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U.S. military probes sniper threat in Baghdad
29 Oct 2006 08:41:21 GMT
Source: Reuters

By Paul Holmes

BAGHDAD, Oct 29 (Reuters) - The U.S. military has begun looking more closely at shooting attacks on troops in Iraq to establish whether they are carried out by snipers, according to a spokesman.

The change reflects concern over an insurgent video-CD that appears to show a series of shooting attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces in Baghdad by a purported sniper brigade from the Sunni militant Islamic Army.

The video, which Reuters has seen, was handed out in Sunni parts of western Baghdad last week as a "gift" to mark the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. It shows 28 separate attacks, several of them involving precision shots to the head.

Narrated by a man described as the brigade "commander" and subtitled in English, it claims the marksmen use a training manual written by a retired U.S. Army Special Forces officer.

"Ultimate Sniper", written in 1993 by Major John L. Plaster, is freely available through online bookstores. It was updated this year "for today's Global War on Terror", according to www.ultimatesniper.com, which calls it the bible of sniping.

Spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Garver said the U.S. military was aware of the video.

He said the military was taking unspecified steps to reduce the possible new threat and had begun to examine killings by small arms fire in greater detail. "We are being more specific in trying to hone in on sniper tactics," Garver said.

U.S. casualty reports list three killings by sniper fire in Baghdad this year, all since July, and 24 by small arms fire, 10 of them in October.

'NOTCHING UP KILLS'

The 28-minute propaganda video opens with musings from a black-masked man identified as "Juba, the Baghdad Sniper".

Reports of a lone sniper nicknamed Juba prowling Baghdad surfaced last year. The new footage shows the man adding another "kill" to a list of 37 hits on a piece of paper on a wall.

The "commander", however, says the Islamic Army now has "a fair amount of snipers" with the steady hand and eagle eye required for the task.

"The idea of filming the operations is very important because the scene that shows the falling soldier when hit has more impact on the enemy than any other weapon," says the "commander", whose face is obscured.

Garver said he had not seen the video, called "Juba Returns". He said sniping was "another threat that we have to worry about" but questioned whether all the attacks were the work of accomplished sharpshooters.

"They could be a lucky shot with a good rifle," Garver said. "Having a scope does not necessarily qualify you as a trained sniper."

The U.S. military does not require units to attribute killings specifically to sniper fire, although some do.

According to the Web site www.icasualties.org, which tracks the official casualty toll in Iraq and Afghanistan, 38 U.S. troops have been killed by sniper fire in Iraq since the start of the war in March 2003, seven of them this year.

Deaths attributed to unspecified small arms fire total about 230, including 80 this year.

The video says the brigade's main weapon is the Tabuk sniper rifle, which was produced in Iraq from a Yugoslav design.

It uses standard Kalashnikov rounds and probably has a range of 500-600 metres (yards), according to arms Web sites which describe it as more of a marksman's rifle than a sniper rifle, which is designed to be accurate beyond 800 meters (yards).

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed)
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A demonstrator from Stop the War Coalition stands outside the Houses of Parliament in London as Member of Parliament debate a motion calling for an inquiry into the Iraq war October 31, 2006. British Prime Minister Tony Blair, U.S. President George W. Bush's strongest ally in the Iraq war, may face a damaging defeat in parliament on Tuesday over his handling of the conflict.