Iraqis Skeptical Of U.S. Probe

By Nelson Hernandez and Muhannad Saif Aldin
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, June 4, 2006; 8:09 AM

BAGHDAD, June 4 -- The Iraqi government and residents of a village where U.S. soldiers killed as many as a dozen civilians in March took a skeptical view Saturday of an American investigation that ruled in the troops' favor, saying they wanted a new probe of the incident.

An aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Iraq would pursue its own probe into the incident in Ishaqi, a village north of Baghdad, and would seek an apology if the U.S. soldiers were proved guilty. "We ought to do our own investigation into this and reach the fact of what happened," Adnan Ali al-Kadhimi said in a telephone interview Saturday. "Our own conclusion may not be the same as theirs."

On March 15, U.S. troops raided what they believed was an insurgent hideout. The soldiers came under fire from the building and responded with a gradual escalation of force, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV said in a statement issued early Saturday morning. The soldiers attacked the building with small arms, then helicopters, and ultimately an airstrike. At the end of the engagement, the building had been destroyed.

Troops then entered the rubble and found the body of a suspected bomb maker, along with three dead "noncombatants," Caldwell said. The attack had caused nine other "collateral deaths," the military estimated.

But residents of Ishaqi continued to argue that the Americans had executed an unarmed Iraqi family and then bombed the building to cover it up -- an allegation Caldwell called "absolutely false."

Issa Khalaf Harat, a lieutenant colonel in Iraq's oil protection police and the brother of one of the victims, lived near the house that was raided. He said he and his family were terrified by the early morning raid, hiding and listening to gunfire for an hour before missiles or bombs from two jets struck the house.

Afterward, Harat said, they came out and he looked for his brother and his family, only to find them buried in the rubble, wrapped in clean blankets with gunshot wounds to their heads. He said he wanted to see an independent American investigation not conducted by the military.

"We want the facts to come to Ishaqi," he said. "We know they were not terrorists, they were not shooting at the Americans, and they were killed in cold blood."

"America is forcing us to go and join the resistance," said Ahmed Hussein, a cousin of one of the victims. "If this goes on like this, in the end we will find ourselves forced to fight the Americans."

The completion of the Ishaqi probe comes as military authorities continue to investigate an incident in which Marines allegedly killed 24 civilians late last year in the western town of Haditha after their convoy was struck by a roadside bomb.

Hibbah Abdullah, a resident of Haditha, said in an interview on the al-Jazeera television network that she was in her house on Nov. 19 when Marines entered and killed her husband, aunt and father-in-law -- the last, she said, with a hand grenade placed in his lap.

"I'm only living in indescribable misery and sadness," she said. "The savagery by which they have taken their lives, it is not going away. I'm not able to forget it; it is always in my mind.

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