IRAQ LAUNCHES OWN INQUIRIES AFTER US CLEARS TROOPS
WHAT HAPPENED ON THE GROUND IN HADITHA
"The Iraqi government has reacted furiously to a ruling that cleared American forces of executing a family of civilians north of Baghdad earlier this year, and pledged to continue its own inquiries into allegations of US war crimes.
"An American military investigation this weekend cleared US troops of rounding up and deliberately shooting 11 people - including five children and four women - in a house in the village of Ishaqi, before blowing up the building.
"But Iraq rejected the American exoneration of its own forces yesterday.
"Anger over the incident has raised tensions even further between the US government and the Iraqi administration it backs. Relations deteriorated throughout the week after a series of revelations and claims of criminal behaviour by US forces.
"Mr Maliki, who took office two weeks ago at the helm of a US-backed national unity government, is battling a growing perception that US troops can shoot and kill with impunity.
"Besides Haditha and Ishaqi, it was also claimed by the US media yesterday that eight servicemen were in custody in the US awaiting charges expected to include 'murder, kidnap and conspiracy'.
From The New York Times : Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki lashed out at the American military on Thursday, denouncing what he characterized as habitual attacks by troops against Iraqi civilians.
As outrage over reports that American marines killed 24 Iraqis in the town of Haditha last year continued to shake the new government, the country's senior leaders said that they would demand that American officials turn over their investigative files on the killings and that the Iraqi government would conduct its own inquiry.
In his comments, Mr. Maliki said violence against civilians had become a "daily phenomenon" by many troops in the American-led coalition who "do not respect the Iraqi people."
"They crush them with their vehicles and kill them just on suspicion," he said. "This is completely unacceptable."
Attacks on civilians will play a role in future decisions on how long to ask American forces to remain in Iraq, the prime minister added.
The denunciation was an unusual declaration for a government that remains desperately dependent on American forces to keep some form of order in the country amid a resilient Sunni Arab insurgency in the west, widespread sectarian violence in Baghdad, and deadly feuding among Shiite militias that increasingly control the south.
It was also a sign of the growing pressure on Mr. Maliki, whose governing coalition includes Sunni Arabs who were enraged by news of the killings in Haditha, a city deep in Sunni-dominated Anbar Province.
For the second day in a row, President Bush spoke directly about the furor surrounding the case.
"Obviously, the allegations are very troubling for me and equally troubling for our military, especially the Marine Corps."
The crisis over Haditha and other disputed killings in Sunni areas comes just as it appears that military operations may be needed to retake some Sunni areas at risk of falling to the insurgency.
The LA Times has compiled a detailed examination of how the events of the Haditha Massacre unfolded. It is the most comprehensive report we've seen so far. It will be interesting to compare it to the official US Military timeline and catalogue of events when it releases its own reports to the public, sometime in the next few weeks.
After the roadside bombing, the Marines arrived first at the door of Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali, 89, an amputee who used a wheelchair. They shot him, then turned their guns on his three sons and their families, survivors said.
Waleed Abdul Hameed, a 48-year-old worker in Al Anbar's religious affairs office, was among the first of the family members to be gunned down. His 9-year-old daughter, Eman, said she was still wearing her pajamas when the Marines arrived. Her 7-year-old brother, Abdul Rahman, said he hid his face with a blanket when his father was shot.
A few minutes later, the boy saw his mother fall to the ground, dying.
"I saw her while she was crying," he said. "She fell down on the floor bleeding." Speaking days ago in Haditha, months after the attacks, the boy broke into tears, covered his eyes with his hands, and began to mutter to himself.
At his side, his elder sister began to speak again. Eman described how the two had waited for help, the bodies of their family members sprawled on the floor.
"We were scared," she said. "I tried to hide under the bed." With shrapnel injuries to her legs, she lay still for two hours.
When the shooting began, Eman's aunt, Hibba Abdullah snatched her 5-month-old niece off the floor. The baby's mother had dropped her in shock after seeing her husband gunned down. Clutching the child, Abdullah ran out of the house. She and the baby, Aasiya, survived.
The baby's mother "completely collapsed when they killed her husband in front of her," Abdullah said. "I ran away carrying Aasiya outside the house, but when the Americans returned they killed Asma, the mother of the child."
Abdullah's 39-year-old husband also slipped out of the house and ran to warn his cousins nearby. But he crossed paths with the Americans on his way back; he died of gunshot wounds to the shoulder and head, Abdullah said.
Seven family members were killed: Ali and his wife; their three sons and a daughter-in-law; and their 5-year-old grandson. Only one of the household's adults survived.
The Marines stopped next at the home of customs official Younis Salim Nusaif, 45, his wife, Aida Yassin, and their six children. The 42-year-old Yassin was in bed that morning, recovering from a recent operation. Her sister had come to stay with the family and help with housework while she recuperated.
Everyone was at home when the troops arrived. And all but one 12-year-old girl were slain. Along with the parents and visiting sister, four girls and a boy, their ages ranging from 4 to 15, were shot by the Marines, said neighbors and the surviving child, Safa Younis Salim.
"I feel sorry. I was wishing to be alive," said Safa. "Now I wish I had died with them."
The troops moved along the street to another home. There, they killed four brothers, whose ages ranged from 20 to 38, a woman from the family said.
....the Marines herded the women outside, pointed guns at their heads and ordered them to stay still, said the woman, who did not want her name published.
The last (Iraqis) to die apparently came upon the scene by chance. Four university students, two of them brothers, and their taxi driver drove too close to the spot where the families had been killed. Witnesses said U.S. troops stopped their car, ordered them to get out and shot them.
When the killing was over, the Americans continued to guard the street, keeping relatives away, townspeople said. Eventually, the troops took the bodies to the hospital, a medical source in Haditha said.
Time Magazine has an investigation into Kilo Company, the unit responsible for the massacre at Haditha, and how the cover-up of the massacre by troops on the ground and their senior officers unfolded :
"The men in Kilo Company were veterans of ferocious house-to-house fighting in Fallujah. Their combat experience seemed to prepare them for the ordeal of serving in an insurgent stronghold like Haditha, the kind of place where the enemy attacks U.S. troops from the cover of mosques, schools and homes and uses civilians as shields, complicating Marine engagement rules to shoot only when threatened.
Frank Schaeffer has a son who served two three tours in Iraq and Afghanisation, and in summing up his thoughts on the reactiosn to the Haditha Massacre, he writes :
The flag-waving boosters of our current war and their critics all seem to forget that war really is hell. Proponents sweep the inconvenient dreadfulness under the carpet (no photographs of coffins, please) while opponents are shocked, just shocked, at the nastiness.
All sides seem to forget that there are no good wars, only morally ambiguous conflicts that lead to better or worse outcomes.
In this war, we do not have enough political leaders and opinion-makers receiving soul-searing letters from their children. Their sons and daughters are notably absent from our military. That's too bad.
A personal connection to our wars might discourage the sort of glib hubris that leads the media to trumpet events such as the Haditha killings without putting them in the context of the everyday heroism that is the norm, or in the context of history.
And a personal connection to our military by our political leaders would give them a stake in our troops' welfare and what we are asking them to do.