From combined dispatches
A Democratic lawmaker yesterday accused U.S. Marines of killing many innocent Iraqi civilians "in cold blood" after a Marine comrade was slain by a roadside bomb.
Officials have said 15 Iraqis, eight insurgents and a Marine were killed during a Nov. 19 firefight that began when a roadside bomb detonated next to a joint Iraqi-U.S. squad patrolling the city of Haditha.
But Rep. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, a retired Marine colonel, said at a press conference yesterday that a Pentagon war-crimes investigation would show that "there was no firefight."
"Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood," Mr. Murtha told reporters. "And that's what the [Pentagon] report is going to tell."
A Time magazine report in March cited an Iraqi human rights group and residents of Haditha who said Marines barged into a home throwing grenades and shooting, killing 15 unarmed Iraqis, including women and children.
Mr. Murtha said the incident is "much worse than reported in Time magazine" and said the death toll could be "twice as high."
The Pentagon said late yesterday that it had taken "immediate and aggressive action" to investigate the charges after they surfaced.
"It would be premature to judge any individual or unit until the investigation is complete," Defense Department spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin said.
At least three Marine officers are under official investigation, and no official report has been released, the Army Times newspaper said yesterday.
"I do not know where Representative Murtha is obtaining his information," Lt. Col. Sean Gibson, a Marine Corps spokesman, told Army Times. "Thoroughness will drive the investigation."
Mr. Murtha is a harsh critic of the war in Iraq and said such incidents result from inadequate planning, training and troop numbers in Iraq.
"I feel that the tremendous pressure and the redeployment over and over again is a big part of this," he said. "These guys are under tremendous strain, more strain than I can conceive of. And this strain has caused them to crack in situations like this."