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US probe of Ishaqi killings no surprise for Iraqis
June 4, 2006

ISHAQI, Iraq, June 4 (Reuters) - Isa Khalaf doesn't want cash from the U.S. troops he says massacred his relatives in a March raid. He wants an explanation he may never get now that a U.S. probe has cleared them of any wrongdoing.

Standing in the rubble that remains of his brother's house that was pulverised in the small town of Ishaqi, Khalaf recalled the young children that were lost as the sound of gunfire and helicopters rattled the village.

"I don't want compensation. I want answers," he said.

The U.S. investigation that cleared soldiers of any misconduct in Ishaqi may have allowed the soldiers to move on with their lives. But the farming town will be haunted by memories of the bloodshed.

The U.S. military said on Friday that soldiers chasing insurgents took direct fire in Ishaqi and up to nine collateral deaths, a military term for civilian casualties, resulted from an engagement.

It denied as "absolutely false" allegations that troops executed a family living in a safe house for "terrorists", and then hid the alleged crimes by directing an air strike.

U.S. forces in Iraq have in the past paid compensation to civilian victims.

Police had different accounts of what happened during the March raid. They said five children, four women and two men were shot dead by troops in a house that was then blown up.

All the victims were shot in the head and the bodies, with hands bound, were dumped in one room before the house was destroyed, police added.


"Even if we believe the American side of the story, does that give them the right to kill innocent women and children?" asked Ahmed Shaghar, 50.

Ishaqi, 90 km (60 miles) north of Baghdad, is the type of place where the American strategy of winning hearts and minds could go a long way.

It is one of a string of villages and towns that are strongholds for Sunni Arab insurgents that U.S. troops face in many parts of Iraq.

So any locals brave enough to provide U.S. soldiers with tips would be invaluable allies in the war against the insurgency, which American commanders say can only be won with good intelligence.

But these days, helping Americans seems out of the question in Ishaqi.

The extended family of the victims of the raid are still collecting evidence, in the hope that it might ease their grief.

Recalling the sounds of gunfire and explosions, Khalaf stands over what was once his brother's bedroom and remembers some of the dead, like Osama, 7. He clutches death certificates.

"They (U.S. troops) went into the house and fired for about 30 minutes," he said.

The Ishaqi findings come amid an investigation into allegations U.S. Marines massacred up to two dozen unarmed civilians in the town of Haditha in November. Several other killings are also under investigation.

New Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has promised Iraqis justice and criticised the American actions.

But judging by the mood in Ishaqi, Iraqis have learned not to expect too much from their new U.S.-backed democracy.

"We know these probes never lead to anything," said Kassim Jaafar, 25.

Some of the victims were teachers. So villagers built a school at the site of the attack to honour their memory.

It's therapy for some but others are still looking for protection from any future American operations.

"Our government will just leave us to the mercy of American soldiers," said Dhiya Ahmed.

Original Text