Concerned citizen’s shots precede firefight
December 6, 2007
JURF AS SAHKIR, Iraq — An Iraqi man was seriously injured after a “concerned citizen” and others fired at U.S. soldiers at a checkpoint Tuesday night.
Nine 3rd Infantry Division soldiers, an Iraqi policeman and an interpreter arrived at about 10 p.m. on a routine patrol about two miles from Patrol Base Jurf when the concerned citizen fired a shot at them, soldiers said Wednesday morning.
Concerned citizens are paid by U.S. forces to man checkpoints, patrol neighborhoods and keep them free of insurgents — although some were once insurgents themselves. The program is credited by many U.S. commanders for quelling violence at towns throughout Iraq.
The concerned citizen apologized to the soldiers from Company A, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry, 4th Brigade. But two minutes later, AK-47 fire erupted from nearby houses and a farther away palm grove.
The checkpoint stood in front of the soldiers and barbed wire blocked their right side. They had a fence and a four-foot embankment on their left.
“If I were going to set up an ambush, that would have been a perfect spot,” said Staff Sgt. Marcus Coe, of New Port Richey, Fla.
The soldiers went down the embankment and rolled into ditches when the concerted fire began.
A man with an AK-47 walked up his driveway about 15 feet away from the soldiers and fired, soldiers said.
When Pfcs. Jeremy Hughes and Kenneth Purvis returned fire, the gunman stumbled back toward the house.
Shortly after, another man with an AK-47 came around the other side.
Purvis then fired three shots, one of which hit the Iraqi man.
“I was scared, but my training took over and I did what I had to do,” said Purvis, of Myrtle Creek, Ore., who was experiencing his first firefight.
The gunfire continued for about two minutes, soldiers said.
When it died down, the Iraqi policeman and three local residents dragged the wounded man to the soldiers for medical care.
Pfc. William Furgason, of Port Richey, Fla., treated the wounds and said the man also had a punctured lung.
Jurf As Sakhr, a town of about 20,000, used to be firmly in the hands of anti-coalition forces.
However, that changed about eight months ago under Sheik Sabbah Al-Janabi, who united the other sheiks and has worked diligently to rid the town of al-Qaida in Iraq, U.S. commanders say.
Sabbah, who has authority over the concerned citizens, later apologized to the soldiers for the Tuesday night incident.
Soldiers say they aren’t sure whether the fight was a deliberate attack on the unit or whether it was a case of locals getting trigger happy.
“We were in a well-lighted area and hard not to recognize,” said Staff Sgt. Mark Matekovic of Houston.
Despite the incident, relations have been relatively good and Matekovic said he hopes that progress toward reviving the town will continue.