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Iraqi participants and witnesses of the demonstration are adamant that no one fired at U.S. soldiers, although there was shooting along the nearby main street. al-Falluja's mayor, however-who was not present at the time of the shooting-said he had subsequently collected information in the town that supporters of Saddam Hussein provoked a conflict by shooting at the U.S. troops based in the school. Taha al-`Alawani told Human Rights Watch:

    Some of the bad people from the remains of the previous regime, on the day of Saddam's birthday, some people in the cover of the demonstration, some Islamic extremists and also some believers in Saddam, wanted to create problems between Islamic extremists and American troops... Some of Saddam's people carrying his picture and some weapons like Kalashnikovs were benefiting from the slogans. They started to shoot at the school... They left immediately and ran away. The Islamists remained in the street. The response [of U.S. soldiers] was intensive and heavy."46

U.S. military commanders and intelligence officers also believe there were provocateurs in the crowd who took advantage of an otherwise peaceful demonstration. Perhaps former Ba`th Party officials paid people to shoot at the base, they said. "I believe I was in an IO [information operation] campaign that I didn't understand until it was too late," said Lt. Col Nantz. "I believe someone was trying to get us to do what we ended up doing."47

Given the complex politics in al-Falluja, such a scenario is possible. Human Rights Watch witnessed pockets of hostility toward U.S. troops, although this was after these confrontations on April 28 and April 30. However, the presence of provocateurs in the crowd does not negate the responsibility of U.S. soldiers to prevent civilian casualties to the greatest extent possible, and to ensure that their response when carrying out law enforcement functions is proportionate and discriminate.

46 Human Rights Watch interview with Taha Badawi Hamid al-`Alawani, al-Falluja mayor, May 6, 2003.

47 Human Rights Watch interview with Lt. Col. Nantz, Baghdad, May 8, 2003.

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