WASHINGTON — The U.S. military said last night it would investigate allegations of a second massacre of Iraqi civilians by American troops after being presented with a video of what appeared to be the bodies of 11 people killed by gunfire in a town north of Baghdad.
The video, obtained by the British Broadcasting Corp., showed five children and four women among the dead in a March 15 incident in Ishaqi, which the U.S. military originally characterized as a shootout with an Al Qaeda operative that killed the suspect and three civilians. It said heavy gunfire caused the house to collapse, killing the Iraqis. The BBC said Iraqi police alleged U.S. troops rounded up and killed 11 people in the house, then blew it up.
An Iraqi man open his door to US marines from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines Regiment during a house-by-house raid in the village of Abu Qusayb, west of Baghdad, in December 2005. The US military was investigating allegations made by Iraqi police that American troops rounded up and shot dead civilians in March, the BBC reported, after airing video footage it obtained of dead adults and children. (AFP/Mauricio Lima)
The new allegations came on a day the Iraqi government said it would launch its own probe into the alleged massacre at Haditha by U.S. Marines last November, using unusually harsh language to condemn the behaviour of Americans on the ground.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called the alleged Nov. 19, 2005, revenge killing of 24 civilians a "horrible crime" and said such disrespect for Iraqi life had become widespread.
Earlier in the day, Maj.-Gen. William Caldwell told a press briefing in Baghdad there were "at least three or four" other investigations underway into deaths of civilians at the hands of coalition troops, although he offered no details.
Also yesterday, U.S. military prosecutors were preparing to file murder, kidnapping and conspiracy charges against seven Marines and a U.S. Navy corpsman in the shooting death of an Iraqi man near Baghdad in April.
The eight men are being held in the brig at Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base north of San Diego, defence lawyer Jeremiah Sullivan told Associated Press.
Separately, five other Marines are under investigation for injuring a suspect in their custody.
Meanwhile, one of two American military probes of the Haditha killings has concluded those involved in the incident lied to superiors to cover their actions and those superiors, in turn, did not properly scrutinize those reports, according to widespread media reports here.
The probe, by Army Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell, had determined that Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich passed on false information to superiors when he said 15 of the 24 who died were killed in the same explosion that took the life of a U.S. Marine from Texas.
The other nine to have died were reported to have been insurgents.
But the report, first revealed by The Washington Post, will also conclude that Marines who were called to clean up the carnage did not report that the victims had died in execution-style killings. Had they filed a proper report, an investigation would have begun immediately.
As it was, no formal probe began until February, after Time magazine brought allegations from townspeople to the Pentagon.
It is now alleged that Marines, incensed over the killing of a popular member of their unit in a Humvee explosion, went home-to-home in Haditha, killing the elderly, women and children, then turned their guns on five young men who happened upon the scene in a taxi.
Al-Maliki's comments were the first substantive sign of the repercussions the alleged murders will have for the U.S. military, on the ground in Iraq, at home and around the world.
"This is a phenomenon that has become common among many of the multinational forces," said al-Maliki, who was sworn in as prime minister May 20. "No respect for citizens, smashing civilian cars and killing on a suspicion or a hunch. It's unacceptable."
This week, two Iraqi women, one of whom was about to give birth, were shot and killed in Samarra by American troops who said their car failed to stop at a checkpoint.
As it braced for the inevitable charges — expected to include murder — the military announced yesterday it would provide "core warrior training" over the next 30 days to all 150,000 multinational troops on the ground, including 130,000 Americans.
The goal, said Lt.-Gen. Peter Chiarelli, was to remind American troops of what separated them from the enemy.
The remedial sessions would involve slide shows and remind all troops of the training they received before being deployed to the region.
"Of the nearly 150,000 coalition forces presently in Iraq, 99.9 per cent of them perform their jobs magnificently every day," Chiarelli said.
"They do the right thing, even when no one is watching. Unfortunately, there are a few individuals who sometimes choose the wrong path."
Maj.-Gen. William Caldwell, a spokesperson for the forces in Iraq, offered "heartfelt condolences" to families who lost loved ones in the Haditha "accident."
"We mourn the loss of all innocent life, and the loss of any life is always very tragic and very unfortunate. But let me be very clear about one point. The coalition does not and it will not tolerate any unethical or criminal behaviour."
U.S. President George W. Bush said he was personally troubled by the allegations involving the U.S. Marines.
"Our troops have been trained on core values throughout their training, but obviously there was an incident that took place in Iraq," Bush said following a meeting of his cabinet. He said the world will see a "full and complete" investigation.
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