MOSUL, Iraq – American soldiers opened fire and killed a 12-year old boy after a grenade hit their convoy in Mosul on Thursday.

The boy was found with ten thousand Iraqi dinars in his hand – worth less than $9. U.S. officials said the money is evidence of a disturbing new trend.

“We have every reason to believe that insurgents are paying children to conduct these attacks or assist the attackers in some capacity, undoubtedly placing the children in harm’s way,” a U.S. military spokesman wrote in an e-mail on Saturday.

But eyewitnesses said the boy, identified as Omar Musa Salih, was standing by the side of the road selling fruit juice – a common practice in Iraq – and had nothing to do with the attack.

A friend, Ahmed Jassim, 15, said he was selling cans of Pepsi nearby when he heard the grenade explode. He dove behind a parked car, then heard the roar of machine gun fire. “When the shooting was over and the patrol went away, I stood and I saw Omar on the ground covered with blood,” Jassim said.

Another witness, Ahmed IzAldeen, 56, said he saw the person who threw the grenade. It wasn’t the boy, but a man in his twenties, he said. IzAldeen said he saw the man standing behind a truck holding the grenade as the American patrol approached.

Military officials said they’re sure the boy was part of the assault on the convoy. “Coalition forces fired on two of three individuals positively identified as involved in the attack, killing one, who they later discovered was a 12-year-old boy,” the email said.

Mosul, in the north, is among Iraq’s most violent cities. On Saturday, gunmen killed an off-duty police officer and wounded three civilians at a market in the city center, and a roadside bomb targeting a police patrol wounded a civilian in eastern Mosul.

An American military statement on Friday said the shooting of the 12-year-old is still under investigation.

Some local officials, however, are already citing it as an example of the need for a prompt withdrawal of American troops to reduce tension in the city.

“When attacked, the Americans just open fire, whether on the gunman or just randomly,” said Usama Al Nujaifi, a member of Parliament from Mosul. “The American presence in the cities is wrong. We urged them to stay outside from the beginning.”

American combat forces are supposed to pull out of all cities by June 30 under an agreement signed last year that hands security over to Iraqi forces. But the two sides have discussed pushing back the deadline, especially in the most violent cities, such as Mosul.

Friends of the Salih family said he was the oldest of six children. He quit school in the first grade, when he was 6 or 7 years old.

He was well-known in the Ras Al-Jadda neighborhood, where the attack took place.

(McClatchy special correspondent Hussein Kadhim contributed to this report.)

(c) 2009, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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AP-NY-05-09-09 1803EDT

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