Army colonel fined for firing gun near Iraqi

WASHINGTON — A battalion commander in Iraq who fired his pistol near the head of an Iraqi detainee after his soldiers had punched the prisoner was fined $5,000 yesterday as part of a nonjudicial disciplinary proceeding that effectively ends his Army career.

Lt. Col. Allen West had been criminally charged with aggravated assault and communicating a threat, and faced the possibility of a court martial for his role in interrogating the Iraqi, a policeman who was said by an informant to know about a planned ambush of West's troops. After West's threat, the prisoner reportedly offered information about another planned attack.

West's case became a celebrated cause in the retired officer community and on Capitol Hill.

While Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno decided against court-martialing West yesterday, the commander of the 4th Infantry Division in northern Iraq ruled at the end of an administrative hearing in Tikrit that West would have to forfeit $2,500 a month in pay for two months, the maximum fine allowed under so-called Article 15 administrative proceedings.

Odierno ordered that the punishment be made part of West's permanent file, effectively ending his military career, but allowed West, 42, to retire next spring after 20 years of military service without loss of pension benefits.

"The courageous decision in this case would have resulted in this matter never coming to public attention," said Neal Puckett, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and West's attorney. "Lieutenant Colonel West would still be in command, would have been privately congratulated for a job well done, but told to stay out of the interrogation business in the future."

One Army official, who spoke on condition he not be named, said Odierno's decision to forego a court martial and impose nonjudicial punishment was appropriate, given the "very difficult conditions" presented by Iraqi insurgents using terrorist tactics against his men.

"Lieutenant Colonel West's actions compromised his ability to command and maintain good order and discipline within his unit," the Army official said. "Every soldier under his command now believes it is OK to abuse detainees for information."

Soldiers kill Iraqi man who was firing from car

TIKRIT, Iraq — U.S. troops last night shot and killed a young Iraqi man they said had been shooting at them from a speeding car.

The driver of the car said they were not shooting at the troops but merely firing their AK-47 rifle in the air after celebrating at a wedding party.

Soldiers on patrol said they saw the Toyota Marino approach at high speed. They then came under fire from a rifle pointing out of a window.

"Why were you shooting at Americans?" a U.S. officer asked the driver, who was related to his dead passenger. Through an interpreter, the man said they had been drinking and were only celebrating a wedding party.

Inside the car, reporters could see a can of Tuborg lager and a metal carton of food with a fork in it, spattered with blood.

"We know the difference between a wedding party (and this) ... Driving through the streets firing an AK-47 isn't a wedding, it's a funeral," said Lt. Col. Steve Russell, a battalion commander in the 4th Infantry Division.

U.S. detains two suspects linked to terrorist group

BAGHDAD, Iraq — U.S. soldiers detained two suspected members of the Ansar al-Islam terrorist group, which the U.S. says is linked to al-Qaida, along with eight others, the military said.

All the suspects were detained in raid Thursday and yesterday in Mosul, Iraq, where U.S. forces are encountering more frequent resistance.

The two Ansar al-Islam suspects were seized in a raid on a home. The house was empty except for packed luggage, a computer and anti-coalition literature, according to the statement from the U.S. Central Command.

Also ...

Spain pledged yesterday to keep its 1,300 soldiers in Iraq and 400 in Afghanistan until at least June. ... Yukino Inoue, the widow of one of two Japanese diplomats gunned down in Iraq late last month, gave birth to a baby girl yesterday, Kyodo news agency said. ... President Bush signed legislation yesterday that calls for economic penalties against Syria for not doing enough in the fight against terrorism in the Middle East and in Iraq.