By Joshua Partlow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 17, 2006
BAGHDAD, June 16 -- The completed investigation into whether U.S. Marine leaders covered up the deaths of 24 civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha last year was delivered Friday to a top military commander in Iraq who will "thoroughly review the voluminous report as quickly as possible," the U.S. military said in a statement.
Army Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, was given the results of a probe conducted by Army Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell into how the Marines responded in the days and weeks after Nov. 19, 2005, when Marines allegedly reacted to a roadside bomb by shooting unarmed civilians, including women and children.
Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), a former Marine who met with Chiarelli in Iraq in early June, said last week that the general had already received the report, but a military spokesman here said Friday that Chiarelli had not been given the final version of the report until now.
The statement said Chiarelli "may approve the findings in whole, or he may substitute or add his own findings based on the evidence available in the report. He may send the report back to the investigating officer with additional questions or requests for additional information. Additionally, he may make recommendations that require action by a higher headquarters."
No timeline was given as to when Chiarelli would take action. A separate, ongoing investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service focuses on the killings and could lead to criminal charges including murder.
The Army Criminal Investigation Command, meanwhile, began its own probe into a separate incident involving three men from Salahuddin province in northern Iraq who died while in the custody of coalition forces.
The three men were not identified, nor were the circumstances of their deaths on May 9 explained Friday. News reports said the men were killed at a security checkpoint, but Maj. Todd Breasseale, a Marine spokesman in Baghdad, denied that account. He said that no checkpoint was involved and that it was not an issue of "escalation of force."
Soldiers suspicious about the incident led Chiarelli to request the investigation, according to a statement released Thursday night by Chiarelli's office. A spokesman for the Army Criminal Investigation Command said no details about the case would be released "at this time, to protect the integrity and thoroughness of our investigation."
The sectarian violence that has plagued Iraq continued unabated Friday. In the deadliest attack, a man wearing an explosive belt and disguised as an Iraqi national guardsman blew himself up inside the revered Baratha mosque in Baghdad, killing 11 people, according to police and witnesses. The same mosque in central Baghdad was hit by a triple bombing in April that killed at least 70 people.
After making it past the heavily guarded entrance of the Shiite Muslim mosque, the suicide bomber detonated his charge among worshipers gathering for Friday prayers, witnesses said. A member of an Iraqi media association, Amir al-Amiry, who was at the mosque, said the bomber told guards he wanted to pray inside, then walked to within about 10 yards of the pulpit where the mosque's imam, Jalal Al-Din al-Saghir, stood reading the Koran.
In a news briefing by videoconference, Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of the 4th Infantry Division, which oversees Baghdad, said one person in the mosque tried to prevent the bombing: "He put his whole life on the line to stop it."
The suicide bombing occurred despite heightened security in the capital. This week more than 22,000 Iraqi police officers deployed in Baghdad to enforce stricter curfews and maintain numerous checkpoints, Thurman said.
U.S.-led forces have 10 battalions assisting in the security crackdown, known as Operation Together Forward, and Thurman said attacks were decreasing.
"We've seen a drop in violence and expect that trend to continue with the implementation of the Baghdad security plan," he said, adding that he believes "right now we have enough security forces."
In Karbala, about 60 miles southwest of the capital, acrimony continued over the recent detention of the leader of the provincial council, Aqeel al-Zubaidy. U.S. and Iraqi forces called Zubaidy a "terrorist leader" in a statement and said he was wanted for assassinating Iraqi citizens and planning terrorist attacks.
A protest organized by the predominantly Shiite Fadhila Party that included members of Shiite militias and the governor of the province took place between two shrines in Karbala. Protesters chanted, "No, no, America!" and, "How could we sleep at night while we have a feud with America?"
The council issued a statement asking to meet with American commanders. The chairman of the council, Abdul Hussein al-Moussawi, said that the arrest set a "dangerous precedent" and that Zubaidy was taken "without prior warning, . . . and there was no arrest warrant approved by the judicial authorities."
Special correspondents Saad al-Izzi, Naseer Nouri and K.I. Ibrahim contributed to this report.