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Marine officer saw Haditha deaths as normal

Reuters | August 19 2006

The U.S. Marine officer who commanded the battalion involved in the deaths of two dozen Iraqi civilians in Haditha in November did not consider the incident unusual and did not initiate an inquiry, The Washington Post reported on Saturday.

"I thought it was very sad, very unfortunate, but at the time, I did not suspect any wrongdoing from my Marines," Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, commander of the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Marines, said in a sworn statement given to military investigators in March.

"I did not have any reason to believe that this was anything other than combat action," he said in the statement, which was cited by the Post.

The newspaper said it was provided with the statement by a person sympathetic to the enlisted Marines involved in the case. It said it helps explain why there was no investigation of the incident at the time and why the U.S. military chain of command took several months to react to the event.

Chessani said he had concluded that insurgents had staged a "complex attack" that began with a roadside bomb, followed by a small-arms ambush intended to provoke the Marines to fire into houses where civilians were hiding.

Because of that conclusion, he said, he saw no reason to investigate, or ask how many women and children had been killed.

U.S. Marines have been accused of killing 24 unarmed Iraqis in Haditha in November 2005, one of a series of incidents in which U.S. troops are suspected of killing Iraqi civilians. Two investigations were initiated into the Haditha case - a murder inquiry and a probe into the Marines' procedures following the killings.

The New York Times reported on Friday that the Pentagon investigation into the deaths in Haditha had found possible concealment or destruction of evidence by U.S. Marines.

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