Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Bush Upset With Iraq Killings Reports

WASHINGTON - President Bush promised on Wednesday that any Marines involved in the alleged murders of Iraqi civilians will be punished. A senior officer said the case could undermine Iraqis' support for the presence of American troops.

President Bush pauses as he listens to a reporter's question during his meeting with Rwanda's President Paul Kagame in the Oval Office of the White House Wednesday, May 31, 2006, in Washington. CHARLES DHARAPAK

I am troubled by the initial news stories," Bush said in his first public comments about the deaths of about two dozen civilians at Haditha last November. "I'm mindful that there's a thorough investigation going on. If in fact, laws were broken, there will be punishment."

Military investigators have evidence that points toward unprovoked murders by Marines, a senior defense official said last week.

The shootings came after a bomb rocked a military convoy on Nov. 19, killing a Marine. Residents of Haditha said Marines then went into nearby houses and shot members of two families, including a 3-year-old girl.

At first, the American military described what happened as an ambush on a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol, with a roadside bombing and subsequent firefight killing 15 civilians, eight insurgents and a Marine. The statement said the 15 civilians were killed by the blast, a claim the residents strongly denied.

With some in Congress alleging a cover-up, the Bush administration offered assurances the facts will be made public.

Bush's spokesman, Tony Snow, urged patience as the Marines conduct what he called a vigorous investigation. He said a report will come out in "a matter of weeks, not a matter of months" and include public release of photographic evidence. "We're going to see everything," Snow said.

Once that investigation is completed, a senior Marine commander in Iraq will decide whether to press charges of murder or other violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

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