KARBALA, Iraq (AP) – Polish soldiers shot at a bus full of Shiite Muslim pilgrims when it failed to stop at a checkpoint Sunday, wounding several Iraqis and one Pole.

A witness said the troops opened fire after the bus apparently lost control of its brakes, hit a minivan and then swerved into a concrete barrier at the checkpoint manned by Iraqi and Polish forces.

The Polish military said the troops believed they were coming under attack.

Abbas Hassan, a member of the U.S.-trained Iraqi Civil Defense Corps, said the troops used heavy firepower for several minutes, targeting all cars coming in on the highway from Baghdad. He said the gunfire destroyed the right side of the bus.

Bleeding passengers were pulled from the bus and another vehicle behind it carrying more than a dozen people, witnesses said. Hassan said one Civil Defense Corps officer lost his leg when a piece of the bus struck him.

Hassan said the pilgrims in the bus, which could carry up to 44 passengers, were Iranian.

Col. Zdzislaw Gnatowski, a military spokesman in Warsaw, initially described the incident as a suicide attack using a car bomb. But he later gave an account more in line with that of the witnesses.

He said one Polish soldier was evacuated to a hospital in Karbala, 12 miles south of the checkpoint and that a number of Iraqis were wounded but he didn’t know how many.

Shiite Muslims are traveling to the holy city of Karbala, 50 miles south of Baghdad, for the 10-day mourning festival of Ashoura.

The festival marks the death of one of the Shiites’ chief saints, Imam Hussein, a grandson of the prophet Muhammad. It is expected to draw 1.5 million pilgrims, including about 100,000 Iranian Shiites.

Further south, hundreds of Iraqis rallied against coalition troops Sunday after U.S. soldiers fired on a car that failed to stop when a military convoy passed by, killing one Iraqi and critically injuring another.

The shooting took place near Rumaythah, 135 miles south of Baghdad, near the city of Samawah where Dutch soldiers and some 230 Japanese troops are based. The soldiers are working to supply Iraqis with clean water, rebuild schools and bolster local hospitals.

A crowd gathered around the site of the shooting, where the car sat with its windows broken, chanting “Down with America! Down with Bush!” U.S. soldiers and Dutch marines trying to clear the roadway were pelted with rocks and taunted.

The rally caused Japanese commander Col. Koichiro Bansho to cancel his trip to the town.

AP-ES-02-29-04 1329EST



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