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Rym Brahimi: U.S. more open about mistakes in Iraq

CNN's Rym Brahimi
CNN's Rym Brahimi

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The commander of U.S. ground forces in Iraq told reporters Thursday that Army commanders had apologized to Shiite Muslim leaders in Baghdad's Sadr City for an incident that triggered an angry demonstration.

CNN correspondent Rym Brahimi discussed the tense situation with CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

BRAHIMI: Basically this is what happened. Yesterday there was an incident in which a helicopter was seen flying low over a communications tower where a religious Shia Muslim flag was standing.

Eyewitnesses say somebody from that U.S. military helicopter was trying to remove the flag. Now, that incident triggered massive protests. In the protests there was gunfire between U.S. forces on the ground and Iraqi civilians. We don't know who shot whom ... -- the U.S. forces say they shot back at Iraqis firing at them. Nobody was actually there to see. We have no independent confirmation of any of this. We do know, however, it led to the death of one Iraqi that the U.S. says was firing rocket-propelled grenades and four others were wounded.

The U.S. did issue an apology, and did say there was no policy to tear down religious flags, that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who briefed reporters about the incident, said they realized this was something important, it wouldn't happen again.

But nobody really understood what the helicopter was doing there in the first place, alone without a second helicopter that usually patrols the skies, or why it was low-flying next to communication tower when tension lines were so close.

Still questions there.

What's more interesting, is the fact that the U.S. military is maybe becoming more open about those mistakes, acknowledging that there have been mistakes, if you look at the bigger picture, looking at other incidents such as those that have taken place at checkpoints where civilians have been killed because they didn't know a checkpoint was there.

Now, Lt. Gen. Sanchez said that when U.S. troops make mistakes, it will be taken care of basically by investigating what happened and also offering compensation in certain cases, although that, again, is not very clear.

They will also work to improve the situation as, again, in the situation with checkpoints. But maybe if you look at the bigger picture, improvements at the scale of checkpoints like this on a day-to-day level would do a lot to improve the credibility of the United States that has suffered in recent months in Iraq.

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