Nation & World

Survivors: No provocation

Two survivors of Sunday's shooting at a busy Baghdad traffic roundabout said Tuesday that security guards for a State Department convoy opened fire without provocation, contradicting assertions by the guards' U.S.-based employer, Blackwater USA, that they were responding to enemy fire.

Hassan Jaber Salma, 50, a lawyer who suffered eight gunshot wounds in the incident, said he and other motorists were attempting to clear a path for the convoy when the Blackwater guards suddenly strafed the line of traffic with gunfire.

Sami Hawas Karim, 42, a taxi driver who was shot in the hip and side, said he, too, had stopped for the convoy when he saw the guards suddenly open fire on a car bearing a man, a woman and a small child. The guards then opened fire on maintenance workers in the square, the car in front of him, the car behind him and a minibus full of girls, Karim said.

Neither of the two survivors interviewed at Baghdad's Yarmouk Hospital said he'd heard explosions or gunfire before the Blackwater guards opened fire on cars that had stopped to allow a four-vehicle convoy to pass, contradicting accounts by Blackwater and U.S. officials.

Salma said that as the Blackwater guards opened fire, he turned his car into oncoming traffic in an effort to escape, only to have Iraqi soldiers nearby also begin firing on him, apparently fearing that he was a suicide bomber. Ducking his head to avoid bullets that slammed into the driver's seat and dashboard, he lost control of the car and slammed into a truck carrying cooking gas canisters, breaking three ribs.

"I swear they were not attacked by anything," said Salma, his torso wrapped in a heavy plaster cast and his breathing labored from gunshot wounds in the chest, stomach and back. His wife sobbed next to him.

Both Karim and Salma said a helicopter was on the scene. Salma said it also fired into the line of cars, contradicting Blackwater's statement that its helicopter didn't open fire.

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