What really happened in Haditha
Everybody agrees that [the blast] was the triggering event. The question is: What [really] happened afterward?"After reading this account, Macbeth's doesn't seem so incredible.* * *
In the first minutes after the shock of the blast, residents said, silence reigned on the street of walled courtyards, brick homes and tiny palm groves. Marines appeared stunned, or purposeful, as they moved around the burning Humvee, witnesses said.
Then one of the Marines took charge and began shouting, said Fahmi, who was watching from his roof. Fahmi said he saw the Marine direct other Marines into the house closest to the blast, about 50 yards away.* * *
In the house with Ali and his 66-year-old wife, Khamisa Tuma Ali, were three of the middle-aged male members of their family, at least one daughter-in-law and four children -- 4-year-old Abdullah, 8-year-old Iman, 5-year-old Abdul Rahman and 2-month-old Asia.
Marines entered shooting, witnesses recalled. Most of the shots -- in Ali's house and two others -- were fired at such close range that they went through the bodies of the family members and plowed into walls or the floor, physicians at Haditha's hospital said.
A daughter-in-law, identified as Hibbah, escaped with Asia, survivors and neighbors said. Iman and Abdul Rahman were shot but survived. Four-year-old Abdullah, Ali and the rest died.
Ali took nine rounds in the chest and abdomen, leaving his intestines spilling out of the exit wounds in his back, according to his death certificate.
The Marines moved to the house next door, Fahmi said.
Inside were 43-year-old Khafif, 41-year-old Aeda Yasin Ahmed, an 8-year-old son, five young daughters and a 1-year-old girl staying with the family, according to death certificates and neighbors.
The Marines shot them at close range and hurled grenades into the kitchen and bathroom, survivors and neighbors said later. Khafif's pleas could be heard across the neighborhood. Four of the girls died screaming.
Only 13-year-old Safa Younis lived -- saved, she said, by her mother's blood spilling onto her, making her look dead when she fell, limp, in a faint.
Townspeople led a Washington Post reporter this week to the girl they identified as Safa. Wearing a ponytail and tracksuit, the girl said her mother died trying to gather the girls. The girl burst into tears after a few words. The older couple caring for her apologized and asked the reporter to leave.
Moving to a third house in the row, Marines burst in on four brothers, Marwan, Qahtan, Chasib and Jamal Ahmed. Neighbors said the Marines killed them together.
Marine officials said later that one of the brothers had the only gun found among the three families, although there has been no known allegation that the weapon was fired.
Meanwhile, a separate group of Marines found at least one other house full of young men. The Marines led the men in that house outside, some still in their underwear, and away to detention.
The final victims of the day happened upon the scene inadvertently, witnesses said. Four male college students -- Khalid Ayada al-Zawi, Wajdi Ayada al-Zawi, Mohammed Battal Mahmoud and Akram Hamid Flayeh -- had left the Technical Institute in Saqlawiyah for the weekend to stay with one of their families on the street, said Fahmi, a friend of the young men.
A Haditha taxi driver, Ahmed Khidher, was bringing them home, Fahmi said.
According to Fahmi, the young men and their driver turned onto the street and saw the wrecked Humvee and the Marines. Khidher threw the car into reverse, trying to back away at full speed, Fahmi said, and the Marines opened fire from about 30 yards away, killing all the men inside the taxi.
At some point on Nov. 19, Marines in an armored convoy arrived at Haditha's hospital. They placed the bodies of the victims in the garden of the hospital and left without explanation, said Mohammed al-Hadithi, one of the hospital officials who helped carry the bodies inside. By some accounts, some of the corpses were burnt.If this is what really happened in Haditha, a fiery blow-back awaits US.
The remains of the 24 lie today in a cemetery called Martyrs' Graveyard. Stray dogs scrounge in the deserted homes. "Democracy assassinated the family that was here," graffiti on one of the houses declared.
The insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq said it sent copies of the journalism student's videotape to mosques in Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, using the killings of the women and children to recruit fighters.
After Haditha leaders complained, the Marines paid compensation put variously by townspeople at $1,500 or $2,500 for each of the 15 men, women and children killed in the first two houses. They refused to pay for the nine other men killed, insisting that they were insurgents.
[It] is now believed that the nine were innocent victims. By some accounts, a 25th person, the father of the four brothers killed together, was also killed.* * *Although Marines' accounts offered in the early stages of the investigation described a running gun battle, those versions of the story proved to be false, officials briefed by the Marines said.* * *
Another point of dispute is whether some houses were destroyed by fire or by airstrikes. Some Iraqis reported that the Marines burned houses in the area of the attack, but two people familiar with the case, including Hackett, the lawyer, said warplanes conducted airstrikes, dropping 500-pound bombs on more than one house.
That is significant for any possible court-martial proceedings, because it would indicate that senior commanders, who must approve such strikes and who would also use aircraft to assess their effects, were paying attention to events in Haditha that day.
The Marines of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines have rotated back home, to California. Last month, the Marine Corps relieved Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani of command of the 3rd Battalion. Two of his company commanders were relieved of their commands, as well. Authorities said a series of unspecified incidents had led to a loss of confidence in the three.
In Haditha, families of those killed keep an ear cocked to a foreign station, Radio Monte Carlo, waiting for any news of a trial of the Marines.
"They are waiting for the sentence -- although they are convinced that the sentence will be like one for someone who killed a dog in the United States," said Waleed Mohammed, a lawyer preparing a file for Iraqi courts and the United Nations, if the U.S. trial disappoints. "Because Iraqis have become like dogs in the eyes of Americans.''