The U.S. military has opened a criminal investigation into allegations that U.S. Marines killed an Iraqi civilian west of Baghdad last month, the U.S. command announced Wednesday.
Iraqi civilians made the allegation during a meeting with Marine officers on May 1, five days after the alleged incident, the statement said.
A preliminary investigation by Multinational Force-West found enough information to recommend an investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, the statement added.
The statement did not say how many Marines were involved but said they included "several service members" from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, which is based in the Fallujah area about 40 miles west of the capital.
All those suspected in the incident have been returned to the United States, the statement added. The statement said the alleged killing took place near the town of Hamandiyah but gave no details of the circumstances.
The announcement comes on the heels of news that the military is investigating a dozen Marines from another battalion that may have killed at least 15 civilians, including women and children, during an incident last November in Haditha, 140 miles northwest of Baghdad.
The military initially described the Haditha encounter as an ambush during a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol that involved a roadside bombing in which a Marine died, followed by a firefight. However, residents of the neighborhood maintained that only U.S. forces were shooting after the explosion.
Videotape aired by an Arab television station showed images purportedly taken in the aftermath of the encounter: a bloody bedroom floor, bullet holes in walls and bodies of women and children. An Iraqi human rights group called for an investigation of what it described as another deadly mistake that had harmed civilians.
The military began its administrative investigation to review whether the Marines involved had lied about what happened. A House committee will review the military’s investigation next month.
On May 17, Rep. John Murtha (news, bio, voting record), a decorated former Marine, said the toll in the Haditha attack was far worse than originally reported and that U.S. troops killed innocent women and children "in cold blood." He said that nearly twice as many people were killed than first reported, maintaining that U.S. forces are "overstretched and overstressed" by the war in Iraq.
Last August, the Marine Corps announced a criminal investigation into the death of the cousin of Iraq’s ambassador to Washington, Samir al-Sumaidaie, who was shot and killed during a search of his home in Haditha on June 25.
No announcement has been made about the findings of the investigation.
Meanwhile, Iraqi civilians in Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, alleged that American troops killed several civilians, including a young girl, in a raid Monday.
A middle-aged woman dressed in a black abaya robe, who wasn’t further identified, told Associated Press Television News that U.S. troops killed her brother-in-law. "They also shot and killed the girl in front of us."
On Tuesday, the U.S. military said it had killed a number of insurgents during a joint operation with Iraqi soldiers in Samarra, resulting "in the deaths and detention of several terrorist operatives." The military did not provide a number.
It added that "a young girl — a daughter of one of the terrorists — was inadvertently killed by coalition forces" during the raid. The military said it regretted the death and that the unit commander would conduct an investigation.