U.S. Military Denies New Abuse Allegations at Ishaqi
Officials Conclude Troops Followed Rules of Engagement
By JONATHAN KARL
June 2, 2006
Horrific images of Iraqi adults and children have fueled new allegations that U.S. troops killed civilians in the Iraqi town of Ishaqi. But ABC News has learned that military officials have completed their investigation and concluded that U.S. forces followed the rules of engagement.
A senior Pentagon official told ABC News the investigation concluded that the allegations of intentional killings of civilians by American forces are unfounded.
Military commanders in Iraq launched an investigation soon after the mid-March raid in the village of Ishaqi, about 50 miles north of Baghdad.
Maj. Gen. William Caldwell will make a statement about the Ishaqi allegations today in Baghdad, ABC News has learned.
In Ishaqi, American forces were going after a high-value terrorist target they succeeded in apprehending. The U.S. military reported in March that four people died when the troops destroyed a house from the air and ground.
But previously unaired video shot by an AP Television News cameraman at the time shows at least five children dead, several with obvious bullet wounds to the head. One adult male is also seen dead.
"Children were stuck in the room, alone and surrounded," an unidentified man said on the video.
A total of 11 people died, according to Iraqis on the scene. The Iraqis said the people were killed by U.S. troops before the house was destroyed.
Other Incidents in Question
The allegations in Ishaqi surfaced amid several other alleged incidents that have raised questions about the behavior of U.S. troops in Iraq.
Military sources told ABC News that charges will likely be filed against officers up the chain of command in connection with the killing of 24 civilians by U.S. Marines in Haditha, Iraq, in November 2005.
Among those who may be charged are senior officers whom officials believe were not on the scene at the time of the killings but should have been aware that something had happened and done something about it.
On Thursday, the White House confirmed that an investigation began nearly three months after the Haditha killings, after Time Magazine showed a video to a military spokesman.
Until then, the military insisted the civilians in Haditha had been killed by a roadside bomb.
Two Women Killed
On Wednesday in Samarra, a pregnant woman named Nahiba Jassim and her cousin, Saliha Hassan, were killed by gunfire when their car entered what the U.S. military called a clearly marked, prohibited area near a checkpoint and observation post manned by coalition forces.
According to the military, the driver of the car ignored signals and commands to stop, so troops fired shots to disable the vehicle.
Facing a constant threat of deadly attacks by insurgents, American forces in Iraq are allowed to fire in self-defense if they believe they are in danger. One of the survivors of the incident told ABC News they were rushing the pregnant woman to the hospital because she was about to give birth and they didn't know the road was blocked.
Jassim's brother was driving, and he said the soldiers shot straight into their vehicle.
"I didn't see any warning," he says. "I was driving at speed, and they started shooting at us."
Doctors at the hospital tried to save Jassim's baby but failed.
The U.S. military generally compensates the family of any civilian who is killed inadvertently by American forces. It's not known if this will apply in this case.
Iraqi Leaders, President Bush React
The allegations of unwarranted violence have outraged Iraqi officials.
Reacting to video of the Ishaqi incident, Muayed al-Anbaki, chairman of the Iraqi Human Rights Association, said Friday, "It looks like the killing of Iraqi civilians is becoming a daily phenomenon."
On Thursday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called the Haditha allegations "a horrible crime" -- his strongest comment on the incident to date.
"This is a phenomenon that has become common among many of the multinational forces," the prime minister said. "No respect for citizens, smashing civilian cars, and killing on a suspicion or a hunch. It's unacceptable."
At the same time, in light of the Haditha investigation, U.S. military commanders have ordered new ethics training for all troops in Iraq.
"This is just a reminder for troops either in Iraq or throughout our military that there are high standards expected of them and there are strong rules of engagement," President Bush said. "The Haditha incident is under investigation. Obviously, the allegations are very troubling for me and equally troubling for our military."
Today, Army Brig. Gen. Donald Campbell explained to reporters what he thinks could be behind these incidents.
"Well, I'd say it's difficult to pin down specifically, but obviously, when you're in a combat theater dealing with enemy combatants who don't abide by the law of war, who do acts of indecency, soldiers become stressed, they become fearful," he said. "It's very difficult to determine in some cases on this battlefield who is a combatant and who is a civilian."
Campbell said the military will investigate the allegations.
"It doesn't excuse the acts that have occurred, and we're going to look into them," he said. "But I would say it's stress, fear, isolation and, in some cases, they're just upset. They see their buddies getting blown up on occasion, and they could snap."
Last week, Bush expressed regret for the Abu Ghraib prison scandal -- the first incident to raise questions about the military's handling of the war. He called it "the biggest mistake that's happened so far, at least from our country's involvement in Iraq."
ABC News' Hilary Brown and The Associated Press contributed to this report.