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U.S. soldier in Iraq shoots dead five comrades

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A U.S. soldier shot dead five fellow soldiers at a military clinic in Baghdad on Monday in an incident that the top U.S. military officer suggested may have been triggered by stress.

U.S. President Barack Obama said in a statement that he was shocked and deeply saddened by the “horrible tragedy.”

The soldier walked into a center for soldiers who are experiencing stress and opened fire, killing the five, said a U.S. military official who asked not to be named because the incident was still under investigation.

The shootings occurred at Camp Liberty, a sprawling military base northeast of Baghdad airport that houses thousands of U.S. troops.

It was not immediately clear whether the victims were soldiers seeking treatment for stress or worked at the clinic, the official added.

“The shooter is a U.S. soldier and he is in custody,” said Marine Corps Lieutenant Tom Garnett, a U.S. military spokesman in Iraq. U.S. officials said they would charge him later.

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Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a news conference at the Pentagon that the shootings had occurred in a place where “individuals were seeking help.”

“It does speak to me, though, about the need for us to redouble our efforts, the concern in terms of dealing with the stress. ... It also speaks to the issue of multiple deployments,” Mullen said.


Obama said Defense Secretary Robert Gates briefed him on the incident, adding: “I will press to ensure that we fully understand what led to this tragedy, and that we are doing everything we can to ensure that our men and women in uniform are protected as they serve our country so capably and courageously in harm’s way.”

It was not the first incident of violence by U.S. soldiers against their fellow troops in the course of the war in Iraq.

In perhaps the most well-known case, two officers were killed and 14 soldiers were wounded when a U.S. Army sergeant who had converted to Islam, Hasan Akbar, launched a grenade attack at a base in Kuwait just before the 2003 invasion.

Attacks like the latest one raise questions about the toll that six years of continuous warfare in Iraq and nearly eight years of fighting in Afghanistan have taken on the U.S. military and individual soldiers, many of whom have seen multiple tours.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense, nearly 20 percent of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The number of U.S. soldiers killed in Monday’s shootings matched the death toll from a truck bomb in northern Iraq last month, which was the single deadliest incident for U.S. troops in more than a year.

Violence has dropped sharply in Iraq, but insurgent attacks continue and a rash of major bombings has raised questions about security less than two months before U.S. forces are due to withdraw combat troops from urban bases.

That transition is one milestone ahead of an end to U.S. combat operations in August 2010 and a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. There are about 134,000 U.S. troops there.

Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa and David Morgan in Washington; writing by Missy Ryan and Ross Colvin; editing by Will Dunham