FALLUJAH -- US troops shot dead 13 Iraqis, at least six of them children, during a protest to mark Saddam Hussein's birthday, overshadowing the surrender of a key weapons advisor to the toppled president.

Witnesses in the town of Fallujah, west of Baghdad, told AFP that US troops had opened fire late Monday on demonstrators celebrating Saddam's 66th birthday, killing 13 and wounding 75.

"The shooting broke out when 500 protestors carrying portraits of Saddam and Iraqi flags approached a school manned by US troops," said Mohammed Hamid, a resident of the town, 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of the capital.

Another witness who asked not to be identified said the US soldiers were "not threatened by the demonstrators."

Of the 13, dead who were swiftly buried Tuesday in accordance with Islamic tradition, six were children aged just seven or eight, the second witness said.

The shooting took place about 10:30 p.m. Monday in the town of Fallujah, 30 miles west of Baghdad.

Dr. Ahmed Ghanim al-Ali, director of Fallujah General Hospital, said there were 13 dead, including three boys under 11 years old.

He said his medical crews were shot at when they went to retrieve the injured, which he said numbered 75 people.

Local Iraqis said the anti-American demonstration was conducted by students between the ages of 5 and 20 to get the soldiers to leave a school were they staying so classes could resume Tuesday.

The al-Jazeera television station, quoting local residents, said the U.S. troops opened fire after someone threw a rock at the school.

Residents said the shooting continued for at least 30 minutes.

Edtesam Shamsudeim, 37, said her 45-year-old brother died in the gunfire. She was shot in the leg and her husband was wounded.

"We were sitting in our house. When the shooting started, my husband tried to close the door to keep the children in, and he was shot," she said at the hospital, sitting in a chair with a bandaged leg, surrounded by some of her children.

Their clothes stained with bloody handprints.

"Americans are criminals," she said.

Outside the school Tuesday afternoon, people chanted for U.S. forces to leave Iraq.

"Go, go USA!" they said in Arabic, adding some English at the end: "Go away!"

Thousands of distraught people were attending funerals for the victims Tuesday, al-Jazeera reported.

"They opened fire on the protesters because they went out to demonstrate," Sunni Muslim cleric Kamal Shaker Mahmoud, who lives near the school, told Reuters.

"They are stealing our oil and they are slaughtering our people," Shuker Abdullah Hamid told Reuters as he helped bury a man he said was his cousin at a local cemetery.


US Troops Shoot Dead 13 Iraqis, Including Children

AFP, Reuters and AP. 29 April 2003.