Tuesday, March 21, 2006

US probes Iraqi civilian deaths

US probes Iraqi civilian deaths
By Jim Muir
BBC News, Baghdad

The US military has said it is conducting a criminal investigation into allegations that US marines shot and killed 15 Iraqi civilians.

The killings occurred last November, after a roadside bomb explosion in the town of Haditha in which one marine was killed and two injured.

A statement at the time claimed the civilians died in the blast.

But a preliminary military investigation conceded they were shot dead by marines in their homes.

The incident happened early in the morning of 19 November last year.

An American armoured vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb killing one marine and injuring two others.

Collateral damage

The military report at the time said insurgents then opened fire from all directions, there was a fire fight in which eight of the attackers were killed.

It said the 15 dead civilians, including three young children, died in the initial blast. But relatives, survivors and doctors who saw the bodies say that is not true.

They said they had died when marines burst into their houses and shot them dead in their nightclothes.

Protests at the marine base were fobbed off and there the story would have ended had it not been taken up by Time magazine.

It presented the US military command in Baghdad with documented evidence in January.

A preliminary military investigation was launched. It established that the two families were indeed killed by the marines, though it described the deaths as collateral damage.

Now the case has been referred for criminal investigation by the US navy to establish whether the 12 marines involved were guilty of misconduct.

Human rights organisations have already said that if the 15 civilians were killed deliberately it would the worst such case that has come to light, but it only did so because Time magazine took up the case.

There have been many allegations from Iraqi civilians that similar behaviour by US troops has caused numerous civilian deaths in combat situations, especially during the offensives at Falluja and elsewhere.

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