By Ellen Knickmeyer and Omar Fekeiki
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, May 29, 2006
BAGHDAD, May 28 -- After three years of war that has been fought in their streets and claimed the lives of tens of thousands of civilians, people in Baghdad could spare little more than subdued expressions of sympathy Sunday after hearing reports of a U.S. Marine massacre of 24 men, women and children in a faraway western town.
"We are tired of this news. I don't want to hear about more killings," said Ismael Abbas, a 37-year-old express-mail courier, chuckling slightly in acknowledgment of the callousness of his words. He added, "The only news I care about is when a car bomb explodes in my neighborhood. I just check if my family is okay."
Like most in Baghdad, he counts his personal toll from the war: a brother and three cousins killed last year when a mortar round -- most likely from insurgents -- fell on their neighborhood in the eastern part of the city.
"So what if more innocent people were killed?" Abbas said of the reported massacre in Haditha. "Dozens of them die daily."
Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment are under investigation for allegedly storming at least three homes in Haditha on Nov. 19, turning their guns and grenades against civilians including a 76-year-old amputee who used a wheelchair, and girls and boys ages 14, 10, 5, 4, 3 and 1. Five men, four college students returning home for the weekend and their taxi driver, were also killed in the rampage, which allegedly came in retaliation for a roadside bombing in the neighborhood that killed a Marine.
U.S. Marine commanders in Washington have warned Congress of grave findings when two military investigations into the killings are concluded in coming weeks. Some U.S. military officials have said they are bracing for a scandal like that surrounding Abu Ghraib, when the disclosure of torture and humiliation of naked Iraqi prisoners disillusioned many Iraqis who had welcomed the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein.
Tens of thousands of Iraqis have died in violence since the U.S. invasion in 2003, many from insurgent bombs and execution-like killings in the intensifying sectarian violence, making TV broadcasts most days a montage of sprawled corpses and weeping families. A fraction of the deaths are caused directly by U.S. fire.
"We have a Haditha every day. We have a Fallujah and Karbala every day,'' said Muhanned Jasim, a local merchant, citing two of the many landmarks for civilian death in the war, the 2004 U.S. offensive in Fallujah and insurgent bombings in the Shiite Muslim holy city of Karbala.
An antiques seller in central Baghdad, Jasim hadn't heard the news of Haditha, he said, because he no longer has electricity to power his television.
"We live in darkness,'' he said, fanning his face as the sweat rolled down. "What's the big news about Iraqis getting killed? We're powerless to change the situation."
Ghasan Jayih, a pharmacist, said he could pinpoint when he stopped caring: in November 2004, when gunmen shot and killed his best friend as the man drove home from his job as an interpreter at a U.S. Army base. "When I lose the friend of my childhood, it means nothing else can matter to me."
"Were they the first . . . Iraqis to be killed for no reason?" Jayih said. "We're used to being killed. It's normal now to hear 25 Iraqis are killed in one day."
At the time of the killings in Haditha, U.S. Marines were waging a 17-day air and ground offensive in Anbar province that tribal leaders and hospital officials say killed roughly 90 civilians. Scores of insurgents also were killed, the tribal leaders and hospital officials said.
U.S. military officials at the time acknowledged two U.S. airstrikes on buildings where civilians were later found but have denied Iraqi accounts of high death tolls in Anbar province, calling them insurgent propaganda. Iraqis and Americans agree that insurgents have made a practice of taking shelter in neighborhoods.
Officials briefed on the U.S. military investigations into Haditha, however, say all those killed appeared to have been noncombatants. Investigators apparently have rejected two early versions of events from Marines: first, that the victims were either civilians killed by the roadside bomb or insurgents killed in fighting, and second, that the residents were killed inadvertently in a running gun battle with insurgents.
Baghdad residents interviewed Sunday said they cared now about only one aspect of the case: the trial.
"I am expecting a fair trial for those soldiers. Then we should send the people who kept the terrorists in their area to court,'' said Kadhum Jawad, a money changer in a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad.
"Nothing will happen in their trial," said Omar Hamdoon, a Sunni Arab owner of a clothing shop for women.
"Even if they investigate, and even if five American troops are proved guilty, would they sentence them to death?" said Jayih, the pharmacist. "Unless they do that, the investigation won't interest Iraqis."
Special correspondents Salih Saif Aldin and Bassam Sebti contributed to this report.