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U.S. military denies troops fired on Iraq protest

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The U.S. military denied on Tuesday that one of its convoys opened fire on demonstrators who had blocked a main road near Baghdad, after residents and police said the unit had wounded up to 18 people.

U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Donnelly confirmed protesters had stopped a convoy in the town of Khalis, 80 km (50 miles) north of Baghdad on the main road linking the capital to the northern city of Kirkuk.

“There was small arms fire and thrown rocks received from somewhere in the vicinity of the protest. We fired warning shots and smoke to screen anyone from aiming at our units. At no time did the unit fire at the crowd,” Donnelly said in an email in reply to questions from Reuters.

He said the provincial joint coordination centre had reported four injuries, although he did make clear how these injuries occurred.

One of the protesters, Fuad Hameed, 40, told Reuters that residents had been protesting the lack of security in the town. Seventeen mortar rounds hit different parts of Khalis on Saturday, killing seven people.

He said U.S. troops in the convoy at first tried to disperse the protesters with teargas and then opened fire and at least 17 people were wounded, mostly in the lower parts of their bodies.

Police said 18 people had been wounded, some of them seriously.

Hameed said residents continued their protest after the U.S. convoy moved on. They are demanding more action from local authorities and the police to curb the violence.

“We will not move even if we pay a heavy price. We are no longer tolerating the daily killing. We have nothing to lose in Khalis,” he said.

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