BAGHDAD (AP) - An American soldier opened fire at a counseling
center on a military base Monday, killing five fellow soldiers before being taken into custody, the U.S. command and Pentagon officials said.
Although it was unclear what prompted the shooting, the incident draws attention to the issue of combat stress and morale after six years of war as the mission of the 130,000-strong force transforms
to one of training and mentoring the Iraqis.
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. 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 statement said nobody else was hurt, but a senior defense official in Washington said three people were wounded. The names of the victims and shooter were not released.
President Barack Obama, who visited a base adjacent to Camp Liberty last month, was shocked by the "terrible tragedy," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. Obama planned to discuss the shooting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
At the Pentagon, Gates said that "we're still in the process of
gathering information on exactly what happened."
Pentagon officials said the shooting happened at a stress clinic, where troops can go for help with the stresses of combat or personal issues. It was unclear whether the gunman and his victims were workers at the clinic or were there for counseling. Soldiers routinely carry weapons on Camp Liberty and other bases, but they are supposed to be unloaded.
The U.S. military is coping with a growing number of stress cases among soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan - many of whom are on their third or fourth combat tours. Some studies suggest that about 15 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq suffer from some sort of emotional problems.
With violence declining, many soldiers face new challenges trying to shift from fighting a war to supporting the Iraqis - tasks that often require skills in which they have not been trained.
Adding to the stress, there have been several incidents recently when men dressed as Iraqi soldiers have opened fire on American troops, including an attack in the northern city of Mosul on May 2 when two soldiers and the gunman were killed.
Separately, 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.
The death toll from the shooting at the counseling center was the highest for U.S. personnel in a single attack since April 10, when a suicide truck driver killed five American soldiers with a blast near a police headquarters in Mosul.
"Anytime we lose one of our own, it affects us all," U.S. spokesman Col. John Robinson said. "Our hearts go out to the families and friends of all the service members involved in this terrible tragedy."
There have been several previous fragging incidents in the Iraq war:
In other violence Monday across Iraq, a car bombing in Kirkuk killed two people, including a 10-year-old boy, and wounded 10 others, police Brig. Gen. Sarhat Qadir said.
In Baghdad, a senior Iraqi traffic officer was assassinated on his way to work. It was the second attack on a high-ranking traffic police officer in the capital in as many days.
A car cut off Brig. Gen. Abdul-Hussein al-Kadhoumi as he drove through a central square in the capital and a second vehicle pulled up alongside and riddled him with bullets, police said, citing witnesses. Al-Kadhoumi was director of operations for the traffic authority.
The gunmen were armed with pistols equipped with silencers, the police added on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Incidents involving gunmen armed with sophisticated weapons, including silencers, have been on the rise since a string of high-profile robberies in April.