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Military denies latest claims of deliberate killings in Iraq
WASHINGTON — Senior Defense Department officials pushed back Friday against the latest accusations of wrongdoing, denying accounts that U.S. soldiers deliberately killed civilians in a March raid but acknowledging that more civilians might have died than first reported.
Iraqi police and other witnesses had claimed that U.S. forces killed as many as 13 civilians in the hamlet of Ishaqi, 60 miles north of Baghdad, tying up some and shooting them in the head. Video obtained by the British Broadcasting Corp. and The Associated Press showed some bodies of victims, including several children, who apparently had been killed by gunshot wounds or shrapnel.
The U.S. military initially reported four people — one insurgent and three civilians — were killed in the Ishaqi raid. But officials acknowledged Friday that eight other noncombatants had been killed, calling those casualties "collateral deaths."
The new questions about the military's account came in the wake of other allegations of misconduct by U.S. troops. In one, a squad of Marines is accused of killing as many as 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Haditha. The incident is under investigation both for the soldiers' actions and for the way in which it was handled by the Marine Corps, which has been accused of a cover-up.
In another incident, eight Marines could face murder charges in the death of a civilian in Hamdania in April, and other charges for possibly attempting to cover up the killing.
The developments have prompted concern within the military that the public will perceive a pattern of excessive violence, lack of discipline and criminal acts.
Trying to head off another controversy, military officials Friday vehemently denied that the incident at Ishaqi bore any relationship to Haditha.
The other investigations
Haditha: The U.S. is investigating reports that up to 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians were killed Nov. 19 when Marines stormed into homes after a roadside bomb killed a comrade. A lawyer for the families said three or four Marines carried out the shootings while 20 waited outside. The military also is investigating whether there was a cover-up. The Iraqi government also has said it will investigate.
Hamdania: Eight Marines could face murder, kidnapping and conspiracy charges in the April 26 death of an Iraqi man who reportedly was dragged from his home and shot. The Marines are being held in solitary confinement at Camp Pendleton in California. > Story, A8
The Associated Press
"Nothing suggests anything happened close to Haditha," a senior Defense official said.
The military acknowledges that something went wrong in Haditha, both in the killings and in the failure to quickly investigate what happened. But military officials believe Haditha was an aberration, and they took pains Friday to show they had investigated the Ishaqi raid thoroughly.
A senior Pentagon official said the military's investigation — which began soon after the Ishaqi incident — showed that the civilians were killed in a crossfire between U.S. forces and members of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's organization.
In a written statement, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell IV said the raid was launched against a building where a Kuwaiti-born al-Qaida cell leader, Ahmad Abdallah Muhammed Na'is Al-Utaybi, and a bomb maker, Uday Faris al-Tawafi, aka Abu Ahmed, were located.
Allegations that U.S. forces executed a family during the raid, then covered it up by directing an airstrike on their house, "are absolutely false," Caldwell said.
"The investigation revealed the ground force commander, while capturing and killing terrorists, operated in accordance with the rules of engagement governing our combat forces in Iraq," he said.
Caldwell said U.S. troops began taking fire from a house as they arrived in the area. U.S. forces returned fire, but called in helicopters and finally an airstrike after firing from the house persisted, "ultimately eliminating the threat," he said.
"The investigating officer ascertained that the ground force commander properly followed the rules of engagement as he necessarily escalated the use of force until the threat was eliminated," Caldwell said.
Al-Utaybi was captured, and U.S. troops found the bodies of Abu Ahmed and three civilians, Caldwell said. The investigator concluded that as many as nine other people died in the airstrike, but a precise number couldn't be determined because the house's walls had collapsed.
Caldwell said the investigation was carried out the day after claims arose that U.S. troops had killed the civilians.
Iraqis interviewed immediately after the raid acknowledged that an al-Qaida member was visiting the house. They said he was visiting the house's owner, a relative who was a local schoolteacher.
While accusations that U.S. troops kill civilians are fairly common in Iraq, the Ishaqi incident stood out because the claims of civilian deaths originated with Iraqi police.
The police reported that U.S. troops herded at least 11 people into the house and executed them. Those killed included a 75-year-old woman and a 6-month-old infant, the police report said.
But inconsistencies in those claims soon appeared. The Iraqi officer investigating the case initially claimed that each of the dead had been handcuffed and shot once in the head. But reports of the medical examinations of the bodies showed that each bore multiple wounds.
Partly because of inconsistencies, an initial inquiry by U.S. military officials never developed into a formal criminal investigation, according to a defense official familiar with initial findings.
"There were too many inconsistencies," said the official, who asked not to be named since those findings hadn't been released. "It didn't all add up."
Relatives of the deceased said Friday that the U.S. investigation was cursory at best. They said a U.S. officer came and interviewed people once after the raid but never returned.
"We do not want anything," said Adil Maruf, 27, whose sister-in-law, nephew and niece were killed in the raid. "We just want the American soldiers to be exposed. We do not want it to be repeated again."
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