BAGHDAD — An American soldier opened fire on comrades Monday afternoon inside a combat stress clinic at a large U.S. military base in Baghdad, killing five and wounding at least one in an attack that prompted officials to promise to try to ease the strain on troops deployed to war zones.
The gunman was an Army sergeant and a patient at the clinic, a senior military official in Washington told the Associated Press, on condition of anonymity because the incident is under investigation. He had been involved in a verbal altercation at the center and been disarmed, but returned with another weapon.
It was unclear whether the victims were workers at the clinic or were there for counseling.
The gunman was taken into custody shortly after the shooting at Camp Liberty, part of a sprawling military installation near Baghdad airport, said Lt. Col. Brian Tribus, a U.S. military spokesman. Tribus said the gunman's name will be disclosed when and if charges are filed.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and President Barack Obama vowed to conduct a thorough investigation. "I would like to express my horror and deep regret for today's shooting incident," Gates said. "Such a tragic loss of life at the hands of our own forces is a cause for great and urgent concern."
Gates said the Pentagon needs to redouble its efforts to relieve the stress caused by repeated deployments in war zones with limited time at home in between.
The shooting, among the deadliest attacks on American troops in Iraq in recent months, comes as U.S. commanders are grappling with the rising rate at which service members are committing suicide. Military leaders have attributed the increase to the stress of multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Monday's attack was the deadliest incident involving a soldier opening fire on comrades since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The rampage shook up soldiers at Victory Base Compound, which includes Camp Liberty.
Most military facilities in Iraq have combat stress clinics. Small outposts have officers trained to counsel soldiers experiencing depression, anxiety and other symptoms of combat stress.
In recent years the military has campaigned to ease the stigma often associated with counseling.
At least 140 soldiers committed suicide in 2008, according to the Army, a considerable increase compared with the 115 cases reported the previous year and the 102 documented in 2006. The number is the highest since the military started tracking suicide data in 1980. The Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force also reported an uptick in suicides last year.
The number of soldiers who committed suicide during the first few months of this year is on pace to surpass last year's figure.