The U.S. apologized for the accident but some say there will be a retaliation.

FALLUJAH, Iraq – With gunfire and angry chants against America, Iraqis on Saturday buried eight security officers who were mistakenly killed by U.S. soldiers.

The funerals occurred hours after the U.S. military expressed “deep regret” for the incident. The apology failed to quell the rage that has built up in Fallujah, a bastion of resistance to U.S. occupation 30 miles west of Baghdad.

Many of the mourners talked of retaliation against U.S. forces for what they described as a deliberate act.

“They will retaliate,” predicted Yasser Jasim Mohammed, 22, an Iraqi police officer. “Our blood is precious, and we are oozing blood.”

The U.S. military said the incident began early Friday when soldiers operating near a Jordanian hospital were attacked by “unknown forces” and returned fire, engaging in a three-hour gun battle.

On Saturday, the military offered its “sincerest condolences” to the families of the dead and opened an investigation. A Jordanian national also was killed in the shootings, which wounded at least eight members of the Iraqi police force and a security unit called the Fallujah Protection Force, established by the city’s religious clerics and tribal leaders.

“We deeply regret this incident and extend our sincerest condolences to the families of the deceased,” the U.S. military statement said.

Some Iraqis paint a different picture of events. They say the police and security force had been in pursuit of suspected robbers when they came under fire from a U.S. military installation on a road leading out of Fallujah.

Fallujah is part of the so-called Sunni Triangle that was Saddam Hussein’s base of strength. It has offered so much resistance to the U.S. presence that soldiers stationed next to the mayor’s office pulled out of the city in July.

The troop withdrawal eased tensions with the residents of Fallujah, but sporadic incidents have continued to strain relations and steel the resolve of some to see the Americans leave Iraq. Friday’s shooting served to further inflame anti-U.S. sentiment.

“This incident will increase our determination to get rid of them,” said Sheikh Jassim al-Issawi, a tribal leader.

On Saturday, hundreds of Iraqis gathered in front of the Hamoud al-Mahmoud mosque in the center of the city as pallbearers carried eight coffins draped in Iraqi flags into the prayer area. Dozens of men fired assault rifles into the air as the pallbearers wended through the charged crowd and into the prayer area. Young men shouted “America is the enemy of God” and roughed up several Western journalists.

“Tell the Americans to get out of Iraq,” said Fayez Suleiman, 22. “What do they want from Iraq? Leave us alone. We can manage our affairs by ourselves.”

Nearby, Thaer Ahmed, a 22-year-old police officer, stuffed bullets into the clip of a rifle. “I’m going to use it against the Americans,” he said.

U.S. promises of compensation to the families failed to abate their anger.

“They meant to kill us,” said Aamer Ahmed, a police officer shooting rounds from an AK-47. “We’re going to retaliate.”

There was a time shortly after Saddam’s regime fell that some in Fallujah – despite the general resistance to coalition forces – were happy to welcome Americans, if an old wall graffito is any indication. “USA plus Iraq equals Peace,” it says in English.

But these days, someone has blotted out the old English message, still visible under white paint, and scrawled a threat in Arabic: “It is our right to kill the foreign American occupiers.”

“Iraqis hate the American invaders, particularly in Fallujah,” said Maj. Ali Jassim, the head of the Fallujah Protection Force. “We discovered the liberators were occupiers.”

(c) 2003, Chicago Tribune.

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Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-09-13-03 1808EDT

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