BAGHDAD -- An armed confrontation between two Iraqi Army units left one soldier and one civilian dead yesterday, raising questions about the US-trained forces' ability to maintain control at a time when sectarian and ethnic tensions are running high.
The incident near Duluiyah, about 45 miles north of Baghdad, illustrates the command and control problems facing the new Iraqi Army, which the Americans hope can take over security in most of the country by the end of the year. It also shows that divisions within the military mirror those of Iraqi society at large.
The trouble started when a roadside bomb struck an Iraqi Army convoy, which police said was made up of Kurdish soldiers. Four soldiers were killed and three were wounded, police said. US military officials said one person died and 12 were wounded.
According to US and Iraqi accounts, the wounded were rushed to the US military hospital in Balad. Police said that as the Kurdish soldiers drove to the hospital, they fired weapons to clear the way, and one Iraqi Shi'ite civilian was killed.
Shi'ite soldiers from another Iraqi unit based in Balad rushed to the scene, and the Kurds decided to take their wounded elsewhere, Iraqi police said. Iraqi troops tried to stop them and shots were fired, killing one Shi'ite soldier, Iraqi police said.
The US account said an Iraqi soldier from the Third Battalion, First Brigade was killed in a ''confrontation" as the other Iraqi troops were trying to remove their wounded from the hospital. The US statement did not explain why the troops wanted to take their wounded from the best-equipped American medical facility in the country.
A third Iraqi Army unit set up a roadblock in the area and stopped the soldiers who were leaving with their wounded, the US statement said. American troops intervened at the roadblock and calmed the situation.
In Basra, gunmen killed a Sunni Arab cleric and his son as they left a Friday prayer service. It was the second assassination in three days of Sunni leaders in the predominantly Shi'ite south.
Also yesterday, the US military announced that four Marines drowned the day before when their tank rolled off a bridge and into a canal in Karmah, 50 miles west of Baghdad. Their deaths raised to 12 the number of US service members who have died in Iraq this week, according to an Associated Press count.