BAGHDAD – An American Army sergeant shot and killed five fellow soldiers following an altercation at a military counseling center in Iraq on Monday, officials said. The attack drew attention to the issues of combat stress and morale among soldiers serving multiple combat tours over six years of war.
The suspect had been disarmed after an incident at the center but returned with another weapon, according to a senior military official in Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation into the shootings was ongoing.
Attacks on fellow soldiers, known as fraggings, were not uncommon during the Vietnam War but are believed to be rare in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A brief U.S. military statement said the assailant was taken into custody following the 2 p.m. shooting at Camp Liberty, a sprawling U.S. base on the western edge of Baghdad near the city’s international airport.
The military statement in Baghdad said nobody else was hurt, but military officials in Washington said one person was wounded. The names of the victims and shooter were not released.
Pentagon officials said the shooting happened at a stress clinic, where troops can go for help with the stresses of combat or personal issues. Soldiers routinely carry weapons on Camp Liberty and other bases, but they are supposed to be unloaded.
The military official told the Associated Press that the sergeant had been involved in a verbal altercation at the center. His service weapon was taken from him for his own protection and he was driven back to the center later in the day.
The official said that when the sergeant returned he had another weapon. It was unclear whether he was returning under orders or of his own volition.
Another senior military official said the shooter was a patient at the clinic. The official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because of the probe, did not know what relationship the shooter had to those he killed. ABC News, without identifying a source, reported that two of the dead were clinic staff and three were soldiers waiting for treatment.
At the Pentagon, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the shooting occurred “in a place where individuals were seeking help.”
“It does speak to me about the need for us to redouble our efforts in terms of dealing with the stress,” Mullen said.
Also Monday, Iraq’s main al-Qaida front group, the Islamic State of Iraq, denied Iraqi government claims that the military had captured its leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, according to the SITE intelligence group. Iraqi authorities said on April 23 that al-Baghdadi was in custody. The U.S. military, which had questioned his existence in the past, did not confirm the capture.
In other violence, the military announced Monday that a U.S. soldier was killed a day earlier when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle in Basra province of southern Baghdad.