Published on Saturday, January 10, 2004 by the Telegraph/UK
US Soldier 'Killed Taxi Occupants for Passing Convoy'
by Harry de Quetteville in Tikrit
Propped up in his bed at what used to be the Saddam Hussein hospital in Tikrit, few Iraqis can better testify to the potentially fatal consequences of disobeying the country's new highway code than Ibrahim Allawi Ahmed.
Wheezing slightly from a gunshot wound to his lung, Mr Ahmed, 32, a sharp-faced man from Ramadi, is the only survivor from a bullet-riddled taxi which he claims came under US fire after it tried to overtake army vehicles on a road near Tikrit.
In a country where hundreds of thousands of local drivers jostle for road space with vast military convoys, confusion, suspicion and death have replaced mirror, signal, maneuver as the rules of the road.
Frequent roadside bombs and ambushes have killed and maimed hundreds of coalition soldiers since the end of the war last April, leaving highly-armed troops on the move wary of attack, and loath to extend the courtesy of the road to fellow drivers.
"We've had incidents where drivers in cars and lorries have come up alongside convoys and launched rocket-propelled grenades at us," said Major Josslyn Aberle, at the US base in Tikrit.
For Iraqi drivers though, mile-long supply convoys trundling slowly across the immense desert landscape present a frustrating impediment, often doubling journey times.
Rather than wait, many attempt to pass the military columns, watching and waiting for a soldier astride a mounted machinegun to wave a casual "OK". But passing lines of trucks and humvees is always a tense affair, with drivers on both sides fearful of their opposite numbers.
"I was in a taxi with four other people including the driver," said Mr Ahmed.
"We were stuck behind a US convoy just outside Tikrit when the soldier on the rear vehicle lifted his hand from the trigger of his gun and clearly motioned us to pass.
"Cautiously we overtook on the right-hand side, then suddenly the gunner on the front vehicle swiveled his gun towards us and started firing."
Mr Ahmed said he ducked under the taxi's dashboard as bullets ripped through the car, killing the driver.
When he recovered consciousness the car had careered off the road.
In the back seat he found the other passengers, including a mother and her six-year-old son, had also been shot dead. "The soldier just kept firing for five to six seconds, but the convoy didn't stop for us," said Mr Ahmed. "I was hit in the lung."
Both Iraqi doctors and police have said that the taxi was indeed hit by US bullets. At the Tikrit base, an investigation is under way.
"We would love to get to the bottom of this," said Major Aberle. "We have ruled out troops from our base but it could have been another coalition convoy."
The incident is one of a series of traffic shoot-outs that are undermining the already shaky trust between coalition soldiers and Iraqis.
In wards next to the unit caring for Mr Ahmed, doctors pointed to two other patients with gunshot wounds they said were also the victims of US convoys.
"It's not just bullets," said Dr Safaa Abbas. "I've treated people from cars that have been crushed by tanks."
© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2004