U.S. troops trying to quell lawlessness seven weeks after Saddam Hussein’s downfall have come under attack in several parts of central Iraq in the past few days.
A farmer said he saw a U.S. helicopter go down near Hit, 90 miles northwest of Baghdad, on Wednesday, although the crash was unconfirmed.
Another resident, 24-year-old Amer Aziz, who said he represented the young men of Hit, told Reuters the trouble began when police and American troops began a house-to-house search for guns on Wednesday morning.
“The Iraqi police were very rough with our women,” he said. “They forced their way into houses without knocking, sometimes when women were sleeping. This is a very conservative town.”
Uproar ensued in the Sunni Muslim town of 155,000 as angry residents surged into the streets, burning police cars and throwing stones and handmade grenades at the Americans.
Aziz said a parley had taken place in the afternoon, when townsfolk told the Americans to leave or face suicide attacks.
“I convinced the young men to withdraw and then the Americans withdrew,” he added.
Another young man, 26-year-old Ahmed al-Mashhadawi, said a hand grenade had been thrown at a U.S. tank as it left town. “We killed one soldier and wounded others,” he said.
The U.S. military said on Wednesday it was checking what happened in Hit, but has not confirmed any casualties.
One resident, Adnan Mizdar, said U.S. troops had fired during the clashes, wounding a 10-year-old boy and two other people. Residents said they had already left hospital.
“We are not Saddam’s men,” said a man named Abu Qasim. “Saddam is gone, but we want the occupation to end. The Americans must know they can never come back to town.”
He said the Iraqi police, who were all locals, had left with the U.S. troops. The Iraqi flag was still flying over the burned-out police station. Residents said they had taken its contents to a mosque for safekeeping.
U.S. soldiers wearing chemical suits and gas masks were deployed some five miles outside Hit on Thursday, with seven tanks and a score of military vehicles.
It was not clear why the troops had donned protective gear. No chemical or other banned weapons have been found in Iraq since the United States and Britain invaded on March 20.
A farmer said he had seen a U.S. helicopter crash about five miles from the town at about 1 p.m. on Wednesday. Another helicopter had lifted the wreckage away.
The Pentagon said on Wednesday it had no information on a media report that a U.S. helicopter had gone down in the area.
The U.S. Central Command said a U.S. soldier was killed when he came under hostile fire in Iraq on Thursday. The Centcom statement did not give the location of the shooting.
In other recent incidents, two U.S. soldiers were killed and nine wounded in an ambush near Falluja, west of Baghdad, on Tuesday. Six days earlier, American soldiers killed two Iraqis who fired anti-tank rockets at an armored vehicle in the city.
On Monday, two U.S. soldiers were killed and four wounded in two ambushes, one in Baghdad and one north of the capital.