FALLUJAH, Iraq - American Marines shot and wounded an Iraqi man in the former flash-point city of Fallujah, believing he was throwing a grenade at them, the U.S. military said yesterday. But local police and witnesses said the object was only the man's slipper.

During a joint patrol of U.S. Marines and Iraqi security forces in Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad, the man "threw an object, believed to be a grenade" at the passing troops Wednesday afternoon, according to a U.S. military statement.

"U.S. forces fired in self-defense, wounding the attacker," the military said. "The convoy stopped, secured the area and began to render medical aid."

The man, Ahmed al-Jumaili, was rushed to a hospital and was in stable condition yesterday after being treated for a chest wound and two bullet grazes.

Although the incident came just a day after the Iraqi reporter who threw his shoes at former President George W. Bush was released from prison, Jumaili said he took off his leather slipper and threw it in a knee-jerk reaction to seeing the patrol.

"When I saw Americans patrolling the streets of Fallujah, I lost my temper," he said. "I don't want to see them in Fallujah. Troops have withdrawn from cities, so why are they still patrolling here in Fallujah?"

Under the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, American forces ceased operating on their own in cities and towns earlier this summer but still go on joint patrols. The agreement calls for the withdrawal of American combat forces by the end of August 2010 and for all U.S. troops to leave by the end of the following year.

The U.S. military did not say in its statement what the thrown object was, and in response to a request for clarification it said the object had not been recovered.

"The Marines who saw the object thrown at the vehicle identified it as a grenade," a spokeswoman, First Lt. Rachel Beatty, said. "Because the suspected grenade was not recovered, we do not know why it had failed to function."

However, a Fallujah police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk with the media, said Jumaili had thrown his slipper.

Shopkeeper Ammar Hussein, who knows Jumaili, said he witnessed the incident. "I saw him throw his shoe while the U.S. soldier was looking at him," Hussein said, adding that the act was out of character for Jumaili. "He was always so calm, I never saw him behaving strangely."

Jumaili, 30, an auto mechanic, said he ran after throwing his slipper but was slowed after a bullet grazed his leg. "More bullets were fired and one hit me from behind and went through my chest, and I fell down," he said from the hospital, surrounded by his mother and other family members.

The U.S. military said the Marines' response was "done in compliance with the security agreement between the U.S. and Iraq which authorizes U.S. forces to take appropriate action in self-defense."

Elsewhere in Iraq, a suicide car bomber hit a police checkpoint west of the northern city of Mosul, killing three civilians and injuring three policemen, provincial police said.

Biden: Pullout Is Up to Iraqis

Vice President Biden pledged yesterday to follow Iraq's wishes should Baghdad decide to speed up the timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from the country.

In Baghdad before heading north to meet with Kurdish leaders on oil issues, Biden said there were still several steps to be taken before Iraq could call a referendum to alter the "status of forces" pact.

The accord calls for the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces by September 2010, and all U.S. troops by the end of 2011.

The Iraqi government has agreed to hold the referendum in January. If voters reject the agreement, U.S. forces would have a year to withdraw instead of by the end of 2011.

"Whatever the Iraqi people decide, we will abide by it," Biden told reporters.

The vice president is on a three-day trip to Iraq, his third trip there this year, to meet with local leaders to discuss bridging political and sectarian differences, and plans for January's national elections.

- Associated Press

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