BAGHDAD, (Reuters) – An Iraqi soldier opened fire on U.S. troops during a joint patrol in the northern city of Mosul on Dec. 26, killing two and wounding three others along with a civilian interpreter, Iraqi and U.S. officials said on Saturday.
U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel James Hutton said it was not clear why the Iraqi soldier had opened fire, but two Iraqi generals told Reuters the attacker had links to Sunni Arab insurgent groups and had been detained. “The incident occurred as U.S. and Iraqi army soldiers were conducting operations to establish a combat outpost,” he said.
It is believed to be the first reported incident in which an Iraqi soldier has deliberately killed U.S. servicemen since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
In response, the Iraqi army has tightened screening of new recruits in the 2nd Division, which controls the Mosul region, and is carrying out more thorough background checks on serving soldiers, the generals said.
U.S. and Iraqi troops have been conducting joint patrols as part of a new U.S. counter-insurgency strategy to curb sectarian violence and improve the capabilities of Iraq’s military, which will take over more security responsibilities as U.S. forces begin to withdraw from Iraq.
A U.S. military statement on Dec. 28 on the deaths said Captain Rowdy J. Inman, 38, of Panorama Village, Texas, and Sergeant Benajmin B. Portell, 27 of Bakersfield, California had died from wounds suffered from hostile small arms fire.
The commander of the Iraqi army’s 2nd Division, Brigadier-General Mutaa al-Khazraji, told Reuters the men were killed during a joint patrol by Iraqi and U.S. troops in Hermat in western Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad. “They (the patrol) was attacked by gunmen and the soldier abused the situation and killed the two soldiers. The soldier was an insurgent infiltrator,” Khazraji said.
Brigadier General Noor al-Din Hussein, commander of the Iraqi Army’s 4th Brigade, 2nd Division, told Reuters: “The shooting was deliberate. It was not an accident.”
The two U.S. servicemen were from the 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, III Corps, Fort Hood, Texas.
Local media reported that the Iraqi soldier killed the two men after he saw them flirting with women earlier in the day, but Khazraji denied this saying they had been operating in a largely deserted area.