LONDON – Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Tuesday that the killings of civilians in Haditha last year — allegedly by U.S. Marines — were not justified and cautioned that coalition troops need to show more care.
Al-Maliki, speaking in a television interview with the British Broadcasting Corp., also expressed his remorse over the deaths of about two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians the Marines are suspected of killing in the western Iraqi city in November.
"We emphasize that our forces, that multinational forces will respect human rights, the rights of the Iraqi citizen," al-Maliki said through an interpreter. "It is not justifiable that a family is killed because someone is fighting terrorists; we have to be more specific and more careful."
The incident last November has sparked two investigations — one into the deadly encounter itself and another into whether it was the subject of a cover-up.
The U.S. Marine Corps had initially attributed 15 civilian deaths to a car bombing and a fire fight with insurgents, eight of whom the Marines reported had been killed.
Investigations involve Marines based at Camp Pendleton, California, who are members of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, U.S. military officials have said.
Family members of two Marines said in interviews with The Associated Press that their sons were ordered to photograph and clean up corpses of unarmed Iraqi civilians that members of their unit are suspected of killing.
The parents of Lance Cpl. Andrew Wright, 20, and Lance Cpl. Roel Ryan Briones, 21, said their sons told them the events of last November remain seared in their memories.
Separately, al-Maliki also said his government will finally appoint new defense and interior ministers by the end of this week.
"It will definitely finish this week, we took a long time because it is an important task that means a lot to Iraq, to Iraqis and to the political process," al-Maliki said.
"I put a condition that the ministers are independent, that they are not linked — or accused of being linked — to militias, or linked to sectarian direction.
"That's why it took a long time. I don't see this as an embarrassment to myself and I think that I should take all the time I need to complete this task."