WASHINGTON – A U.S. military investigation into actions taken following a deadly incident in western Iraq will conclude that some officers gave false testimony to their superiors, The Washington Post reported, while a commander in Iraq announced new core values training on moral and ethical standards on the battlefield for U.S. troops.
The order from Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, came as the U.S. military investigated whether U.S. Marines might have intentionally killed unarmed civilians in the Iraqi town of Haditha on Nov. 19.
The killings, in which victims included women and children, followed a bomb attack on a military convoy that killed a Marine.
"As military professionals, it is important that we take time to reflect on the values that separate us from our enemies," Chiarelli said. "The challenge for us is to make sure the actions of a few do not tarnish the good work of the many."
The training will be conducted in units over the next 30 days and was aimed at reinforcing training service members received prior to their deployment, according to the statement.
"Of the nearly 150,000 Coalition Forces presently in Iraq, 99.9 percent of them perform their jobs magnificently every day," Chiarelli said.
Of those troops, about 130,000 are from the United States.
The Post reported that Marine commanders failed to scrutinize reports adequately, according to an article that first appeared on the paper's Web site Wednesday night.
The probe, which is separate from an investigation into possible criminal actions by Marines on Nov. 19, 2005, in Haditha, in Anbar province, also will call for changes in how troops are trained for duty in Iraq, the Post reported.
On Wednesday, President Bush promised that any Marines involved in the alleged murders of Iraqi civilians will be punished. A senior officer said the case could undermine Iraqis' support for the presence of American troops.
"I am troubled by the initial news stories," Bush said in his first public comments about the deaths of about two dozen civilians at Haditha last November. "I'm mindful that there's a thorough investigation going on. If, in fact, laws were broken, there will be punishment."
Military investigators have evidence that points toward unprovoked murders by Marines, a senior defense official said last week.
At first, the American military described what happened as an ambush on a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol, with a roadside bombing and subsequent firefight killing 15 civilians, eight insurgents and a Marine. The statement said the 15 civilians were killed by the blast, a claim the residents of Haditha strongly denied.
With some in Congress alleging a cover-up, the Bush administration offered assurances the facts will be made public.
Bush's spokesman, Tony Snow, urged patience as the Marines conduct what he called a vigorous investigation. He said a report will come out in "a matter of weeks, not a matter of months" and include public release of photographic evidence. "We're going to see everything," Snow said.
Once that investigation is completed, a senior Marine commander in Iraq will decide whether to press charges of murder or other violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The probe into the actions of officers after the Haditha event is expected to conclude by the end of this week, the Post reported. The criminal investigation is expected to wrap up sometime this summer.
At the Pentagon, Army Brig. Gen. Carter Ham would not discuss any aspect of the probe, but he stressed the potential harm caused by allegations alone.
"Allegations such as this, regardless of how they are borne out by the facts, can have an effect on the ability of U.S. forces to continue to operate," said Ham, a deputy operations director for the Joint Staff and a former commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq.
"We do rely very heavily — and more importantly, the Iraqi security forces rely heavily — on the support from the Iraqi people," Ham said. "And anything that tends to diminish that, obviously, is not helpful to what we're trying to do."
Until now the most infamous violation of military law in Iraq was the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse involving Army soldiers, which came to light in April 2004. Bush said last week he considered Abu Ghraib to be the most costly U.S. mistake of the war.