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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 May 2006, 11:03 GMT 12:03 UK
US to publish Iraq deaths probe
Bodies of Haditha victims
The official US version differs widely from that of locals and the media
The US government has promised to make public all the details of inquiries into the alleged massacre of Iraqi civilians by US marines last November.

Washington made the pledge following claims that the killings of 24 people in the town of Haditha were covered up.

A White House spokesman said President George W Bush was concerned by the reports, but wanted the military to complete their inquiries first.

The Iraqi prime minister said earlier Baghdad would investigate the claims.

Nouri Maliki told Reuters news agency there was "a limit to the acceptable excuses" for civilian casualties.

The Pentagon is close to ending its two separate inquiries into the killings and the cover-up in Haditha, initially attributed to a clash with militants.

When my father opened [the door] they shot him and then again. Then they threw a hand grenade into the bathroom... The Americans carried on shooting.
Safa Younis
Haditha survivor

According to initial US military reports, 15 civilians and eight insurgents died after a bomb killed a marine in Haditha, a militant stronghold in Anbar Province.

But the army now says it is investigating a total of 24 deaths.

Observers say the incident on 19 November could deal a more serious blow to US standing than the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.

A member of the Iraqi parliament and former foreign minister, Adnan Pachachi, says Iraqis were stunned by the allegations.

"I think it has created a feeling of great shock and sadness and I believe that if what is alleged is true - and I have no reason to believe it's not - then I think something very drastic has to be done," he told the BBC.

US marines in Iraq
Haditha has seen regular deadly attacks on US troops

"There must be a level of discipline imposed on the American troops and change of mentality which seems to think that Iraqi lives are expendable."

But the UK's human rights envoy to Iraq, Ann Clwyd, who is in Baghdad at the moment, says the events in Haditha should "not be taken out of context".

"I would say as I did over Abu Ghraib... [this is] a small group of people out of the many thousands of British and American and other soldiers who are here who have done a good job by and large," she told the BBC.

Marines 'co-operating'

White House spokesman Tony Snow said he had been assured by the Pentagon that "all the details" of the inquiries would be made public.

"We'll have a picture of what happened," Mr Snow said.

He said President Bush was "allowing the chain of command to do what it's supposed to do in the Department of Defense, which is to complete" their inquiries.

"The marines are taking an active and aggressive role in this."

HAVE YOUR SAY
If this incident is true, then there is no excuse for it
Chris, Brazil

The spokesman added that Mr Bush did not hear about the incident until earlier this year when a reporter began asking questions about it, leading officials to brief him.

John Murtha, a Democratic Congressman and former marine, has said he had been briefed by military officials and believes the civilians were murdered and the incident was covered up.

The BBC's Justin Webb in Washington says enough material has now been leaked to the US media about the Haditha incident to suggest to many Americans that allegations of a massacre are very serious and may well be true.

'Cold blood'

US investigators are looking at both the actual events in Haditha and the alleged cover-up by troops.

The military said at the time that the civilians were killed as a result of either the bomb or a gun battle which erupted afterwards, in which the militants were reportedly killed.

But reports from Iraqi witnesses and in the US media allege that marines went on a rampage.

DEATH IN HADITHA
November 2005: Initial US military report
One US marine killed in roadside bomb, two injured
Explosion also kills 15 Iraqi civilians
Eight insurgents killed in fire-fight following blast
January 2006: US military preliminary investigation
One US marine killed in roadside bomb, two injured
Fifteen civilians accidentally killed by US fire amid battle with insurgents
March 2006: US military begins criminal investigation

Safa Younis, a 12-year-old girl who survived the attack, said US soldiers banged on the door of her house, shot dead her father and threw a hand grenade into the bathroom.

"The Americans carried on shooting. I pretended I was dead and they didn't realise," she said, according to testimony obtained by Iraq's Hammurabi Human Rights group.

According to the Wall St Journal, there is evidence that marines killed civilians, including women and children, without provocation.

Several marines are likely to be charged with murder and others with attempting to cover up the incident, the newspaper said, quoting civilian and military officials close to the investigations.

One of the marines in Haditha that day, Lance Cpl Roel Ryan Briones of Hanford, California, told the Los Angeles Times he had taken photos and carried bodies out of homes as part of a clean-up crew:

"They ranged from little babies to adult males and females. I'll never be able to get that out of my head. I can still smell the blood."


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
The background to the inquiry on the killings in Haditha



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