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6 killed as protest is quelled

BAGHDAD -- British soldiers and Iraqi police clashed yesterday with armed, stone-throwing protesters in southeastern Iraq, killing six people. US officials said American soldiers mistakenly killed two Iraqi policemen after they failed to identify themselves to a patrol.

In Baghdad, a senior US military officer confirmed that preliminary reports showed that a US Army medevac helicopter that crashed last week near Fallujah, killing all nine soldiers aboard, was shot down.

North of the capital, the US military said it was investigating allegations that soldiers killed four Iraqi civilians who tried to pass a convoy this month in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown.

The shooting of the policemen occurred Friday after paratroopers from the 173d Airborne Brigade responded to a report of "family fighting" in Kirkuk, about 150 miles north of Baghdad.

Paratroopers spotted two men firing into a house, said Major Josslyn Aberle, a spokeswoman for the Fourth Infantry Division. The men, who were wearing long coats, fled as the troops approached and were joined by a third man, she said.

"The soldiers verbally warned the three to stop and then fired warning shots," Aberle said. "The men refused to comply, and the soldiers took a defensive position and fired," killing two of them and detaining the third.

All three were found to be Iraqi policemen, Aberle said. The US military is investigating why they refused to identify themselves.

Yesterday's trouble in Amarah, 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, began when hundreds of Iraqis angry over the lack of jobs in town gathered in front of the office of the US-led coalition to demand work.

As the protesters grew agitated, shots rang out from the crowd, a British military spokeswoman said. At the same time, she said troops "received reports of small explosions in the crowd."

Iraqi police, believing they were under attack, opened fire into the crowd but did not hit any of the protesters, she said. Witnesses said the police killed some of the protesters.

British soldiers moved in with armored vehicles to support the police, and protesters hurled at least three explosive devices at them, she said. One man "who was in the process of throwing a device" was shot dead by the soldiers, the spokeswoman said.

The crowd dispersed, but later some of them returned and lobbed two explosive devices at the armored cars. Soldiers shot one of the attackers and apparently wounded him, she added. Three other devices were thrown at the soldiers before tensions eased.

Six people were killed and at least 11 wounded, according to Dr. Saad Hamoud of the Al-Zahrawi Surgical Hospital.

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