Saturday, February 03, 2007

Pespective: Marines battle their past in Haditha

Witnesses to the slaying of 24 Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines in the western town of Haditha say the Americans shot men, women and children at close range in retaliation for the death of a Marine lance corporal in a roadside bombing. But Hadithans are also wary of the two occaisions when Marines abandoned the area, and insurgents moved in to kill those who cooperated with Americans, as seen in the photo.

HADITHA, IRAQ — More than a year after two dozen civilians were killed here in what prosecutors call an appalling case of wanton murder by four Marines, a new batch of troops is trying to win the hearts and minds of the public.

But as they patrol the narrow, winding streets and try to protect themselves from a deadly, unseen enemy, the November 2005 incident hangs like dust in the air.

"I think about it because I want to give them the right image about Americans," said Lance Cpl. Bryan Bates, 21, of Tucson, who has picked up a working knowledge of Arabic. "I know some of them feel scared because of what happened. I try to be more friendly."

Complicating the situation is the fact that many residents don't even consider the case, which involves the most serious charges levied against Marines in Iraq, the worst transgression by U.S. forces in Haditha since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

On two occasions, Marines assigned to build trust and goodwill in Haditha were moved to the larger city of Fallouja to participate in major offensives against Sunni Arab insurgents. While the Marines were gone, insurgents flooded into Haditha, massacring police officers and other townspeople who had cooperated with the Americans.

Read the rest at the LA Times