WASHINGTON – The No. 2 American general in Iraq will soon review a preliminary criminal report into the alleged massacre by Marines of Iraqi citizens in Haditha, a congressman just back from Iraq said Monday.
Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., one of four House members who traveled to Iraq over the weekend, said the lawmakers discussed the investigations with Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the second-ranking U.S. general in Iraq. Kline said it was unclear when the report would be released.
"General Chiarelli expressed some concern in that he did not want to sign off an investigation until he felt like he had all of the information that he needed" from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said Kline, a former Marine. The investigative service is probing whether crimes were committed in the killing of two dozen Iraqis last November.
A senior defense official told the Associated Press last month that evidence points to unprovoked killings by the Marines involved. A separate probe is examining whether there has been a coverup of the incident by the U.S. military.
The four House members who visited Iraq took issue with comments made by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who complained that coalition forces have shown "no respect for citizens, smashing civilian cars and killing on a suspicion or a hunch."
"The prime minister has a platform and a pulpit now that he may not have had in the past," said Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas. Conaway said with that platform comes "responsibility to be very careful and to choose your words very carefully."
Kline said his group was told that U.S. military officials and embassy staff had told al-Maliki that his comments were not helpful.
Kline also said Iraqi generals told the U.S. lawmakers that they were frustrated about the slow pace in filling the new Iraqi government's security posts, saying it was hindering the training of the Iraqi military.
"The generals were very candid with us," he said. "There's no question that they understand that until you get a functioning ministry of defense, until you get a functioning Pentagon -- Iraqi Pentagon -- they're not going to be able to reach their full potential."
On Sunday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed confidence that Iraqi leaders will be able to fill key security posts in the next few days while downplaying recent sectarian violence.
Rice, who appeared on three television news shows, said of the vacant security posts, "Of course, they need to get this settled, but they will get it settled. When they get it right, and they will get it right, everybody will forget how long it took them."
An Iraqi parliament session was postponed earlier Sunday after al-Maliki again failed to reach consensus on candidates to head ministries that run Iraq's military and police.
Also Sunday, the top U.S. military officer pledged a thorough investigation in the alleged massacre at Haditha, acknowledging that the charges have raised concerns among Iraqi officials and in the United States.
Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said it is not clear exactly what happened last November when as many as two dozen Iraqis were killed during a U.S. attack in Haditha. Still, he said it was important not to rush to judgment.
"You don't want to have the emotions of the day weigh into the process," Pace told The Associated Press in an interview Sunday. "We need to stick with our judicial process. We want to be sure that it moves forward without any influence."
Rice appeared on "Fox News Sunday," CBS's "Face the Nation" and CNN's "Late Edition."