In Mosul, Americans felled by rogue Iraqi soldier

Mosul-shooting.jpg

Red Platoon, K Troop, 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment on the morning of Nov. 12, before the shooting that claimed the lives of two American soldiers. They are accompanied by Iraqi National Police. Photo by Wes Morgan.

MOSUL, Iraq: It is known as one of western Mosul’s worst neighborhoods. Levels of violence across the city have decreased since the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment arrived here a year ago, yet in Zanjili, it is still common for American and Iraqi patrols to be attacked, whether with small-arms fire or rocket-propelled grenades.

But when hostile fire tore through a group of soldiers from the regiment’s 3rd “Thunder Squadron” at an outpost in Zanjili last Wednesday, Nov. 12, it came not from insurgents but from an Iraqi soldier, Private Barazan Muhammad Abdullah al Hadidi. With a squad’s worth of American soldiers clustered in the courtyard of the outpost, which was manned by Iraqi Army and National Police troops, Barazan opened fire at about 11:30 a.m., first firing one shot and then a long automatic burst.

By the time Barazan fell to American fire a few seconds later, a cavalry trooper lay dead and seven more had been wounded, one mortally.

Specialist Steven Bullock, who was shot in the leg, recalled that his platoon’s senior enlisted member, Sergeant First Class David Neuzil, was the first to return fire. “Neuzil turned around, thinking that first shot was a negligent discharge, and as he turned around and he started shooting the guy, he realized that it wasn’t an ND, he was shooting us,” said Bullock. “He shot the guy and Specialist [David] Ashley put two mags into him.” As the firing died down, First Lieutenant. Christopher Hayne, one of two platoon leaders on site, called for backup.

Within minutes of the evacuation of the casualties, additional American troops began to arrive at the site to secure it and try to piece together what had happened. Soldiers from Thunder Squadron’s Lightning Troop responded from another nearby outpost, and the squadron commander, Lieutenant Colonel Keith Barclay, arrived with his security detail at about the same time. Advisors attached to the Iraqi brigade in the area responded as well.

By the time Captain Justin Harper, the commander of Killer Troop, arrived “It seemed like a cast of thousands,” all focused on securing the site and untangling what had happened, he recalled.

Citing anonymous Iraqi military and police sources, some early press reports suggested that American troops at the outpost had provoked the attack by slapping or spitting on Barazan.

In the minutes after the attack, while more cavalry troopers rushed in from waiting Humvees to treat the wounded and carry them to Bradley fighting vehicles, no visible evidence suggested that an altercation had occurred. Barazan’s corpse, close to the entrance to a room off the courtyard, was separated from the nearest American body, that of Specialist Corey Shea, by a distance of about ten feet.

In the ensuing days, soldiers who were present in the courtyard and were not evacuated from Iraq denied that they or any of their comrades who were killed or wounded provoked the shooting. All agreed that Barazan was not in the courtyard when they came in; most said they did not notice him until he started firing.

“When we entered the compound, I couldn’t see any IA [Iraqi Army] or IP [Iraqi Police] in there, except the commander, who was in his office,” said Bullock. “From what I could see there was nobody else in there.” Neuzil, one of two platoon sergeants who were in the courtyard and returned fire, agreed.

Officers of Thunder Squadron say that their investigation into the Zanjili shooting, which will be released later this week, confirms the soldiers’ story. According to Harper, the commander of Killer Troop, the investigation revealed that Barazan had been outside manning a checkpoint when the American troops arrived, but then went inside, where he loaded his rifle with a large drum magazine before stepping into the courtyard and immediately opening fire.

Asked why Barazan opened fire, surviving soldiers were at a loss. “They seemed like some of the more squared-away Iraqis we’ve worked with,” recalled Pfc. Jared Viano, a machine-gunner who was in the courtyard but was not hit.

Some soldiers said they believed that the shooter was an insurgent infiltrator, on a deliberate mission. Neuzil went further, suggesting that Barazan had taken drugs before the attack, as insurgents in Iraq sometimes do before mounting suicide attacks. “This is my second tour in Iraq and I’ve never seen somebody take that many bullets and continue to operate,” Neuzil said. “There was definitely something wrong with that guy, or not normal.”

An officer of Thunder Squadron who looked into Barazan’s background and spoke with other soldiers in his unit said that he had no known connections to the insurgency, and had served in his battalion for four years. According to Barclay, the squadron commander, there was no evidence to suggest that drugs played a role, either.

Instead, the officer suggested that Barazan may have been mentally ill or disturbed. He had been wounded in action several times.

“When I came back here, they kept asking if he was an Iraqi soldier,” Neuzil said, “and I kept saying the guy was wearing a uniform but I’m not sure if he was an Iraqi soldier, because I didn’t want to believe that an Iraqi soldier would do that to us.”

But Thunder Squadron is no stranger to “green-on-blue” shootings, as the military calls cases of violence between Iraqi and American troops. In an eerily similar incident last January, an Iraqi soldier at a newly constructed outpost in northwestern Mosul opened fire on American troops, wounding three of them and killing two more, including Captain Rowdy Inman, the commander of the squadron’s Ironhawk Troop.

In that instance, the shooter initially managed to escape the scene, sparking an exhaustive investigation.

Read more on this story at The New York Times’ Baghdad Bureau.

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