By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, March 20, 2006
BAGHDAD, March 19 -- Clashes between U.S. forces and suspected insurgents, and allegations of American troops killing noncombatants, marked the third anniversary Sunday of the start of the American-led invasion of Iraq.
In Duluiyah, a stretch of farms along the Tigris River about 45 miles north of Baghdad, soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division's 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team battled insurgents, the U.S. military said in a statement.
The statement said American troops were responding to insurgents who opened fire with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades in the area, predominated by Sunnis. Seven of the attackers were killed, and two U.S. soldiers were wounded.
A top police official, as well as a resident who claimed he saw the fighting, said U.S. troops also shot and killed a family of three during house-to-house searches after the firefight.
"I saw corpses on the ground that I believe were of armed men who had clashed with the American forces" and with the Iraqi army, said Ahmad Hashem, the resident. "Then the American soldiers appeared and started searching homes. They raided a house which was close to my home and killed a man named Ahmad Khalaf Hussein, his wife and his 10-year-old son."
Western news agencies also reported civilian deaths in the fighting. The U.S. military, in the statement from spokesmen in Baghdad, said it knew of no civilian deaths in the engagement.
U.S. military officials said the fight was not connected to another ongoing offensive, Operation Swarmer, in which U.S. and Iraqi forces have been searching for Sunni insurgents and weapons caches in arid countryside between the Tigris River and Samarra, about 65 miles north of Baghdad.
American officials announced last week that they had ordered a further investigation into a deadly incident four months ago in the town of Haditha in far western Iraq.
At least 15 civilians were killed in the incident on Nov. 19. The military's original statement on Nov. 20 said that the civilians and a U.S. Marine were killed by a roadside bomb. Time magazine reported Sunday that U.S. officials are now investigating whether Marines killed the 15 civilians, including seven women and three children, after the insurgent bombing that killed their fellow Marine.
The newsweekly said it had given military officials accounts from a doctor and survivors that said the 15 unarmed townspeople were killed as they hid in their houses, or tried to run to safety, as Marines searched the area after the bombing. Time said it had also given the military a videotape showing some of the bodies. It quoted unidentified military officials as saying that Marines had believed U.S. troops were coming under fire from the houses, and that the initial investigation indicated that Marines, rather than a bomb, had killed the 15.
"We take these allegations very seriously, and I believe the fact that two additional investigations are ongoing concerning this incident clearly demonstrate that," a U.S. military spokeswoman in Baghdad, Lt. Col. Michelle Martin-Hing, said in an e-mail on Sunday. Martin-Hing said the shootings were "the first in a series of engagements that day that began when the Marine patrol was ambushed in a residential neighborhood with an IED followed immediately by small arms fire from multiple directions. Over the course of five hours, the Marines actively tracked insurgents moving through the town among civilian homes, other structures and palm groves, on foot and by vehicle. The investigation will examine whether any rules of engagement were violated."
A roadside bomb exploded near a police patrol Sunday morning in Baqubah, killing a policeman and injuring 10 other people, according to Lt. Col. Fakhri Tamimi Hassman, an official with the Diyala provincial police. Baqubah is about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad.
In Baghdad, the bodies of three men who had been bound hand and foot and shot were found dumped in the west of the city, and another man was shot dead Sunday as he left a Shiite mosque, news agencies reported. The number of execution-style killings in Baghdad -- with the victims shot, often after being tortured or bound -- has climbed to an average of about 30 a day since mid-2005, according to Baghdad morgue figures. Many of the killings have allegedly been carried out by militias or police forces allied with Iraq's governing Shiite parties.
Iraq's former prime minister, Ayad Allawi, told the BBC that the increasing attacks across his country can only be described as a civil war.
Sunni, Shiite, Kurdish and secular political leaders said Sunday that they had agreed on the creation of a National Security Council that would represent all of Iraq's major political factions. The move appeared designed to counter Shiite dominance of Interior and Defense ministry forces.
"The agreements that we have declared today prove that civil war is not a possibility, and the Iraqi people could not allow for a civil war to take place," President Jalal Talabani told reporters.
The war in Iraq began on March 19, 2003, Washington time -- early morning March 20 in Baghdad -- when President Bush authorized an early strike by U.S. fighter-bombers and offshore Tomahawk cruise missiles on a Baghdad bunker where Saddam Hussein was reported to be sleeping. The Defense Department confirmed 2,313 U.S. military deaths as of Friday, with unofficial totals indicating 207 other coalition military deaths.
Tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians have died in the war, from U.S. and Iraqi military actions, insurgent attacks and, increasingly, raids attributed to government-allied Shiite Muslim squads that allegedly operate both inside and outside Iraq's new, Shiite-dominated security forces.
Special correspondent Hassan Shammari in Baqubah and other Washington Post staff contributed to this report.