US military probes deaths of 15 Iraqis in November
WASHINGTON, Mar 17 (Reuters) The US military has launched a criminal investigation into possible wrongdoing by Marines in the deaths of 15 Iraqi civilians in an incident in November in the town of Haditha, defense officials said.
The US Naval Criminal Investigative Service, responsible for cases involving Marines, is looking into the possible role played by US Marines in the deaths, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the probe has not been formally announced.
A military statement released a day after the Nov. 19, 2005, incident said an improvised explosive device detonated, killing a US Marine as well as the 15 Iraqi civilians in Haditha, an insurgent stronghold about 140 miles (220 km) northwest of Baghdad.
The statement said the powerful roadside bomb detonated as a US military convoy was passing through the town. After the detonation, gunmen opened fire on the convoy, and Americans and Iraqi government forces returned fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding another, according to the military statement in 2005.
A cameraman working for Reuters in Haditha at the time said bodies were left lying in the street for hours after the attack.
The defense officials did not indicate what possible charges could be brought or when the investigation was expected to be completed.
Haditha lies at the edge of Iraq's western desert province of Anbar, the heartland of the insurgency, where US troops have launched a series of major offensives.
One part of that campaign, dubbed Operation Rivergate, focused on Haditha and two nearby towns. Among other things, it sought to destroy bridges along the river to prevent insurgents from entering Iraq from Syria.
REUTERS SK RAI0615