BAGHDAD, Iraq—As one U.S. politician charged Sunday that U.S. Marines had murdered 24 Iraqi civilians last fall, and press reports seemed to support the claim, the story remained a non-starter in Iraq.
It didn't come up when Iraq's parliament met on Sunday. The talking heads on Iraqi television issued no new calls for a U.S. troop withdrawal, as often happens after U.S. forces are seen to have made big mistakes. Even local papers ran no stories about possible murder charges against some Marines allegedly involved in the Nov. 19 shootings.
Senseless killings—whether at the hands of U.S. soldiers, criminal gangs or militias—have become everyday occurrences in Iraq, some residents explained. And the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, in which low-ranking U.S. troops suffered the consequences, convinced many Iraqis that when it comes to U.S. military justice, top leaders can get away with crimes they orchestrate.
Of the civilian killings, which occurred in the often violent Sunni-dominated town of Haditha, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., said on ABC's "This Week": "I will not excuse murder, and this is what happened."
Murthada Abdel Rashid, 29, a Baghdad sandwich vendor, was beyond caring, however.
"I am not surprised by what happened in Haditha because Americans are terrorists and killers. And this is the way of life now," he said. "I don't care if they punish the American soldiers because they cannot bring back the lives of the dead."
Others called the parliament's silence a sign of the new Shiite-dominated government's indifference to civilian deaths, especially when the victims are of the resented Sunni minority.
"The Iraqi politicians have failed in every way. The Shiite politicians have shown that they work for their own interests and their parties. The same thing is true for the Sunnis and Kurds. They do not think about the country," said Ali al-Rubaie, a fabric storeowner in Baghdad.
The Haditha killings began on the morning of Nov. 19 after Lance Corporal Miguel (T.J.) Terrazas, 20, of El Paso, Texas, was killed by an explosive detonated under his Humvee. His fellow Marines set off after those responsible. They entered five houses, killing 24 people, including a 3-year-old boy.
U.S. officials opened an investigation after Time Magazine reported the incident. They also have said they believe some of the Marines involved filed false reports about it.
In a published Knight Ridder interview, a teenage girl who survived the attack said two soldiers shot her father when he answered the door. The soldiers then, the girl said, made their way to a bedroom and killed the rest of her family, including her ailing mother lying in bed, as well as her siblings, who'd sought protection in their mother's arms.
U.S. officials told Knight Ridder that her family was not armed and had had nothing to do with the killing of Terrazas. Nor, they said, did any of the 24 Iraqis killed.
On Sunday, some Iraqi politicians said they feared talking about the Haditha incident because they are trying to form a coalition government and talking about an incident in a largely Sunni city could make political enemies.
"We do not want to be accused of being sectarian. We are here to represent all—not only people in Haditha—but to address all the violations," said Harith al-Ubaidi, a Sunni member of parliament. "We are rebuilding a state that has collapsed."
Others said Iraqis are numbed by their country's high level of violence.
"There are so many problems in the daily life of the individual and so many casualties in towns like Haditha that it is sometimes difficult to track and talk about every one," said Hazim Abdel Hamid al-Nuaimi, a professor of politics at al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad.
(Knight Ridder Newspapers special correspondents Shatha al Awsy and Mohammed al Awsy contributed to this report.)
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.