SNIPERS attacking US troops in Baghdad are using an American shooting textbook to assist in their operations, an insurgent group has claimed.
The assertion has prompted the US military to try to alter its tactics. The change reflects concern over an insurgent video-CD that appears to show a series of shooting attacks on US and Iraqi forces in Baghdad by a purported sniper brigade from the Sunni militant Islamic Army.
The video was handed out in Sunni parts of western Baghdad last week as a "gift" to mark the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting. It shows 28 attacks, several involving precision shots to the head.
Narrated by a man described as the brigade "commander", and subtitled in English, it claims the marksmen use a training manual written by a retired US army special-forces officer.
Ultimate Sniper, written in 1993 by Major John L Plaster, is freely available through online bookstores. It was updated this year "for today's Global War on Terror", according to Maj Plaster.
US army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher Garver said the military was aware of the video and added it was
taking steps to reduce the new threat and had begun to examine killings by small-arms fire in greater detail.
US casualty reports list three killings by sniper fire in Baghdad this year, all since July, and 24 by small-arms fire, ten in October. The 28-minute propaganda video, called Juba Returns, opens with musings from a black-masked man identified as "Juba, the Baghdad Sniper".
Reports of a lone sniper nicknamed Juba prowling Baghdad surfaced last year. The new footage shows the man adding another "kill" to a list of 37 hits on a piece of paper on a wall. The "commander" goes on to say that the Islamic Army has "a fair amount of snipers".
He continues: "The idea of filming the operations is very important because the scene that shows the falling soldier when hit has more impact on the enemy than any other weapon."
Lt-Col Garver said he had not seen the videobut questioned whether all the attacks were the work of accomplished sharpshooters: "Having a scope does not necessarily qualify you as a trained sniper."
According to the website www.icasualties.org which tracks the official casualty toll in Iraq and Afghanistan, 38 US troops have been killed by sniper fire in Iraq since the start of the war in March 2003, seven this year. Deaths attributed to unspecified small- arms fire total about 230, including 80 this year.
The video says the brigade's main weapon is the Tabuk sniper rifle, which was produced in Iraq from a Yugoslav design. It uses standard Kalashnikov rounds and probably has a range of between 500 metres and 600 metres. It is also described as being more of a marksman's rifle than a sniper's rifle. The latter are generally designed to be accurate beyond 800 metres.
Meanwhile, an Iraqi state television presenter, Sherin Hamid, and her driver were found dead in central Baghdad yesterday, a day after they were abducted.
At least 26 journalists have been killed in Iraq this year.
Videos designed to score deadly victory in propaganda war. JUBA, the Baghdad sniper, is a cult figure among adherents of the jihad in Iraq and he is particularly popular with its followers in the West.
As one of the few identifiable characters - at least in name - fighting directly against United States forces, he has an appeal for extremist Muslims that is hugely heightened by the website dedicated to him and the release of footage of his exploits on the internet.
A second Juba video was released in the past week and it is notable that it is subtitled in English - meaning the jihadists' core constituency in the West can understand it.
In reality, it is doubtful that the shootings of US soldiers shown in the Juba films are the work of a single man, but is a sign of the jihadists' grasp of propaganda value that promoting a single gunman has become such an industry.
Equally, if the US killed someone they could identify as Juba, they would waste little time publicising the fact.