By Ellen Knickmeyer and Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 2, 2006
BAGHDAD, June 2 -- Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced Thursday that Iraq would conduct its own investigations into what he suggested were multiple cases of killings of civilians by U.S.-led forces, saying his government might demand greater restraints on foreign troops as a condition of their staying in Iraq.
A top U.S. general in Iraq, meanwhile, said the American military would embark within "a few days" on morals and ethics training for most of the roughly 150,000 multinational troops in Iraq, spurred by investigators' findings concerning the alleged killing by U.S. Marines of 24 men, women and children in the western town of Haditha late last year and allegations of a coverup.
"The allegations of Haditha are troubling to all of us," Army Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, commander of multinational forces in Iraq, said about the Nov. 19 killings.
"There's enough out in the open press that would indicate that there are some serious issues that we're looking at," Chiarelli said, stressing that the allegations concerned relatively few troops.
"Out of those 150,000 soldiers, I'd dare to say that 99.9 percent of them are doing the right thing," he said.
"Whenever you have 150,000 individuals who are in a different environment and a different culture, an environment that can be dangerous at times, people will react differently at different times. I'd like to get it to 100 percent of our soldiers doing the right thing every single day," he said. "But you've got to be a realist and understand that those kind of things do happen."
Two U.S. military investigations are underway into the shooting deaths of 24 townspeople -- including three women and six children, witnesses say -- allegedly by members of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. Iraqi witnesses and survivors, and U.S. officials briefed on the findings so far, say the Marines appear to have shot the civilians in cold blood after a roadside bomb attack on their convoy killed one Marine.
The Marines initially said that 15 of the civilians had been killed in the bombing and that eight others, described as insurgents, were killed in fighting that followed. Some U.S. military and congressional leaders have said they fear a backlash equal to or greater than the criticism that followed the exposure in 2004 of torture of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison.
Maliki, head of a Shiite Muslim-led governing coalition that has at times expressed resentment of the U.S. troop presence here, now in its fourth year, formally condemned not just the Haditha killings but what he called "the practice" of occupying forces' disregard for civilians.
"The list might be long, because this has become a phenomenon among many of the multinational forces that they do not respect the civilian," Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq's first permanent government since the fall of Saddam Hussein, told reporters after a cabinet meeting. "They run them over and leave them, or they kill anyone suspicious."
"This cannot be accepted, and maybe we will talk about that during the review process on the issue of the MNF's stay in Iraq, so that it would become one of the conditions by which the foreign troops should be bound," the prime minister said, using the initials for multinational force.
Under the U.N. charter, the U.S.-led coalition technically can remain in Iraq only at the invitation of the Iraqi government. Maliki, while speaking sternly on the killings to the Iraqi public, stopped well short of saying the issue might lead to the foreign troops being asked to leave or even singling out the Americans as culprits.
While Maliki's Shiite coalition at times has accused U.S. officials of tying the Iraqi government's hands in the fight against Sunni Arab insurgents, many Iraqis on all sides of the country's conflicts fear far greater strife if the U.S.-led forces withdraw.
Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said Thursday that American officials were investigating "three or four" cases of alleged wrongful killings of Iraqi civilians by troops. Caldwell did not give details, but U.S. authorities have said they are investigating allegations of a killing and alleged coverup involving an Iraqi man in Anbar province last month and the killing during a house search of a relative of Iraq's ambassador to the United States. The military also said in March that it was investigating Iraqi police allegations that as many as 11 civilians were killed in a March 15 raid in the area of Ishaqi, near the city of Balad north of Baghdad.
Caldwell said insurgents kill more civilians than U.S. forces do, but gave no figures. For three years, the U.S.-led force has given varying answers on the extent to which it tracks civilian deaths in the conflict. Individual commanders have released partial tolls.
Chiarelli said the instruction ordered for foreign troops would amount to "core warrior-values training. In reality, it's refresher training."
"I think if you go out, you'll find leaders doing this kind of training on their own," he said. "This is just an attempt to try to take a month to do this -- to ask leaders at all levels to go ahead and reinforce those core values."
Commanders in the field will be sent packets of information that include a letter from Chiarelli explaining the training and 36 slides "that lay out some basic premises and a series of vignettes," Chiarelli said. Training sessions for each service member were expected to run two to four hours, he said.
Chiarelli declined to say whether any further measures would be taken. "I won't be able to tell you that until the rest of the investigation comes in. This is just one that seems kind of blatantly obvious," he said.
"I think it's always good when people take the time to review those things that make us special. I'm proud of this institution. I don't know what other army or coalition in the world would take the opportunity to go back and review what makes us special, to understand the role of the military in a democratic state. I'm proud of us as an institution for doing this thing," he said.
In violence Thursday, news agencies reported as many as 13 people killed by mortar rounds in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dora. A bomb in a central Baghdad square killed five people, police said.
In Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, police Lt. Nadhum Ali Lattif of the town of Hibhib reported recovering the heads of four men, at least three of whom had disappeared after being detained by police in northern Baghdad last month.
Special correspondents Saad al-Izzi and Hassan Shammari contributed to this report.