SAMARRA, Iraq—U.S. soldiers opened fire on a festive wedding parade earlier this week, killing three teen-agers and wounding seven others after the celebrants fired weapons in the air, medical officials and survivors said Wednesday night.
The shooting, about 10 p.m. Monday, was only one of a series of deadly incidents this week that have sharply increased tension between U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians.
The incident highlights a clash of cultures. It is a popular custom in Iraq to fire weapons in the air to celebrate weddings and other festive events.
But the practice has been prohibited under a new weapons policy being enforced by U.S. troops.
Three teens remained in "very critical" condition Wednesday night, and four other young people were in stable condition, said Dr. Abdul al Rahman, who helped treat many of the victims at Samarra General Hospital in this town a 90-minute drive north of Baghdad.
A U.S. Army official, who asked that he not be identified by name, said the incident was under investigation. He said he could provide no comment Wednesday night, other than to say: "Celebratory gunfire is dangerous."
Rahman said soldiers told the hospital staff that the gunshots had provoked a deadly reaction. But one of the wounded, 17-year-old Abdul Salam Jassim, said U.S. soldiers didn't open fire until several minutes after the celebratory shooting had occurred.
Jassim suffered a gunshot wound to the abdomen that destroyed his colon, Rahman said.
In the hospital bed next to Jassim lay 12-year-old Mohammad Ahmed, with gunshot wounds to his abdomen, thighs and scrotum. "He's a child," Rahman said.
Following the shooting, the doctor said, several U.S. soldiers with rifles walked into the hospital, seeking the names of those who had been wounded. The sight of armed soldiers, so soon after the shooting, so frightened people in the hospital that some of them fled.
Rahman said, "I was very surprised. I was very afraid." What added to the tension, he said, is that the soldiers seemed "very irritable."
He and others complained that the American soldiers issued a 10 p.m-to-5 a.m. curfew one day after the shooting. The curfew, the Iraqis said, interferes with their evening prayers at Samarra's famous gold-covered mosque.
As the sun set Wednesday, 50-year-old Younis Hamid al Rifaai stood over the fresh grave of his 13-year-old son, Ahmed, one of the three teen-agers who were fatally wounded. Al Rifaai said his son had wounds in his spine, stomach and lungs.
The earthen mound over the boy's grave was still damp as al Rifaai and hundreds of men held their hands up and chanted Muslim prayers.
The boy had been invited to join the wedding celebration convoy. Most of those killed and wounded were riding in a minivan and a truck filled with young people taking part in the convoy of vehicles cruising through downtown Samarra.
As hundreds of men at the cemetery pressed in around al Rifaai Wednesday evening, he told a reporter that Samarra's people would not accept what he termed "aggression by U.S. forces." He demanded an official investigation of the tragic shootings.
When the gunshot victims arrived at the hospital Monday night, it took at least 15 doctors to treat the patients, Rahman said. "There is no reasonable cause for these deaths," he said.
He and the father of the 13-year-old who died said they had the same message for U.S. soldiers: "Enough."
(Dion Nissenbaum contributed to this report.)
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): USIRAQ-SHOOTING