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Iraqi Condemns Probe Clearing U.S. Troops | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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BAGHDAD, Iraq, AP -An Iraqi whose brother was killed by American troops during a raid north of Baghdad condemned on Saturday a U.S. military investigation that cleared forces of wrongdoing, as new footage showed that at least four children were among the victims.

The U.S. military said Saturday it found no wrongdoing by American troops accused of intentionally killing civilians during a March 15 raid in Ishaqi, about 50 miles north of Baghdad. As many as 13 Iraqis were killed.

The investigation concluded that U.S. troops followed normal procedures in raising the level of force after coming under fire while approaching a building where they believed an al-Qaida terrorist was hiding, said Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a U.S military spokesman.

Caldwell also acknowledged there were “possibly up to nine collateral deaths” in addition to the four Iraqi deaths that the military announced at the time.

He said Saturday there had been a great deal of attention concerning “coalition forces killing innocent Iraqi civilians. However, each case needs to be examined individually.”

Issa Hrat Khalaf, whose brother was killed in the ensuing air strike, demanded an independent investigation and said the U.S. forces responsible for the killings should be executed.

“Where are the terrorists? Are they the old lady or the kids?” he said in a telephone interview, referring to the fact that women and children were among the victims. “It looks like the lives of the Iraqis are worthless.”

The bloody aftermath of the attack was captured at the time in the footage shot by an AP Television News cameraman. The video became the focus of attention Friday when the BBC aired it in the wake of recent allegations of U.S. troops killing unarmed civilians.

The footage shows at least one adult male and four of the children with deep wounds to the head that could have been caused by bullets or shrapnel. One child has an obvious entry wound to the side and the inside of the walls left standing were pocked with bullet holes. A voice on the tape said there were clear bullet wounds in two people.

The investigation of the attack in Ishaqi, near Samarra in the Sunni Arab heartland north of Baghdad, was one of three probes into possible misconduct by American troops in Iraq. U.S. Marines also are accused of deliberately killing two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians in the western town of Haditha on Nov. 19 after one of their own died in a roadside bombing.

Besides Haditha and Ishaqi, seven Marines and a Navy corpsman could face murder, kidnapping and conspiracy charges in the April shooting death of an Iraqi man west of Baghdad.

Robert Ford, the U.S. Embassy political counselor, promised during a briefing for Iraqi reporters that “all information about what happened in Haditha will be shared with the Iraqi people.”

“What is happening in Haditha is being fully investigated and American soldiers will face military justice if wrongdoings are found,” Ford said in Arabic.

Army Brig. Gen. Donald Campbell, the chief of staff for U.S. forces in Iraq, said Friday the military will cooperate with the Iraqi government in its own investigation of Haditha and other incidents of alleged wrongdoing by U.S. troops.

New footage shot by AP Television News in Haditha and broadcast Saturday showed walls pockmarked with bullet holes inside a stone house belonging to those killed. There also was a dusty TV with an apparent bullet hole.

Iman Walid Abdul-Hameed, a 9-year-old girl who said she was in the house when the shootings occurred, said her brother and several other relatives were killed.

“We want the Americans to be hurt just like us,” she told the cameraman from her cousin’s house, where she is now living.

The New York Times reported Saturday that commanders learned within two days that civilians in Haditha were killed by gunfire and not a roadside bomb, quoting a senior Marine officer it did not name. The officer said officials had no information suggesting the civilians had been killed deliberately and saw no reason to investigate further.

The U.S. military in Baghdad declined to comment on the report Saturday because the investigation is ongoing.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Thursday upbraided the U.S. military for “a horrible crime” in Haditha and accused U.S. troops of habitually attacking unarmed civilians. His office had no immediate comment on the exoneration of the troops in the Ishaqi killings.

On Friday, White House press secretary Tony Snow said al-Maliki had told U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad that he had been misquoted. But Snow was unable to explain what al-Maliki told Khalilzad or how he had been misquoted.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld defended the training and conduct of U.S. troops and said incidents such as the alleged massacre of Iraqi civilians at Haditha shouldn’t happen.

“We know that 99.9 percent of our forces conduct themselves in an exemplary manner. We also know that in conflicts things that shouldn’t happen, do happen,” he said. “We don’t expect U.S. soldiers to act that way, and they’re trained not to.”

In Haditha, the Marines, enraged by the loss of a comrade, stormed into nearby homes in the area and allegedly shot occupants dead as well as several men in a taxi that arrived at the scene of the blast, according to U.S. lawmakers briefed by military officials.

In one of the homes, Marines ordered four brothers inside a closet and shot them dead, said the Haditha lawyer, Khaled Salem Rsayef.

Rsayef said several of his relatives — including a sister, brother-in-law, aunt, uncle and several cousins — were killed. He and his brother, Salam Salem Rsayef, spoke to The Associated Press by telephone from the Euphrates River town of 90,000 late Thursday and Friday.

Despite the Iraqi government’s insistence of cooperation between the U.S. and Iraqi investigations, the Rsayefs said they and other victims’ families refused the request several months ago to exhume the bodies, which is prohibited in Islam.

The Rsayef brothers met at least four times with U.S. military investigators looking into the killings. They said the meetings began in February and were held at Samarra General Hospital. The next meeting is scheduled for Sunday, the two brothers said, suggesting that the U.S. investigations are not finished.

Khaled Salam Rsayef identified the four brothers killed in the closet as a car dealer, a traffic policeman, an engineer and a local government employee. He said the U.S. military did not compensate their families because the brothers were believed to be insurgents.

The lawyer said his account of what happened was based on his personal observations from the rooftop of his home and windows. He said his house is several dozen yards away from the three homes raided by Marines. The killings, which he did not witness in person, were recounted to him and other members of his family the following day by survivors, he said.

The Haditha attack came four months before the nighttime raid in Ishaqi.