War takes toll on hearts, minds, lives
The military is investigating allegations of unprovoked killing of Iraqi civilians.
AN allegation that a group of Marines killed 24 Iraqi civilians without provocation or justification further weakens Americans' support for the war and threatens Iraq's shaky coalition government, which remains dependent on the U.S. military's presence.
It is imperative that investigations of the incidents in Haditha and others be conducted swiftly, the findings made public and, if warranted, those found responsible are punished accordingly. Unless the country is stabilized, there will be no end to American involvement.
Reports of the deaths in Haditha were followed by accusations in two similar episodes, but an investigation last week cleared soldiers of intentionally killing civilians in Ishaqi, a village 50 miles north of Baghdad. The second, in which an Iraqi man was dragged from his home and shot, is expected to result in charges against seven Marines and a Navy corpsman.
The killing of men, women and children last November in Haditha, a city in the increasingly lawless Anbar region, has drawn comparisons with the My Lai massacre of the Vietnam war, a symbol of the reckless use of force that echoes even today.
Though the investigation isn't complete, military officials have said there is evidence that the group of Marines shot two dozen civilians after one of their unit was killed by a bomb. Such a reaction, experts say, arises when troops are under extreme combat stress.
Marines had seen heavy losses in Haditha in the months before the shooting, 14 in a roadside bombing and six more in an ambush, after which a taunting insurgents' video showed off dog tags of the dead and Marine weapons.
Multiple tours forced by troop shortages, harsh conditions and constant high-risk patrols where nothing is routine make for a deadly mix, but they do not relieve soldiers from obeying the rules of engagement.
Though troops have renewed training on battlefield standards, they are not immune from the psychological toll of war. And while the effects of Haditha are being framed in the larger context of the conflict, the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians who also have lost their lives cannot be disregarded.