BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – A military investigation into allegations that American troops intentionally killed civilians in Ishaqi, a village north of Baghdad, has cleared them of misconduct, the U.S. said, even though it acknowledged the deaths of up to 13 Iraqis in the March raid.
Meanwhile, a lawyer representing families of some of the two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians allegedly killed by U.S. Marines in the western town of Haditha on Nov. 19 said Friday that three or four Marines carried out the shootings while 20 more waited outside the homes. He also said victims’ relatives turned down a request by U.S. investigators to exhume the victims’ bodies for forensic tests.
The investigation of the March 15 attack in Ishaqi concluded that the U.S. troops followed normal procedures in raising the level of force as they came under attack upon 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 of the raid. The results of the investigation were released after questions were raised about the original U.S. report as television stations aired AP Television News footage of a row of dead children in the aftermath of the raid.
The probe was part of U.S. investigations into possible misconduct by American troops in at least three separate areas of Iraq. 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.
The military said Friday it will cooperate with the Iraqi government in its own investigation of Haditha and other incidents of alleged wrongdoing by U.S. troops. “We’re going to give them whatever assistance they need as a part of this investigation,” said Army Brig. Gen. Donald Campbell, the chief of staff for U.S. forces in Iraq.
New footage shot by AP Television News in Haditha and broadcast Saturday showed scattered rocks at the site in the median that apparently had been hit by a roadside bomb on Nov. 19, the explosion that killed a Marine before the shootings occurred.
The stone house of those who were killed looms on a hill in the background and footage later shows its inside white walls pockmarked with bulletholes marked with the numbers B3 and B4 and arrows that appeared to have been written by U.S. military investigators.
A dusty TV with an apparent bullet hole in the corner and a sewing machine sit on the floor as furniture has been pushed to the side of the emptied house. Iman Walid Abdul-Hameed, a young girl who said she was in the house when the shootings occurred, said her brother and several other relatives had been killed and she demanded revenge.
“We want the Americans to be hurt just like us,” she told the cameraman, wearing a violet striped shirt and headband as she sat on a couch and told her story. Campbell’s pledge came a day after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki upbraided the U.S. military over Haditha, which he called “a horrible crime,” and accused U.S. troops of habitually attacking unarmed civilians.
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 he himself lost several relatives in the alleged massacre, including a sister and her husband, an aunt, an uncle and several cousins. 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. “No way we can ever agree to that,” Salam Salem Rsayef said. Under Islamic teachings, exhuming bodies is prohibited, but is allowed on case-by-case basis, sometime after a fatwa, or an edict, from a senior cleric allowing it to proceed.
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 give compensation payments to 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. He said his own home shook violently when the roadside bomb went off at 7:15 a.m. and that intermittent gunfire lasted for about two hours. He could not go out of his house to see for himself, but managed to steal quick glances from his roof and from behind windows. “About 5 p.m. I emerged with my family carrying white flags,” he said. “We wanted to move away from the area fearing that shooting could resume.”
The New York Times, in a story for Saturday editions posted on its Web site, quoted a senior Marine officer as saying that commanders learned within two days that civilians in Haditha were killed by gunfire and not a roadside bomb. But the officer, who wasn’t further identified, said officials had no information suggesting the civilians had been killed deliberately and saw no reason to investigate further.
The Haditha attack came four months before the nighttime raid in the village of Ishaqi, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Baghdad.
A U.S. ground force conducted the Ishaqi attack, said two defense officials in Washington. After being fired upon from the targeted building, the soldiers pulled back and called in airstrikes by an Air Force AC-130 gunship, which attacked and collapsed the building, they said. One of the officials said the investigation into the circumstances of the Ishaqi attack found that four people in the building were killed by U.S. forces, including two women and a child. The main target of the attack, said by U.S. intelligence to be an al-Qaida figure, ran from the building but was later captured, the official said. Caldwell said that a search found “the body of Abu Ahmed plus three noncombatants,” while the “investigating officer concluded that possibly up to nine collateral deaths resulted from this engagement but could not determine the precise number due to collapsed walls and heavy debris.”
Local Iraqis said there were 11 dead, contending they were killed by U.S. troops before the house was leveled. 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 video includes an unidentified man saying “children were stuck in the room, alone and surrounded.” “After they handcuffed them, they shot them dead. Later, they struck the house with their planes. They wanted to hide the evidence. Even a 6-month-old infant was killed. Even the cows were killed, too,” he said. Although it has been known that U.S. air power was involved in the assault on the building in Ishaqi, it was not previously reported that there was an AC-130 gunship, a devastating weapon capable of operating at night and pummeling its target with side-firing guns, including a 105mm cannon. The gunship is flown by Air Force Special Operations crews.