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Thursday, May 18, 2006 - Page updated at 07:24 AM

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Murtha says report will show Marines massacred Iraqis

Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON — A Pentagon report on an incident in which U.S. Marines shot and killed more than a dozen Iraqi civilians last November will show that those killings were deliberate and worse than initially reported, a Pennsylvania congressman said Wednesday.

"There was no firefight. There was no IED (improvised explosive device) that killed those innocent people," Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said during a news conference on Iraq. "Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them. And they killed innocent civilians in cold blood. That is what the report is going to tell."

Murtha's comments were the first on-the-record remarks by a U.S. official characterizing the findings of military investigators looking into the Nov. 19 incident. Murtha, the ranking Democrat on the Defense Appropriations subcommittee and an opponent of Bush administration policy in Iraq, said he hadn't read the report but had learned about its findings from military commanders and other sources.

Developments in Iraq


Government progress

Iraq's parliament may vote Saturday on a new government in which the country's main religious and ethnic groups will share power in the Cabinet, officials said after months of political paralysis.

Turkey attack claimed

The government of the autonomous Kurdish region accused Turkish forces of shelling an area of northern Iraq on Wednesday.

Violence reported

Two Iraqis were killed and nine wounded in three roadside bombs and two drive-by shootings. The bodies of two Iraqi men, handcuffed and shot in the head, were found in the capital. Gunmen killed four people in Baghdad, including a prominent member of a Sunni Arab political party.

Protest in Basra

Thousands protested Wednesday in the southern city of Basra in the wake of a series of killings that prompted calls for the ouster of the governor and deployment of Iraqi army forces there. At least 20 police officers and dozens of civilians reportedly have been assassinated recently.

Reuters, Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press

Military public-affairs officers said the investigation isn't completed and declined to provide further information.

Three Marine commanders whose troops were involved were relieved of duty in April, but the Marines didn't link their dismissals to the incident, saying only that Gen. Richard Natonski, commander of 1st Marine Division, had lost confidence in the officers' ability.

The dismissed officers were Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, commander of 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, and two of his company commanders, Capt. James S. Kimber and Capt. Lucas M. McConnell. Gibson said all three have been assigned to staff jobs.

U.S. military authorities in Iraq initially reported that one Marine and 15 Iraqi civilians in a bus were killed by a roadside bomb in the insurgent stronghold of Haditha. They said eight insurgents were killed in an ensuing firefight.

Subsequent reporting by Time and Knight Ridder revealed a still different account of events, with survivors describing Marines breaking down the door of a house and shooting the occupants.

Twenty-three people were killed, relatives of the dead told Knight Ridder.

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