Iraq PM impatient with US troops killing civilians

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Iraq PM impatient with US troops killing civilians
by Miriam Karouny

BAGHDAD Iraq’s prime minister said on Tuesday his patience was wearing thin with excuses from U.S. troops that they kill civilians by “mistake” and said he would launch an investigation into killings at Haditha last year.

“There is a limit to the acceptable excuses. Yes a mistake may happen but there is an acceptable limit to mistakes,” Nuri al-Maliki told Reuters when asked about a U.S. investigation into the deaths of 24 Iraqis in the western town last November.

“We are worried about the increase in ‘mistakes’. I am not saying that they are intentional. But it is worrying for us,” he said in an interview in his offices in Baghdad.

Newly confirmed as leader of Iraq’s first full-term government since U.S. forces overthrew Saddam Hussein, Maliki has talked up the prospect of foreign troops leaving Iraq…

     

He said a timetable of 18 months he mentioned last week for Iraqi forces having overall control of the whole country could even be shorter if U.S.-led forces were serious about giving support and training to the new Iraqi army.

Their U.N. mandate expires in December and the government will have to negotiate the terms on which they stay. Maliki, a Shi’ite, seems keen to speak up for the concerns felt especially among minority Sunnis over U.S. tactics in their areas.

U.S. defence officials have said charges including murder may be brought against Marines following the investigation of the 24 civilian deaths in Haditha, a stronghold of the Sunni Arab insurgency. The case emerged when local people passed film of the bodies to the international media.

American lawmakers briefed by officials on the investigation concur with local witnesses who say Marines shot the civilians. The military initially said they were killed by a roadside bomb.

INVESTIGATIONS

Many Iraqis believe unjustified killings by U.S. troops are common, though few have been confirmed by investigations. The most common complaint is that troops open fire too hastily at checkpoints or when Iraqis approach their convoys too closely.

Maliki said his own government would probe not just Haditha but other cases: “We will ask for answers not only about Haditha but about any operation … in which killing happened by mistake and we will hold those who did it responsible.”

Noting a probe into the deaths of people in a U.S.-Iraqi raid on a Baghdad mosque in March, he added: “We will use our authority since we are responsible for protecting the Iraqi people, and we are elected by people … Those who kill intentionally or through negligence should be tried.”

Maliki said last week he believed Iraqi forces could be in overall control of its entire territory within 18 months, although U.S. and other troops are expected to remain to provide emergency firepower for some considerable time beyond that.

Maliki said on Tuesday that the 18-month timeframe could be even shorter, however: “We may not need it … because the structure is there. But what we need is seriousness is supporting the building of forces,” he said.

“If the multinational forces made an effort to support and develop our forces, I think the timetable will be shorter.”

(Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald)

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.


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