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May 29, 2006
Iraqis' Accounts Link Marines to the Mass Killing of Civilians
By RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr. and MONA MAHMOUD
BAGHDAD, Iraq, May 28 ‹ Hiba Abdullah survived the killings by American troops
in Haditha last Nov. 19, but said seven others at her father-in-law's home did
not. She said American troops shot and killed her husband, Rashid Abdul Hamid.
They killed her father-in-law, Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali, a 77-year-old in a
wheelchair, shooting him in the chest and abdomen, she said.
Her sister-in-law, Asma, "collapsed when her husband was killed in front of her
eyes," Ms. Abdullah said. As Asma fell, she dropped her 5-month-old infant. Ms.
Abdullah said she picked up the baby girl and sprinted out of the house, and
when she returned, Asma was dead.
Four people who identified themselves as survivors of the killings in Haditha,
including some who had never spoken publicly, described the killings to an Iraqi
writer and historian who was recruited by The New York Times to travel to
Haditha and interview survivors and witnesses of what military officials have
said appear to be unjustified killings of two dozen Iraqis by marines. Some in
Congress fear the killings could do greater harm to the image of the United
States military around the world than the Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
The four survivors' accounts could not be independently corroborated, and it was
unclear in some cases whether they actually saw the killings. But much of what
they said was consistent with broad outlines of the events of that day provided
by military and government officials who have been briefed on the military's
investigations into the killings, which the officials have said are likely to
lead to charges that may include murder and a cover-up of what really happened.
The name of the Iraqi who conducted the interviews for The Times is being
withheld for his own safety, because insurgents often make a target of Iraqis
Haditha, a sand-swept farming town flecked with date palms on the upper
Euphrates River, is in one of Iraq's most dangerous areas, ridden with
insurgents in the heart of Sunni-dominated Anbar Province.
Three months earlier, 20 marines from a different unit were killed around
Haditha over a three-day span. Fourteen were killed by a bomb that destroyed
their troop carrier. Six others, all snipers, were ambushed and killed on a foot
patrol. Insurgents appeared later to rejoice and boast about the sniper ambush,
releasing a video over the Internet that appeared to show the attack and the
mangled and burned body of a dead American serviceman.
Haditha is under the control of insurgents that include Tawhid and Jihad, a name
that has been used by the terrorist organization of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, said
Miysar al-Dulaimi, a human rights lawyer who has relatives in Haditha and who
returned there two days after the killings and spoke to witnesses and neighbors.
Mr. Dulaimi said that outside their bases, the Americans controlled almost
"People are so scared," he said. "They have lost confidence in the Americans. If
the Americans show up in the neighborhood the insurgents will come and take away
people they accuse of being stooges of the Americans."
But just over six months ago, 24 people in the Subhani district of Haditha faced
a different death, witnesses and survivors say.
The killings began after 7:15 a.m., as the neighborhood was stirring awake, when
insurgents detonated a roadside bomb in Subhani that killed Lance Cpl. Miguel
Terrazas of El Paso, Tex., as his patrol drove through the area.
According to one United States defense official, who declined to be identified
because details of the investigation are not supposed to be revealed, most of
the subsequent killings are believed to have been committed by a handful of
marines led by a staff sergeant who was their squad leader, although other
marines are also under investigation.
In the home Ms. Abdullah escaped from, she said American troops also shot and
killed a 4-year-old nephew named Abdullah Walid. She said her mother-in-law,
Khumaysa Tuma Ali, 66, died after being shot in the back. Two brothers-in-law,
Jahid Abdul Hamid Hassan and Walid Abdul Hamid Hassan, were also killed, she
In addition to Ms. Abdullah and Asma's baby, two others survived. One,
9-year-old Iman Walid Abdul Hamid, said she ran quickly, still clad in her
pajamas, to hide under the bed with her younger brother, Abdul Rahman Walid
Abdul Hamid, when she saw what was happening.
"We were scared and could not move for two hours. I tried to hide under the
bed," she said, but both her and her brother, Abdul Rahman, were hit with
Abdul Rahman, 7, said very little about that day. "When they killed my father
Walid, I hid in bed," he said.
Hiba Abdullah assumed the two children had died, but she said they were later
found at a local hospital.
One Haditha victim was an elderly man, close to 80 years old, killed in his
wheelchair as he appeared to be holding a Koran, according to the United States
defense official, who described information collected during the investigation.
An elderly woman was also killed, as were a mother and a child who were "in what
appeared to be a prayer position," the official said.
Some victims had single gunshot wounds to the head, and at least one home where
people were shot to death had no bullet marks on the walls, inconsistent with a
clearing operation that would typically leave bullet holes, the official added.
Senator John W. Warner, a Virginia Republican who leads the Armed Services
Committee, pledged Sunday to hold hearings on the Haditha killings as soon as
the military investigation is concluded.
"I'll do exactly what we did with Abu Ghraib," he said on the ABC News program
"This Week," referring to hearings. He added that there were serious questions
of "what was the immediate reaction of the senior officers in the Marine Corps."
Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat and former marine who has become a
fierce critic of the Iraq war, said he had no doubt marines killed innocent
civilians in Haditha and tried to cover up the deaths. Marine Corps officials,
he said on the same television program, have told him that troops shot one woman
"in cold blood" who was bending over her child begging for mercy.
In all, 19 people were killed in three separate homes in Haditha, and 5 were
killed after they approached the scene in a taxi, survivors and people in the
Hiba Abdullah said that after the killings in her father-in-law's home, the
American troops moved to the house of a neighbor, Younis Salim Nisaif. She said
he was killed along with his wife, Aida, and Aida's sister, Huda. She said five
children were also killed at that home, all 3 to 14 years old.
There was one survivor, Safa Younis Salim, 13, who in an interview said she
lived by faking her death. "I pretended that I was dead when my brother's body
fell on me and he was bleeding like a faucet," she said. She said that she saw
American troops kick her family members and that one American shouted in the
face of one relative before he was killed.
Military officials declined Sunday to comment on details of the killings
described by survivors. "The investigations are ongoing, therefore any comment
at this time would be inappropriate and could undermine the investigatory and
possible legal process," said Lt. Col. Sean Gibson, a Marine spokesman.
David P. Sheldon, a defense lawyer advising a marine under investigation in the
case, said what was publicly known about the case "raises a disturbing picture,
but I think the situation was very confusing." He added that "the insurgent
pressure in that part of Iraq has been particularly virulent" which caused "a
very stressful environment."
Three days before a roadside bomb attack that preceded the Nov. 19 killings,
another marine from the same unit had been killed when a bomb detonated under
his vehicle in Haditha. It was the first combat death that the unit, the Third
Battalion of the First Marine Regiment, had suffered on that deployment to Iraq.
Neighbors said that in the third home assaulted on Nov. 19, four brothers were
killed by American troops. The wife of one of the brothers, who would identify
herself only as the widow of a brother named Jamal, said the four victims were
all between the ages of 20 and 38.
The troops forced women in the home to leave at gunpoint, the widow said.
Afterward, she said the women heard gunshots coming from the home, but the
troops forbade them from returning. Eventually, she said, they went inside and
found the bodies of Jamal and three brothers, Marwan, Jassib and Kahatan.
Mr. Dulaimi, the human rights lawyer who traveled to Haditha two days after the
killings, said neighbors told him the father of the four victims and owner of
the home was Ayad Ahmed al-Gharria, who does odd jobs and has a shop in Haditha.
The neighbors, Mr. Dulaimi said, told him the troops killed Marwan first. The
three other brothers were killed after they came to see what was happening, he
Five more Iraqi men died that day after they approached the American troops in a
taxi, according to people in the neighborhood. Four were students and the fifth
was the driver of the taxi, and all were between the ages of 18 and 25, they
After the killings, Mr. Dulaimi said Haditha clerics and elders led a protest
march on the American base near a dam on the Euphrates. From the city's mosques,
Mr. Dulaimi said, clerics condemned the killings and said the Americans "promise
they will bring peace and security to this country, but what has happened is
they are spreading panic, fear and terror among the people."
One person from the neighborhood, Salim Abdullah, said relatives from two of the
families had taken compensation payments of as much as $2,500 per victim from
American officials who later visited. Relatives of other victims have not taken
payments, he said.
The United States defense official said the payments were also a focus of
investigators trying to determine whether the killings were improperly covered
up. On "This Week," Representative Murtha suggested that the decision to make
payments was strong evidence that Marine officers up the chain of command had
knowledge of the events. "That doesn't happen at the lowest level," he said.
"That happens at the highest level before they make a decision to make payments
to the families."
The Marines also face an inquiry into the killing of an Iraqi man on April 26
near Hamandiyah, west of Baghdad. A preliminary inquiry found "sufficient
information" for a criminal investigation, the Marines said. Representative
Murtha said a marine fired an AK-47 rifle so there would be spent cartridges
near the body, making it look as if the victim had been firing a weapon.
A spokesman for the First Marine Division, Lt. Lawton King, said several marines
suspected of involvement in the incident had been put in the brig at Camp
Pendleton, Calif., or restricted to the base.
An Iraqi reporter contributed reporting from Haditha for this article, and David
S. Cloud and Mark Mazzetti from Washington.
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
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