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January 25, 2012

Slap on Wrist in Haditha Massacre Resonates in Iraq

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The sad chapter of the Haditha massacre may have been put to bed in a legal sense when Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich received an incomparably light sentence, walking away with no jail time, for ordering the troops under his command to “shoot first, ask questions later” in an incident that killed 24 innocent Iraqis. But this issue isn’t close to being over for the Iraqis in the village of Haditha who heard the news.

In this town which saw 24 unarmed civilians die in a U.S. raid seven years ago, residents expressed disbelief and sadness that the Marine sergeant who told his troops to “shoot first, ask questions later” reached a deal with prosecutors to avoid jail time.

They were outraged both at the American military justice system and at the refusal of Iraq’s Shiite-led government to condemn the killings and at least try to bring those responsible to face trial in this country.

“We are deeply disappointed by this unfair deal,” said Khalid Salman Rasif, an Anbar provincial council member from Haditha. “The U.S. soldier will receive a punishment that is suitable for a traffic violation.”

Shocked at the unfair US judicial system? Take a number. But this reaction could lead to serious trouble in Iraq. Haditha is a Sunni town. The Shiite ruling government has said little about the issue, saying instead that it needs to be “studied carefully.” But the government is coming under increasing criticism from Sunnis for taking no action to avert the ruling. Without the US troops in Iraq to blame, you could see Sunnis take out their frustrations in a sectarian manner. CNN reports that the public is squarely opposed to the sentence, which risks a credibility gap for the government:

“This court is unjust and its decision was unfair for Iraqi people,” Shaeed Fakhri, a lecturer at Babel University in Hilla, said Wednesday as he visited Baghdad. “This soldier should be executed. The verdict is unfair and unjust for the innocent people who were killed in this incident.”

“This is very sad and very painful,” said Hashim Khader, a store owner in Baghdad. “They were just civilian people who did not raise weapons against the occupiers and they were killed this way. This is a heinous crime and the soldiers should get the most severe punishment.”

The case contained multiple legal errors on the part of investigators; in part, they flubbed the case. But the Iraqis aren’t interested in such an excuse. This becomes fuel for more hatred, and the government is putting themselves on the wrong side. Sunni lawmakers have spoken out on this, and we could see violence before it’s all done.


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