By Elena Becatoros
BAGHDAD - An Iraqi soldier is accused of
turning on two decorated American servicemen and shooting them to death
during a joint operation in northern Iraq, the U.S. military said
Saturday. An Iraqi official may have links to militant groups.
The shooting the day after Christmas in the northern city of Mosul, which
left three other U.S. soldiers and a civilian interpreter wounded, was
the second known attack by a member of the Iraqi military on the
American troops who train and work closely with Iraqi forces.
Initial results from an Iraqi investigation indicate that the
soldier who opened fire may have inks to local militants, said Brig.
Mutaa Habib Jassim al-Khazrachi, commander of the Iraqi army's 2nd
Division, who did not elaborate.
Brig. Nour al-din Hussein, commander of the Iraqi army's 4th
Brigade, 2nd Division in Mosul said the Iraqi soldier was a Sunni from
the al-Qayara area south of Mosul city.
Parts of Mosul are considered strongholds of the Sunni
extremist group al-Qaida in Iraq.
The suspect and another Iraqi soldier were in custody, the
U.S. Military said.
The military identified the slain Americans as Capt. Rowdy J.
Inman, 38, of Panorama Village and Sgt. Benjamin B. Portell, 27,
of Bakersfield, Calif. Both were assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 3rd
Armored Cavalry Regiment and were based at Fort Hood. Inman had been
awarded the Bronze Star Medal and Portell the Army Commendation Medal.
"For reasons that are yet unknown, at least one Iraqi Army
soldier allegedly opened fire killing the two,' the U.S. Military said.
The soldier fled "but was identified by other Iraqi army
personnel" and was apprehended, it said.
The U.S. military said its investigators and the Iraqi army
were looking into the shooting.
Al-Khazrachi said the U.S. soldiers were shot during a
firefight between the joint forces and gunmen. Troops often come under
attack when moving into new areas to establish patrol bases or outposts.
The U.S. military said in April 2006 that an Iraqi soldier had been
accused of fatally shooting a U.S. Marine at a base near Qaim, 200 miles
west of Baghdad, near the Syrian border.
A memorial service was held for Inman Friday in Killeen near
Fort Hood. The career military man was a veteran of Operation Desert
Storm. He is survived by his wife, Shannon; daughters Keeley and Casey;
and a son, Gary.
Inman's sister said the family had no
comment and declined to say whether family members had been told any
details of her brother's death.
"That will all come out through the military," Paula Inman
Portell was recently married and on a second tour of duty in
Iraq, according to an obituary in the Bakersfield Californian.
"Ben was a great guy," Brian Murphy, a pastor at the
Riverlakes Community Church told the paper. "He just got married seven
months ago. It's horrible."
The paper said Portell's older brother is serving in Iraq and
a younger brother used to serve in the army and also fought in Iraq.
Iraq's national police force is widely known to be
infiltrated by Shiite militias - in the southern city of Basra, the
police chief fired 1,000 officers in December - but the army is believed
to be less prone to the phenomenon.
The U.S. and Iraqi military have been joined by predominantly
Sunni tribal groups that have turned against al-Qaida in Iraq.
On Saturday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki offered his
strongest public support to date for the U.S.-backed groups, promising
to integrate a 'large number' of them in the security forces.
The comments, in an interview published Saturday in the
London-based Arabic daily Asharq al-Aswat, came as al-Maliki returned to
Iraq after spending a week in London for what his office had described
as a routine medical check-up.
"A large number of (the groups) will be integrated by the
police and army according to health, age, academic qualifications and
criminal and security records," he said in the interview. He gave no
details. His government has said only 20,000 of the estimated 70,000
members will be absorbed into security forces.
"They contributed to security and we will continue to support
them in this respect."
Al-Maliki, a Shiite, dismissed as "deliberate distortions"
reports that his government was opposed to the predominantly Sunni
groups, but added that he wanted to protect them against infiltration.
Separately Saturday, the U.S. military, rejected reports of a
roadside bomb striking a passing minibus and killing six people north of
the town of Muqdadiyah, about 55 miles north of Baghdad. However, an
official in the joint coordination center of Diyala province and an
officer in Diyala police said the attack had occurred, and both
confirmed the casualty figure. Both officials spoke on condition of
anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media in one
of Iraq's most violent areas. It was impossible to independently
confirm either account.
Printed in the Temple Daily Telegram, Sunday,
January 6, 2008.