Iraqis in deadly clash with U.S. troops
FALLUJAH, Iraq (CNN) -- At least 15 Iraqi civilians were killed and 53 injured during a clash with U.S. troops in the town of Fallujah, Red Cross officials said Tuesday.
The clash began at around 10 p.m. Monday when up to 250 demonstrators approached members of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division, based at an elementary school, demanding they leave so classes could resume, an Iraqi telecommunications engineer said.
"That's when all hell broke loose," he said.
The engineer said his cousin was killed, his brother lost a leg and two women in his household were injured in the shooting. The fight lasted several hours, witnesses said.
U.S. Central Command said the demonstrators fired on the soldiers with AK-47s and the soldiers fired back fired in self-defense.
Some demonstrators told CNN's Karl Penhaul the soldiers fired first. Others said residents threw rocks at soldiers when tempers flared. (On the Scene: Karl Penhaul)
One U.S. Army Sergeant said he just shot at what he saw. "And what I saw was targets," he said. "Targets with weapons and they were going to harm me. It's either them or me and I took the shot, sir, and I'm still here talking to you."
A second U.S. soldier said the clash began when some of the protesters started throwing rocks at the soldiers and others started chanting.
"Then others joined in throwing rocks and others brought weapons to the party," the soldier said. "Then they started firing them -- not just into the air but toward the soldiers on top of the buildings."
U.S. troops pulled out of the school late Tuesday night.
The incident is under investigation, Pentagon officials said.
The Red Cross said at least 15 civilians were killed. Local hospital officials told CNN at least 7 civilians were dead at least 53 were wounded. Some of the families might have taken their dead to the mosque and then to the cemetery for burial, CNN's Karl Penhaul reported.
The protests Monday that led to the clash did not start as an anti-American demonstration, residents told CNN.
The gathering started at a mosque, where clerics told them it was time for the children to resume classes at the school that the U.S. soldiers had been occupying for the last few days.
Residents then left the mosque and marched on the school, demanding that the U.S. forces leave.
The Airborne Division is expected to pull out of town Tuesday or Wednesday, Penhaul said. It might be replaced by a tank unit, he added.
Fallujah, a farming community 45 minutes outside Baghdad, has not been a hotbed of anti-American sentiment, Penhaul reported. People here have mostly kept order themselves in this town of 100,000 to 150,000.