BAGHDAD, Iraq – A third set of allegations that U.S. troops have deliberately killed civilians is fueling a furor in Iraq and drawing strong condemnations from government and human rights officials.
"It looks like the killing of Iraqi civilians is becoming a daily phenomenon," the chairman of the Iraqi Human Rights Association, Muayed al-Anbaki, said Friday after video ran on television of children and adults slain in a raid in March on the Iraqi village of Ishaqi north of Baghdad.
[Editor's note: Photos are extremely graphic.]
Al-Anbaki's comments came a day after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki upbraided the U.S. military over allegations that Marines killed two dozen unarmed civilians in the western city of Haditha, calling it "a horrible crime." They were his strongest public comments on the subject since his government was sworn in last month.
U.S. commanders have ordered new ethics training for all troops in Iraq. But the flow of revelations and investigations threatens to undermine Iraq's new government and public support in America for President Bush's management of the war.
Iraq's government also began its own investigation of the deaths in Haditha.
In addition to the Haditha case, in which Marines are alleged to have gunned down 24 civilians in a rage of revenge for a bombing that killed a Marine in November, seven Marines and a Navy corpsman could face murder, kidnapping and conspiracy charges as early as Friday in the April shooting death of an Iraqi man in yet another incident, a defense attorney said Thursday.
Military prosecutors plan to file the charges against the seven servicemen, who are being held in solitary confinement at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Marine Corps base, said Jeremiah Sullivan III, who represents one of the men.
The Iraqi man reportedly was dragged from his home west of Baghdad and shot. The Los Angeles Times and NBC News said troops may have planted an AK-47 and a shovel near the body to make it appear as if the man was an insurgent burying a roadside bomb. Neither suggested a possible motive.
The U.S. military had no additional comment Friday on the accusations stemming from a raid March 15 in the village of Ishaqi, about 50 miles north of Baghdad.
In March, the U.S. military said four people died when they attacked from the ground and air a house suspected of holding an al-Qaida operative. The house was destroyed.
But video shot by an AP Television News cameraman at the time and aired on March 15 shows at least five children dead. The video shows at least one adult male and four young children with obvious entry wounds to the head. One child has an obvious entry wound to the side caused by a bullet.
The March report spelled the village's name as Isahaqi.
Local Iraqis said there were 11 total dead, and charged that they were killed by U.S. troops before the house was leveled.
The video includes an unidentified man saying "children were stuck in the room, alone and surrounded."
"After they handcuffed them, they shot them dead. Later, they struck the house with their planes. They wanted to hide the evidence. Even a 6-month-old infant was killed. Even the cows were killed, too," he said.
The video included shots of the bodies of five children and two men wrapped in blankets.
Other video showed the bodies of three children in the back of a pickup truck that took them to the hospital in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's former hometown.
Police Capt. Laith Mohammed said the March 15 attack that hit Ishaqi involved U.S. warplanes and armor.
Riyadh Majid, who identified himself as the nephew of Faez Khalaf, the head of the household who was killed, told AP at the time that U.S. forces landed in helicopters and raided the home.
Khalaf's brother, Ahmed, said nine of the victims were family members who lived at the house and two were visitors.
The U.S. military, which said in March that the allegations were being investigated, said it was targeting and captured an individual suspected of supporting foreign fighters of the al-Qaida in Iraq terrorist network. It had no further comment Friday.
Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, spokesman for U.S.-led forces in Iraq, said at a news conference Thursday that "about three or four" inquiries were being carried out around the country, but he would not provide any details.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Friday defended the training and conduct of U.S. troops and said incidents such as the alleged massacre of Iraqi civilians shouldn't happen.
"We know that 99.9 percent of our forces conduct themselves in an exemplary manner. We also know that in conflicts things that shouldn't happen, do happen," he said. "We don't expect U.S. soldiers to act that way, and they're trained not to."
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called the allegations "very, very serious" and said the world will see a thorough military investigation.
"If people are found to have committed crimes, those people will be held responsible and they will be held accountable," Gonzales said Friday in an interview with WOAI-AM, a radio station in San Antonio. "The president expects that, and I know the leadership in the military wants to see that happen as well."
Iraqi officials and relatives also said U.S. forces killed two Iraqi women — one of them about to give birth — when the troops shot at a car that failed to stop at an observation post in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad.
The U.S. military said coalition troops fired at a car after it entered a clearly marked prohibited area near an observation post but failed to stop despite repeated visual and auditory warnings. It said the incident was being investigated.
Army Brig. Gen. Donald Campbell, the chief of staff of the Multinational Corps-Iraq, said at a briefing Friday that incidents of misconduct could result from the stress and fear of battling an enemy that doesn't abide by the rules of war, and often cannot be distinguished from the civilian population.
"It doesn't excuse the acts that have occurred, and we're going to look into them. But I would say it's stress, fear, isolation and, in some cases, they're just upset. They see their buddies getting blown up on occasion, and they could snap," Campbell said.