- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 8, 2006

BAGHDAD — Commanders can expect a “day of pain” after the top U.S. general in Iraq reviews a report that finds they failed to act on complaints that their troops killed 24 civilians at Haditha, a U.S. military official said yesterday.

The report of an investigation into whether officers failed to investigate or even covered up for Marines accused by Iraqis of killing men, women and children in cold blood was passed to Gen. George Casey on Friday, the military said.

Disciplinary action now seems likely, officials told Reuters news agency, over failures by 2nd Marine Division officers in their command duty.

“The Marines will go through their day of pain,” said a military official in Baghdad familiar with recommendations made by the ground forces commander, Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli.

Its findings should be made public soon, possibly in a week, as U.S. generals and diplomats strive to assure a skeptical Iraqi public — and their new government — that soldiers are being held accountable for a string of suspected abuses.

Those incidents include a rape-murder case in Mahmoudiya that has outraged the nation and fueled calls for the 127,000 U.S. troops to go home.

U.S. Maj. Mark Wright said U.S. authorities are aware that Islamic tradition has strict rules governing exhumation and could require religious leaders to become involved in the investigation.

“You want to be aware of these cultural issues while, at the same time, making sure that the accused receives proper justice,” Maj. Wright, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, told the Associated Press.

Muslim tradition generally frowns on exhumations, considering them desecration of the remains. However, Ahmed Taha, the uncle of the dead teen, told AP Thursday that relatives were eager to cooperate with investigators and would allow them to exhume the body of the victim, Abeer Qassim Hamza. Her parents and sister were also slain.

Steven D. Green, a former U.S. soldier, was arrested last week in North Carolina and has pleaded not guilty to one count of rape and four counts of murder.

In the Haditha incident, Gen. Casey must decide on what disciplinary action to take. The key complaint against senior officers is a failure to question inconsistencies in their troops’ accounts of the day. The report prepared by Maj. Gen. Eldon Bargewell identified failings in areas “from reporting, to training to command environment,” the military official told Reuters.

There is little doubt that action is likely, he made clear, while stressing the report is entirely separate from the criminal murder probe under way into troops accused by Iraqis of shooting 24 persons on Nov. 19 after a bomb killed a Marine.

Haditha is in violent Anbar province, the heart of the Sunni insurgency in the west where three U.S. soldiers attached to the Marine command were killed in action yesterday.

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