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Iraqi Assails U.S. for Strikes on Civilians
New York Times
June 2, 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 1 — 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. At the same time, he is being pushed by the Americans to resolve the quarreling within his fragile coalition that has left him unable to fill cabinet posts for the Ministries of Defense and the Interior, the two top security jobs in the country.

Military and Congressional officials have said they believe that an investigation into the deaths of two dozen Iraqis in Haditha on Nov. 19 will show that a group of marines shot and killed civilians without justification or provocation. Survivors in Haditha say the troops shot men, women and children in the head and chest at close range.

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," President Bush said Thursday, in response to a question from a reporter after a meeting of his cabinet. Referring to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Peter Pace, he added, "I've spoken to General Pace about this issue quite a few times."

Investigators are examining the role of senior commanders in the aftermath of the Haditha killings, and trying to determine how high up the chain of command culpability may rest.

Marine officials said Thursday that Maj. Gen. Stephen T. Johnson, who was the top Marine Corps commander in Iraq during the Haditha killings, had been set to be promoted to become the service's senior officer in charge of personnel, a three-star position.

General Johnson is widely respected by the Marine Corps' senior leadership, yet officials said it was unlikely that the Pentagon would put him up for promotion until the Haditha investigations were concluded.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that a parallel investigation into whether the killings were covered up has concluded that some officers reported false information and that superiors failed to adequately scrutinize the reports about the two dozen deaths.

The newspaper said that the inquiry had determined that Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, a squad leader present at Haditha, made a false statement when he reported that a roadside bombing had killed 15 civilians. The inquiry also said that an intelligence unit that later visited the site failed to highlight that civilians had gunshot wounds.

In Baghdad, senior Iraqi officials demanded an apology and explanation about Haditha from the United States and vowed their own inquiry.

"We in the ministers' cabinet condemned this crime and demanded that coalition forces show the reasons behind this massacre," Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zubaie, one of the most powerful Sunni Arabs in the new government, said in an interview.

"As you know, this is not the only massacre, and there are a lot," he said. "The coalition forces must change their behavior. Human blood should be sacred regardless of religion, party and nationality."

 Mr. Zubaie, also the acting defense minister, acknowledged that Iraqi officials would probably not be able to force the extradition of any troops suspected of culpability in the Haditha killings. But he said a committee of five ministers, including defense, interior and finance, would investigate the killings with the expectation that American officials would turn over their files. "We do not have the security file because it is in the hands of the coalition forces," he said. "We hope there will not be obstacles ahead."

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.

This week American forces ordered 1,500 troops from Kuwait into Anbar Province, a stronghold of the Sunni insurgency, in the latest sign that insurgents and terrorist groups including those led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi control much of the sprawling desert region.

In interviews on Thursday, two senior Republicans — Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Senator John McCain of Arizona, who is next in line to be committee chairman — both said it was too soon to tell whether the episode would undermine support for the war. Still, both expressed concern.

Senator Warner, who has promised to hold hearings as soon as the military completes its investigation, said he had been urging Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to wrap up the inquiry as swiftly as possible.

"In the interim, frankly, the public opinion on this matter is being influenced by misinformation, leaks and undocumented and uncorroborated facts," he said.

Mr. McCain, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for more than five years, said the incident harked back to the My Lai massacre during the war in Vietnam. He added, "It certainly is harmful, but I can't assess the extent of the damage."

Neither he nor Mr. McCain would say whether Mr. Rumsfeld should be called as a witness.

"I think it depends on what we find out," Mr. McCain said. "I can't say until we really know what happened. There are allegations, and I emphasize allegations, that there was a cover-up. If so, then obviously more senior people would have to be the subject of hearings."

On Wednesday, American troops near the restive city of Samarra shot and killed two Iraqi women, including one who might have been pregnant and on her way to a hospital, after their car did not heed what the American military command said were repeated warnings to stop.

At a news conference in Baghdad, a senior American military spokesman, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, said that "about three or four, at least," allegations of wrongdoing by American troops were being investigated and that anyone found guilty of offenses in those incidents or in the Haditha case would be punished. "This tragic incident is in no way representative of how coalition forces treat Iraqi civilians," he said.

In Baghdad, the top American ground commander in Iraq ordered that all 150,000 American and allied troops in the country receive mandatory refresher training on "legal, moral and ethical standards on the battlefield."

In a statement, the officer, Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, did not specifically cite the civilian deaths in Haditha as the reason for the unusual order.

But he said commanders would be provided with training materials and sample vignettes to use to instruct on professional military values and conduct in combat, as well as Iraqi cultural sensitivities.

Original Text