New Evidence Undermines U.S. Iraq Claims

ByABC News

June 3, 2006 — -- New evidence may suggest cover-ups in two separate incidents at the center of a simmering scandal over Iraqi civilian deaths at the hands of American forces.

Iraqi anger is percolating over the incidents, and over an investigation that cleared U.S. forces in a third case.

New pictures offer the first independent evidence suggesting that Marines may have covered up what really happened in Haditha, Iraq, where 24 Iraqi civilians were killed in November. The pictures show a house pockmarked with bullet holes, despite the initial claim that a roadside bomb was responsible.

And a new witness has come forward. Iman Waleed Abdul Hameed, a 9-year-old girl, said Marines killed her father, mother, brother, two uncles and grandmother.

Local doctors said the dead included eight women and five children.

"Most of the dead," said Dr. Waleed Abdul Khaliq al Obaidi, in Arabic, "were shot in the head and chest."

The New York Times reported today that senior commanders learned the original Marine account was wrong two days after the incident last November -- but failed to act. The paper quoted an unnamed Marine general familiar with the investigation as saying, "It's impossible to believe they didn't know. You'd have to know this thing stunk."

Haditha is not the only incident the Pentagon is investigating.

In Al Hamdania, site of another alleged American atrocity in April, residents told ABC News today that a Marine sergeant lied on an official report about the death of a civilian, saying the man appeared to be planting a bomb. But several Marines have confessed to dragging the man from his house, shooting him and putting a shovel and weapon next to his body.

In both cases, investigators are focusing on whether higher-ups covered up the details.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the man at the top of the Pentagon's chain of command, was in Asia today, pursued by questions about the allegations.

"I've responded to that question repeatedly," Rumsfeld said, "and there is an investigation underway, and we'll see what the investigation produces."

A military spokesman in Baghdad said today the charges of misconduct are damaging the U.S. effort there.

Three Marine officers have already been relieved of their commands because of the Haditha incident, and there's word tonight that some more senior officers may be disciplined even before the investigation is complete.

In a third case of alleged war crimes by American troops, however, the Pentagon has just closed its investigation and cleared the soldiers involved of any wrongdoing, saying the forces at Ishaqi in March 2005 were within their rules of engagement.

But the incident in Ishaqi, where a dozen civilians were killed alongside a man the military identifies as a terrorist bomb maker in March 2005, seems far from a closed case on the Iraqi streets. Ordinary Iraqis say they are outraged, and they doubt that the U.S. will conduct a fair and thorough investigation.

"The Arab reaction is a feeling of anger," said Sharif Nashashibi of Arab Media Watch. "It's that every time something like this happens, you get U.S. officials and British officials talking about a few rotten apples. And really, at this stage, the feeling is that the whole tree is rotten."

Local police charge that American troops deliberately shot 11 civilians, including four women and five children, in an attack on a house, and then called in air support to bomb the building.

U.S. Maj. Gen. William Caldwell IV, the chief military spokesman, denied the claims.

"Allegations that the troops executed a family living in a safe house," he said, "and then hid the alleged crimes by directing an air strike, are absolutely false."

But that doesn't wash with one local man on the street.

"The American soldiers didn't kill insurgents," the man said through a translator. "They killed children. Do you really think these children were carrying guns?"

Today, the Iraqi prime minister's office rejected the military report that exonerated American troops in Ishaqi, saying it was unfair. The Iraqi government will demand an apology and compensation.

Earlier in the week, the prime minister said he was losing patience with the accidental killing of unarmed civilians by U.S. troops, saying, "There is a limit to mistakes."

Nearly 2,500 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq in the past three years. With the daily threat of insurgent bombs, the troops are on edge for a reason.

But Iraqis say they are terrified by U.S. troops on patrol or at checkpoints, who can open fire if they believe they are "under threat." According to one police estimate, an innocent Iraqi civilian is killed by coalition forces every two days.

"If you want to see their terrorism, you don't have to go to Haditha," said one man, named Jabur. "Just go out on the street. If you drive too close to them you can get killed."

ABC News' John Yang at the Pentagon and Hillary Brown in Baghdad reported this story for "World News Tonight."