Confusion, fear can turn innocent interactions into violence downrange
June 26, 2008
KIRKUK, Iraq — American soldiers shot a Kirkuk man in the shoulder Sunday when he apparently approached too close to their convoy. The incident was a stark reminder that, even with improved security in many parts of Iraq, worry and confusion can lead to accidental shootings.
Rules dictate several "escalation of force" steps that Americans must follow when they feel threatened by an encroaching vehicle. Those steps range from shouting at the driver to shooting the driver if they feel their lives are in danger. Each incident, no matter the intentions, can have consequences.
Soldiers with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment were driving through Kirkuk about 9 p.m. when they heard a warning shot and turned around their convoy to investigate. A soldier fired another warning shot at a vehicle that got too close when the convoy made another U-turn.
Insurgents have used car bombs to attack the battalion’s soldiers — most recently on June 8, when a man drove a 2,000-pound bomb into a Company B patrol base, killing one soldier and wounding 18.
Nebil Jalal Hamdi called to soldiers of HHC from his taxi when they got out of their Humvees to speak to drivers who stopped after the warning shots. The soldiers initially thought he just wanted to speak with them, but then he showed them a bullet wound on his back right shoulder. Hamdi was in pain, but bleeding was minimal and his injuries did not appear life-threatening. There was no exit wound.
"We probably gained some enemies tonight," said Capt. Doug Serie, the company commander. "We’ll have to work on it."
Investigators will be reviewing the incident to determine whether the shooting was justified, he said. The soldiers on the convoy will all make sworn statements about what they saw.
Serie estimated that Hamdi was shot at a range of about 50 meters, but it’s not known whether he was shot directly or hit by a ricochet. His vehicle was facing the Humvees head-on, yet he’d been hit from behind. The rear window of his car had a bullet hole in it that Hamdi said came from the incident.
Investigators will also determine the proper amount to pay Hamdi to compensate him for his pain and suffering and the damage to his car.
"I’m sorry, man," a soldier told Hamdi after it happened. "You got to look when you see the coalition forces coming."
"I saw them, but I didn’t know there were more coming," Hamdi answered.
A medic bandaged him up on the scene, and the soldiers then escorted him to Kirkuk’s Azadi Hospital to make sure he would receive treatment that same night.
Hamdi’s cousin, who was in a car behind his taxi, asked Americans multiple times to take him to the hospital on the U.S. base here, but the soldiers insisted he go to the Iraqi hospital. Serie said treating the wounded at an Iraqi hospital avoids legal worries and eliminates any chance that a patient might falsely accuse the Americans of ill treatment.
"He’ll get good care in Azadi," Serie said. "We’ll call tomorrow — make sure he’s good at the hospital, make sure he gets back on his feet."
The company last had a similar incident nine months ago, he said. In that case, the soldiers went through each of the "escalation of force" procedures, but they killed the driver when he still wouldn’t stop.
"This is a very rare occurrence," Serie said.
And while the Sunday night incident is relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, scenes just like it occur throughout Iraq, both with American and Iraqi security forces.
In 2005, according to U.S. military stats, an average of one Iraqi civilian every day was killed in incidents at checkpoints, roadblocks or alongside convoys. That number so worried then-Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, who was the second-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq, that he ordered an internal review and new guidelines.
By 2006, the latest numbers available, the number had dropped to an average of one per week.