David Loyn / BBC News – 2006-11-20 23:19:08
(November 19, 2006) — The anniversary of the killings in Haditha – the worst single massacre of Iraqis attributed to US troops – could not have come at a worse time for the US forces, with other cases now reaching conclusions in the courts, including one that ended in a life sentence.
On 19 November 2005, a US marine unit was on a routine patrol to deliver a hot breakfast to a remote outpost at Haditha, the furthest in a string of settlements up the Euphrates that have been prominent in the Sunni insurgency.
It was hit by a roadside bomb that killed one marine and injured two others.
During the morning after the incident 24 Iraqis were killed. The first died when a car full of young men came up the road, and, according to local witnesses, others were killed when marines went from house to house.
Those who died included a 76-year old man, and a three-year-old child. There were also several women among the dead.
An initial marine press statement said that some civilians were killed in the initial explosion and others in crossfire by insurgents.
But local people say that there was no bullets fired other than by the marines.
There was no full US investigation into what happened until three months later when video footage that was taken by a local human rights activist of the aftermath reached Time Magazine.
Once their report showed flaws in the initial marine statement, an investigation began. The investigation is understood to be complete, and criminal charges could follow.
Anbar province, which includes Haditha, remains the most dangerous place in Iraq for Americans.
About 100 US troops have been killed there since August this year alone.
The vast wedge of land west of Baghdad has been the main focus of Sunni opposition to the Americans, both from al-Qaeda and supporters of Saddam Hussein, often in alliance.
The towns of Falluja and Ramadi have become famous, but further up the river, Haditha was not so well known until 19 November last year.
Abed Sattar, a leading Sunni tribal elder in Anbar province, told the BBC that the Americans are now trying to involve the tribal elders far better in their operations than they were, consulting them before carrying out raids, rather than going on their own intelligence.
He said that security is improving on the roads in Anbar.
He said that this change, which came only in the last two months, is reducing civilian casualties.
That will have a knock-on effect in the US-Iraqi campaign against Sunni insurgents, since it will reduce the encouragement that such killings are for young men to join the insurgency.
But this co-ordination is too late for the dead of Haditha.
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