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.
"On the morning after, I saw my husband wrapped in his coffin. I was shouting, 'Wake up, Rasheed!' When they saw me like that, people were surprised. I said, 'No, he is not dead.' I know there is a bullet between his eyes and on his shoulder, but I said, 'No, he is not dead.' I did not believe it, and even now, if Rasheed came, I would not be surprised."
Iman Walid Abdul-Hamid, a 9-year-old girl who also survived the Haditha attack, said in an interview taped by Associated Press Television News: "Because they hurt us, we want the Americans to be executed."
Kadhimi, Maliki's aide, said the Iraqi investigation and the possible demand for an apology were necessary because Iraqis needed some assurance "not to see the repeating of any such incident."
But he was careful to step back from a statement by Maliki this week that the continued presence of American troops in Iraq might depend on greater restraints being placed on troops in the wake of the investigations. Kadhimi acknowledged that the Iraqi army and police were not yet ready to stand alone without the assistance of the United States and its allies.
The security situation remains urgent. More than 50 people were killed in bomb blasts and shootings on Saturday, including a Russian diplomat whose car was ambushed by gunmen in Baghdad, police said. The gunmen kidnapped four other Russians in the car, but they were freed hours later in a police raid, a Defense Ministry spokesman said. However, the Interior Ministry's information director denied the report Sunday morning, according to the Associated Press.
The Russian Embassy was not able to confirm the report either way, the AP said.
At least 27 people were killed when a car bomb exploded at a furniture market in the southern city of Basra on Saturday evening, hospital officials said. Only a few days before, Maliki had visited the tense city, declaring a state of emergency and vowing to strike at criminals and the increasingly violent situation there "with an iron hand."
Aldin reported from Ishaqi. Special correspondents K.I. Ibrahim, Salih Saif Aldin, Naseer Nouri, Omar Fekeiki and Saad al-Izzi in Baghdad, Hassan Shammari in Baqubah and a special correspondent in Basra contributed to this report.