U.S. officials on Monday rejected Iraqi accounts of the grisly deaths of two U.S. soldiers over the weekend, an attack that raised fears of a new level of anti-American violence.
A knowledgeable American official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the troops died of gunshots in a surprise ambush, which took place on a congested street in the middle of the day Sunday. He added that their throats were not cut nor were they otherwise mutilated, as some reports had suggested.
"It was by no means a Mogadishu scene," said the official, referring to the dragging of dead U.S. servicemen through the Somali capital's streets in 1993 after a gun battle with warlords. "There were no throats slit."
The soldiers were shot, then pulled from their sport utility vehicle in west Mosul, the largely Arab part of the multiethnic city, the official said. It was unclear whether the attackers or passersby pulled them out, or some combination of the two. All their valuables were stolen.
"The bodies were shot up and had been dragged out of the vehicle, but that was about it," said the official, who said he could not be named because the matter remained under investigation.
The major inconsistency between the official's account and that of witnesses and residents was the time it took for other U.S. soldiers to arrive on the scene. The official said a response team found the vehicle and bodies within five to 10 minutes, after an Iraqi policeman reported it to a U.S. compound. People on the street said U.S. troops did not arrive for 60 to 90 minutes after the shooting.
In addition, several witnesses said that one soldier's throat had been cut with a knife and both servicemen were struck with stones. The official, however, said a soldier suffered a grazing gunshot wound that may have led some in the crowd to believe his throat had been cut.
It appears the soldiers had no opportunity to return fire. The official said it was unclear whether their weapons were recovered, although witnesses said the weapons were taken by onlookers.
Another U.S. source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, offered more details on how investigators think the attack occurred. This official said that a car stopped in front of the soldiers' vehicle and that several assailants got out and opened fire. The soldiers, both male, were shot through the windshield and died of wounds to the head, the official said.
There was no evidence of mutilation and their throats were not slashed, he said. U.S. troops arrived to secure the area within 10 minutes. Rocks were apparently thrown at the vehicle, breaking the rear window, but it was unclear whether this happened after the soldiers were slain.
"Locals apparently pulled the bodies from the vehicle and stripped them of their personal effects," he said, indicating that their weapons may have been taken as well. The pair were surprised and had no time to fire back, the official said.
The Pentagon identified the dead as Command Sgt. Maj. Jerry L. Wilson, 45, of Thomson, Ga., and Spc. Rel A. Ravago IV, 21, of Glendale. The deaths brought to 431 the number of Americans reported killed since the war began March 20.
It is standard procedure for U.S. soldiers in Iraq to travel in convoys of at least three vehicles, and Army investigators said they didn't know why the men were traveling alone.
At the time, traffic was heavy because of a long line at a gasoline station about 200 yards away. Gasoline lines have returned to Iraq in recent weeks amid an apparent shortage caused by electricity outages at refineries as well as sabotage.
The attack took place on Ras Jadda Street, a grim road in an industrial-commercial district interspersed with low-income apartments just to the west of downtown Mosul.
According to Adnan Khalid, a 25-year-old university student near the scene Monday morning, the first thing residents heard was a series of gunshots about 11:30 a.m. Then they saw a white Toyota Land Cruiser with two uniformed soldiers crash into a concrete wall at the bottom of the road, where it curves sharply.
Fahmi Hanna, a 60-year-old proprietor of a plumbing supply shop, said he heard the shots and turned to see people fleeing. After the shooting ended, he said, a large group of young men made their way to the car and looted it. They apparently abused the soldiers' remains by throwing rocks at them and at their car. However, Hanna said, he did not want to look. "This was really too bad," he said. "These were human beings."
Rather than speak about the killings, residents on the street mostly wanted to complain about what they called rough treatment by U.S. soldiers in the aftermath of the shooting.
According to several locals, the street was cordoned off and residents were ordered into the street. Some allegedly were made to stand or sit until nightfall while soldiers shouted and questioned them.
"They arrested me and put their shoes on my back and started to insult me in their way of talking, although I have no idea about their language. But I could feel it," said Abdullah Ahmed, a 17-year-old student.
"I saw my family get the same treatment. For example, my mother was outside without slippers and even my two younger sisters had to stand there all day, and they could not even prepare our food to break the [Ramadan] fast. There is no mercy in their behavior toward us."
Mohammed Jassem Rashidi, a local merchant, said he was upset by what happened, but noted that frustration with the occupation has been mounting. "Some awful things happen," he said, "but in general all the people want peace and stability."
Daniszewski reported from Mosul and McDonnell from Baghdad.