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Last Updated: Monday, 13 September 2004, 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK
Media spotlight on Baghdad deaths
By Martin Asser
BBC News Online

Mazen Tumeisi being hit by shrapnel from the explosion of a Bradley fighting vehicle
Journalist Mazen Tumeisi is seen falling and his blood covers the lens
Sunday's bloody events on Baghdad's Haifa Street came amid some of the fiercest fighting for months in the centre of the Iraqi capital.

But though they were captured by television cameras, two very different accounts have emerged about what happened.

At least 13 people were killed and about 60 others were wounded by US helicopter fire as they milled around the burning wreckage of an American armoured vehicle that had been ambushed by insurgents early in the morning.

News footage shows a few dozen curious Iraqis standing around the Bradley Fighting Vehicle just before the missile strike.

In the foreground, Mazen Tumeisi, a Palestinian working for two Saudi-owned TV networks, al-Arabiya and al-Ikhbariya, is preparing to be recorded on camera as he describes the scene.

After evacuating the wounded, air support destroyed the Bradley fighting vehicle to prevent looting and harm to the Iraqi people
First US military statement
Suddenly a big explosion engulfs the street in smoke. Tumeisi collapses. The lens is spattered with his blood.

As the camera swings around wildly, the fatally wounded journalist can be heard groaning his last words: "I'm going to die. I'm going to die. Seif [his cameraman]. Seif. I'm going to die."

As well as Tumeisi, two children - very possibly the ones smiling at the camera moments earlier - were among the dead.

Fierce fighting

According to media reports, the fighting started at about 0440 (0040 GMT) in Haifa Street, a notorious snipers' alley on the west bank of the Tigris that is out of US military control.

The Bradley was hit by a roadside bomb after it had raced to the scene following mortar bombs being launched at the nearby Green Zone, seat of the Iraqi government and US forces.

Crowds gather around destroyed Bradley armoured vehicle in Haifa Street
Some people were celebrating the attack, others were curious onlookers
Gun battles reportedly raged around the wreck for about an hour. The attackers fired on the American rescue crew as they evacuated the stricken vehicle.

The fighting had clearly died down by the time the journalists arrived before 0800.

Press photographers took pictures of the wreck and the Iraqis around it, including young men waving the flag of Abu Musab Zarqawi's al-Qaeda-linked group Tawhid and Jihad. One youth climbed onto the Bradley and thrust the flag pole down the narrow barrel of its 25mm gun.

Most of the onlookers did not appear to be celebrating the "kill", just standing around curiously staring at the burning wreck.

I went back to the scene to help the wounded people when the helicopter fired again and I was hit in the chest
Alaa Hassan
The first reports of the helicopter attack came at 0756. As well as two missiles, the aircraft directed machine-gun fire at the crowd, reports say.

As the smoke cleared, people carried away the injured, leaving scattered shoes, pools of fresh blood and debris littering the street.

"We were standing near the destroyed vehicle when the helicopter started firing, so we rushed to safety in a nearby building," said 24-year-old Alaa Hassan from his hospital bed.

"I went back to the scene to help the wounded people when the helicopter fired again and I was hit in the chest."

'To prevent looting'

The official US military statement significantly shortens the timescale of events as reported by separate international news agencies.

Instead of three hours after the ambush, when the people on the scene were mainly curious locals and journalist, the US says the helicopter strike was at 0730, 40 minutes after the Bradley was attacked at 0650.

Map of Baghdad, showing Haifa Street
In the first explanation of events offered by the US military early on Sunday evening, the helicopter was said to have blown up the wrecked Bradley "to prevent looting and harm to the Iraqi people".

A second explanation came a few hours later suggesting that air support had been called in by the Bradley crew to prevent looting, but the helicopters were fired on from the ground.

"Clearly within the rules of engagement, the helicopters returned fire destroying some anti-Iraqi forces in the vicinity of the Bradley," the US statement said.

In a phone call from Baghdad on Monday, the US military was unable to clarify why none of the TV footage or press pictures showed armed people at the scene or recorded any gunfire.

As for the discrepancies in the times of events - the military spokesman told BBC News Online that the US timings were "approximate".

Media toll

It is not the first time al-Arabiya has lost journalists through US fire in Iraq. Correspondent Ali al-Khatib and cameraman Ali Abdelaziz were shot at a US checkpoint in March.

But the attack on Haifa Street could be significant, as it took place in the full glare of the media spotlight and it seems likely to further increase Iraqi anger at the effects on the civilian population of US military action.

There was no warning not to be there, and definitely civilians and journalists will go to a place like this to see what has happened
Arabiya editor Nabil Khatib
Tumeisi is the fourth Palestinian to be killed since the US invasion. Mazen Dana, a Reuters cameraman from Hebron, was also shot and died while his camera was running.

Arabiya's main rival station, al-Jazeera has lost staff in Iraq as well. In each case the dead men's employers have lodged complaints about the circumstances of the deaths with the US military, but no action has been taken.

"The American explanation raises more questions than it answers," Arabiya executive editor Nabil Khatib told BBC News Online.

Mr Khatib, who has asked for a more information from the US military, is particularly concerned that Mazen Tumeisi seemed to have been standing more than 50 metres from the wrecked Bradley.

"We can't call it a mistake, but we cannot say that Mazen Tumeisi was deliberately targeted," he said.

"What we can say is that it was irresponsible to attack this place.

"There was no warning not to be there, and definitely civilians and journalists will go to a place like this to see what has happened."

The BBC's Caroline Hawley reports from Baghdad
The report shows pictures of an American helicopter strike

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