On those facts, U.S. and Iraqi accounts agree. On just about everything else — why it happened, whether it was justified and how it was resolved — they do not.
And in those dueling perceptions, over the killings in Haditha and others nationwide, lay the undoing of the U.S. military’s hopes of maintaining a long-term presence here. When it came to deciding the future of American troops in Iraq, the irreconcilable difference that stood in the way of an agreement was a demand by Iraqi politicians for an end to the grant of immunity that has protected on-duty U.S. soldiers from Iraqi courts.
“The image of the American soldier is as a killer, not a defender. And how can you give a killer immunity?” said Sami al-Askari, a lawmaker who is also a close aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
So the troops are going home this month, leaving a question mark over what had been one of the chief goals of the war — to nurture a strategic ally in the heart of the Middle East.
They leave behind a legacy that will forever be tainted in the minds of many Iraqis by the casualties inflicted by the American military on civilians. It’s the raw nerve that jangles, a sensitivity that grates on both sides even as the troops stream out of the country.
The Iraqi government’s decision “has saved the lives of many Iraqis,” said Yusuf al-Anizi, 38, the embittered brother of one of the Haditha victims. “Otherwise, we would have more tragedies to pile on the many tragedies we have seen.”
Exactly how many Iraqis were killed by Americans may never be known. An analysis last year by King’s College London of 92,614 civilian deaths reported from 2003 through March 2008 by Iraq Body Count — a Web site that monitors civilian casualties — found that 12 percent were caused by coalition forces. Though there is no reliable figure for total civilian casualties throughout the nearly nine-year-long war, most estimates put the overall number of deaths at more than 100,000. According to the Defense Department, 4,474 American service members have died, 3,518 of whom were killed in action.
The vast majority of civilian deaths were the result of Iraqis killing Iraqis, whether in bombings or the sectarian bloodletting that engulfed the country in 2005-07, said U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan.
In most of the incidents of acknowledged violations, such as the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, servicemen and women have been brought to trial, and many are serving prison sentences, Buchanan said.