside to check his generator and saw the airstrike. He fled inside, fearing what might happen next, he said.
"Sounds of the bombings continued until 2 a.m.," he said. "In the morning, we found stone and rubble where the guards' position used to be."
Therefore the Americans fired on the checkpoint for some 2 hours, reducing it to rubble. The LATimes report continues with a statement from a member of the Kurdish security forces saying, "We are not satisfied with an apology."
From the IHT:
There have been accidental attacks on pesh merga fighters before, according to Mahmoud Othman, an influential Kurdish member of the Iraqi national assembly. But he said that they have not caused frictions between Kurdish and American forces, and he predicted that the incident Friday would not do so either.
"Many of these things have happened in the past four years — it's quite unfortunate," Othman said. "But I don't think it will seriously affect any relations."
But it ought to seriously affect relations.
The Americans are behaving like cowards because "insurgents" have downed five American helicopters in three weeks and they are deliberately vague in their explanation of the attack on Kurds in an attempt to hide their cowardice. They'd be in a world of hurt if they had to engage in a real war.
This is the second known friendly fire incident against Kurds by the Americans. If there were a free and independent media in South Kurdistan, we'd have news of other friendly fire incidents. With the exposure of such cowardice and carelessness on the part of the Americans, there would be a good chance of creating "frictions" that would force the Americans to end their wanton killing of friendly forces.
No more cooperation.