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Massacre in Iraq

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WITH remarkable self-assurance for a ten-year-old girl, Iman Hassan recounted how her family was killed by American troops as she cowered in terror in a corner of her living room.


It happened soon after 7am on November 19 last year, she claimed in an interview with The Times. She was still in her pyjamas and preparing for school when a US military convoy rumbled down the road near her home in al-Haditha, a town on the Euphrates surrounded by date farms that has become a hotbed of insurgents. Three months earlier 20 American soldiers had been killed there.


At that moment a Humvee was blown up by a roadside bomb, killing Miguel Terrazas, its 20-year-old driver from El Paso, Texas. Iman’s father was praying in the next room of her house, a basic two-storey building made of breezeblocks. Her grandparents were still in bed. The family heard shots but knew to stay indoors.


What happened next is the subject of a massive inquiry by the US Naval Criminal Investigative Service. The results are expected to deal another devastating blow to America’s standing in Iraq and across the world.


US Congressmen briefed on the investigation expect it to conclude that Corporal Terrazas’s fellow marines ran amok, killing as many as 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, in cold blood. A dozen marines face courts martial or even charges of homicide. A separate inquiry is determining whether there was a cover-up.


Pentagon and military officials who have seen the findings of the investigation have said that it may be the worst case of misconduct by American ground forces in Iraq, and that includes the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse. Critics will draw comparisons with the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War, when US soldiers killed more than 500 unarmed villagers. Then it took 18 months for the truth to emerge, and changed the American public’s perception of the war.


The investigation is also coming to a head only days after President Bush and Tony Blair hailed the creation of Iraq’s new Government of national unity as a turning point in the country’s three-year descent into mayhem.


“It’s a disaster,” said Tareq al-Hashemi, Iraq’s Sunni Vice-President, who dislikes the occupation but does not want US troops to leave until the country is stable. “They are provoking all Iraqis, especially from the Arab Sunni community. They are pushing them to join the national resistance and to fight . . . Maybe some of them feel sympathetic to al-Qaeda now,” he told The Times.


“The situation in western Anbar province is out of control. This happened primarily because of the behaviour of the American Army — their large-scale violation of human rights. They are killing people, hurting people, destroying towns.”


As Iman tells it, US marines burst into her house 15 minutes after the bomb destroyed the Humvee, apparently looking for insurgents. They shouted at her father. Then a grenade was thrown into her grandparents’ room. She saw her mother hit by shrapnel. Her aunt grabbed a baby and ran from the house.


Soldiers opened fire inside the living room, where most of the family were gathered. Her uncle Rashid came downstairs, saw what was happening, then fled outside, where he was pursued by Marines and shot.


“Everybody who was in the house was killed by the Americans except my brother Abdul-Rahman and me,” Iman said. “We were too scared to move and tried to hide under a pillow. I was hit by shrapnel in my leg. For two hours we didn’t dare to move. My family didn’t die immediately. We could hear them groaning.”


Iman’s grandfather Abdul al-Hamid Hassan, her grandmother Khamisa, her father Walid, uncle Mujahid, her mother, uncle Rashid and cousin Abdullah, 4, had all been fatally wounded.


The US military initially reported al-Haditha as just one more bloody incident. “Fifteen Iraqi civilians and a Marine were killed when a roadside bomb exploded in al-Haditha,” said Captain Jeffrey S. Pool, a Marine spokesman.


It later suggested the Iraqi civilians had been caught in the crossfire of a battle between the Marines and insurgents. Lieutenant-Colonel Michelle Martin-Hing, a spokeswoman for the multinational force in Iraq, said that the insurgents “placed non-combatants in the line of fire as the Marines responded to defend themselves”.


But a video made by a trainee Iraqi journalist was passed to Time magazine. It showed bloodstained bodies, bullet and shrapnel marks inside the Hassan family home, and walls spattered with blood. There was no evidence of a skirmish on the outside of the buildings. Doctors said that most of the victims had been shot from close range in the head or chest.


Sources familiar with the investigation say that 24 Iraqis were killed that day. Seven of the victims were women and three were children. Five men were apparently shot in a taxi at a checkpoint.


“There was no firefight. There was no IED [improvised explosive device] that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood,” said John Murtha, a senior Democratic congressman, who has been briefed on the investigation. Mr Murtha is a former Marine colonel and vocal critic of the war.


The Marines belonged to the 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment of the 1st Marine Division. The battalion commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Jeffrey Chessani, and two company commanders, Captain Luke McConnell and Captain James Kimber, were suspended last month, but much worse is expected.


Pentagon sources say three Marines are facing criminal charges, including homicide. An additional nine Marines may also face courts martial.


The investigation’s findings will be published within weeks, but the damage limitation has already begun. General Michael Hagee, the US Marine Corps Commandant, flew to Baghdad on Thursday to tell his men that they must observe international rules of war. “To most Marines, the most difficult part of courage is not the raw physical courage we have seen so often on today’s battlefield. It is rather the moral courage to do the ‘right thing’ in the face of danger or pressure from other Marines,” he said. “We use lethal force only when justifed, proportional and, more importantly, lawful.”


Zalmay Khalilzad, US Ambassador to Baghdad, said that he and the US military would strive to assure Iraqis that what happened in Haditha “does not reflect US policy, reflect US goals, reflect US values”.


John Warner, Republican chairman of the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, said he hoped that the public would remember “the magnificent performance” of the million other troops who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan.


Back in al-Haditha, Iman and what remains of her family have been left to pick up the pieces of their lives. The girl’s uncle, Abu Muhammad, said that there was no time to give their relatives a proper funeral. “Instead we buried three in a grave, so there were five graves for the entire family,” he said. “We buried each man with his wife and child.”


An American unit attended the funeral to apologise, but not before it had positioned snipers around the mourners, he added.


Muhammad Abed, a cousin of Iman, said that two months ago a group of Americans returned to ask about the incident, take pictures and pay $2,500 compensation for each victim. Other Americans in civilian clothes returned to ask questions this month. After the attack Iman’s brother, Abdul Rahman, 8, refused to speak about the incident.


US troops still patrol al-Haditha and raid homes. Iman says that she will never forgive them: “I hate them. They came to kill us and then they say sorry.”


Seven thousand miles away, in El Paso, Texas, there are more victims — the family of the dead Humvee driver, Corporal Terrazas. Rosario Terrazas, his aunt, said: “My nephew was very kindhearted. While he was in Iraq, he asked us to send him care packages to give to the Iraqi children.”


But their grief has been compounded by the knowledge of what his colleagues allegedly did after his death. “It is difficult for us to believe they would do these terrible things,” his aunt said. “Sometimes it seems that it was because of him that an awful thing happened. Do you not realise what that is like?”


Lawyers who have talked to the Marines emphasise the extreme pressure that they were facing that day. The insurgents had mounted a wave of attacks, and the town was one of the most dangerous in Iraq for US troops. Three months earlier insurgents had ambushed and killed six Marine snipers, then released a video showing the mutilated body of a dead servicemen. Later 14 Marines were killed by a bomb near the town.


But the Marine Corps, which has lost 700 men in Iraq, refused to comment on the investigation. Colonel David Lapan, a spokesman, told The Times: “The investigations are ongoing, therefore any comment . . . would be inappropriate and could undermine the investigatory and possible legal process.”


You can't condone it, but the pressure these soldiers are under is out of whack. It says up to 12 Marines will face either court Marshall or receive homicide charges, I thought after My Lai the Medina Standard meant that commanding officers were held accountable. Is that 'as well as' or 'solely'?


Whatever the case, complete withdrawl looks ever more likely as a result and all out civil war looms.

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I do think that it's deplorable to throw blame at the coalition forces when the enemies are not held to the same standard.


war is an horrific creation of man and it's my opinion that despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth by sandalistas atrocities will happen. The bleeding heart liberals want fair trials and transparency throught the military. You cannot apply such logic to animals. The stupidest thing they did was permit Hussein a fair trial. It's my honest opinion that he should be punished for his crime, but I doubt that the Hague will do much more than simply keep him under house arrest for the rest of his life. So he gets to live in relative comfort while the lives of those Iraqi people, who he tortured with his state, are ruined.


two in the chest, one in the head while he was "resisting arrest"... "Oh look .. he's got a gun"


the world is not going to be a betterplace if he lives on.

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