US and Iraqi officials are investigating the killing of two American soldiers and the wounding of nine others at an Iraqi Army base in what appeared to be the first attack on American forces since President Obama declared the end of the US combat mission.
“A preliminary review of reports from the scene indicates the attack was a deliberate attack,” the US military said in a statement about the killing at an Iraqi Army compound near the town of Tuz Kharmatu, south of Kirkuk.
An Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman who told Agence France-Presse that the shootings were the result of a sports quarrel on Tuesday retracted those remarks, increasing the likelihood that the shooting had been pre-planned.
The US military said it was trying to clarify exactly what happened when a man who appeared to be an Iraqi Army soldier opened fire on a group of soldiers protecting a US Army captain. The captain, a company commander, was meeting with counterparts from Iraq's security forces.
The gunman, who appeared to be part of an Iraqi Army commando unit, was killed when soldiers fired back.
The last US combat brigade pulled out of Iraq two weeks ago to comply with President Obama’s pledge to reduce troops here to 50,000 by Sept. 1. On that day, US forces renamed their mission here, from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn, in line with their mandate to advise and assist Iraqi forces.
The US military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, said the attack did not affect the military’s commitment to its mission of advising and assisting the Iraqi security forces.
The attack, though, coming during a meeting that is commonplace for US troops advising Iraqi security forces, was a reminder that American forces remain vulnerable despite the official end of the combat mission. The drawdown in US forces has meant much smaller groups of American soldiers working in and sometimes living on large Iraqi military bases.
American soldiers on Sunday were drawn into a major attack in Baghdad when a group of suicide bombers on a bus tried to storm one of the main Iraqi military headquarters in central Baghdad.
At least two of the six detonated suicide vests before being shot dead by American soldiers and their Iraqi counterparts stationed inside the building. At least 12 Iraqi soldiers were killed in the attack – the second within two weeks on the same compound.
A senior Iraqi official said he believe Al Qaeda and affiliated groups had been forced into retreat by Iraqi and American military operations against them, but that the attack Sunday showed the organization was adapting.
“They were young people – 16 or 17,” Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said of the suicide bombers. He told the Monitor that the attack consisted of a complex plan to ram the checkpoints with a suicide vehicle while others in suicide vests stormed the building.