The United States military is investigating whether US Marines who killed 15 civilians, including women and children, near the western Iraqi town of Haditha last November carried out a deliberate massacre.
Already there are witnesses who have said that the Marines carried out a massacre of innocents, in a revenge rampage after their vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb.
Human rights activists say that if the accusations prove to be true, the incident would rank as the worst case of deliberate killing of Iraqi civilians by US troops since the war began.
The incident occurred on the morning of November 19, 2005, when a roadside bomb struck a humvee carrying troops from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, on a road near Haditha.
The bomb killed Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas from El Paso, Texas.
The next day, the Marines issued a statement saying that Terrazas and fifteen Iraqi civilians had died when armed men attacked the convoy with small arms fire, prompting the Marines to return fire, killing eight of them and wounding one other.
But according to eyewitnesses and local officials interviewed over the past ten weeks, the civilians who died in Haditha were killed not by the roadside bomb but by the Marines themselves.
Witnesses said they went on a rampage in the village after the attack, killing fifteen unarmed Iraqis in their homes, including seven women and three children.
In January, after journalists presented military officials in Baghdad with Iraqis’ accounts of the events, the US military opened its own investigation into the incident.
The military interviewed 28 people, including the Marines, the families of the victims and local doctors.
The initial inquiry acknowledged that, contrary to the military’s initial report, the fifteen civilians died at the hands of the Marines, not armed attackers.
The inquiry found that the available evidence did not provide conclusive proof that the Marines deliberately killed the innocent people in Haditha.
But human rights groups have also investigated the incident.
They say that survivors and local officials question whether the Marines were telling the truth about what took place.