Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Two US soldiers killed in northern Iraq shooting

Two US soldiers have been killed and nine wounded in northern Iraq. The US military says they were shot by a gunman dressed in Iraqi army uniform near the town of Tuz Khormato, 210km (130 miles) north of Baghdad.

The Americans were among a group of US soldiers meeting Iraqi security forces at an Iraqi army compound. The killings are the first US military deaths since US President Barack Obama declared an end to US combat operations in Iraq on 31 August.

"Eleven US soldiers were engaged with small arms fire, killing two and wounding nine, inside an Iraqi army commando compound," a US military statement said.

"The event occurred at approximately 1550 local time (1250 GMT) when a person wearing an Iraqi army uniform opened fire on the soldiers. The assailant was shot and killed and the soldiers were medically evacuated," it added.

US military spokesman Major Lee Peters told the BBC it was not clear, at this stage whether the assailant was an infiltrator or a soldier. He added that there were no reports of Iraqi soldiers being wounded in the attack.

The last US combat brigade left Iraq nearly two weeks ago - well before the deadline set by Mr Obama to cut the number of US troops in Iraq below 50,000.

Those remaining US troops are focusing on supporting Iraqi forces, in what they call "advise and assist" missions.

Tuesday's shooting happened on just such a mission, the BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse in Baghdad reports.

And while the US military is calling this an isolated incident, and saying that joint missions will continue, the trust which has so painstakingly been built up between the Americans and their Iraqi colleagues is bound to be affected, our correspondent adds.

All US forces are due to be removed by the end of the year.

Divisions over timetable

More than 4,000 US military personnel have been killed in Iraq since the US-led invasion in March 2003.

While many Iraqis - including Prime Minister Nouri Maliki - have welcomed the withdrawal, others say they believe it is happening too soon and that the country is not ready to manage its own security.

The end to US combat operations came despite continuing violence and instability in Iraq.

Violence is down from the peak seen during the sectarian conflict in 2006-2007, although the number of civilian deaths rose sharply in July.

And in the first three weeks of August, almost daily attacks on Iraqi forces and traffic police in Baghdad and Anbar province, west of the capital, killed more than 85 people.


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