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Sunni Fury Over Haditha

Many Sunni Arabs see an investigation as futile when they already know who to blame.
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The announcement that the United States military is investigating allegations that US Marines killed 24 civilians in Haditha last year has done nothing to quell anti-American sentiments among Iraq's Sunni Arabs.



Many Sunnis are already in no doubt that the soldiers now under investigation for the alleged shooting of men, women and children on November 19 in Haditha, a centre of the insurgency in the western Anbar province, are guilty of a massacre.



However, the revelations that American soldiers may have shot unarmed civilians have not sent the same kind of shock waves through Iraq as they did in the United States.



Many Iraqis, especially in Sunni Arab areas, believe that the US-led multinational forces frequently kill or detain innocent civilians without just cause. Sunni Arabs interviewed by IWPR said the Pentagon's probe into the massacre would not bring justice.



"Whether there is an investigation or not, a crime was committed against innocent people," said Othman Abid, a 45-year-old civil servant in al-Amiriya, a Sunni neighbourhood of Baghdad.



The investigation "is just to distract people", said Abid. "It looks like the investigation into the Abu Ghraib scandal. The crimes of the occupiers won't stop - they will continue against Sunni Arabs who reject the occupation."



Major Joseph Breasseale, spokesman for the coalition forces, said the investigation was still under way, but the US military now believed the majority of those who died were civilians. He said the military takes allegations that soldiers have killed civilians "extremely seriously".



"Clearly an incident happened, and I'll tell you what, there will be hell to pay," he said. "We're not going to leave any stone unturned."



Muhannad Abdul-Hamid, a 45-year-old grocer from Haditha, is the brother-in-law of one of those who were killed. He heard about the shootings an hour after they occurred and ran to the house, only to find his wife's relatives dead.



Abdul-Hamid took photos of the dead bodies and gave them to the Baghdad-based human rights group Hamurrabi.



"I was shocked to see all of my wife's family killed," he said. "It was unbearable."



Abdul-Hamid said he was frustrated that the Iraqi government and non-governmental organisations had remained silent on the matter.



The alleged massacre took place six months ago but was not widely covered until Hammurabi released a survivor’s testimony to an Iraqi journalist who passed it on to Time magazine.



Political analyst Saad al-Hadithi said the incident has "broken the last thread of trust between the Iraqi citizen and American troops and the Iraqi government".



Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has promised to launch a full-scale investigation of what he called a "terrible crime". Maliki, a Shia, took office last month and pledged to unite a country torn apart by sectarian violence.



Despite the strong words from Maliki, Major Breasseale said the coalition's relationship with the new Iraqi government was not tense, and that both want answers to specific questions - what happened, who did what, and when.



"These are all questions that we're trying to get to the bottom of, so that something like this could never ever happen again," he said.



Daud Salman is a Baghdad-based IWPR contributor. Iraqi Crisis Report editor Tiare Rath contributed to this report from Sulaimaniyah.

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