BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Seeking to quell outrage over allegations that Marines went on a killing rampage against unarmed civilians in Haditha, the top U.S. general in Iraq ordered all American troops in the country to undergo additional ethics training, the military said yesterday.
The announcement came a week after Marine Corps commandant Michael W. Hagee left from Washington for Iraq on what he said was a mission to reinforce the training Marines receive in following laws regarding force and violence.
Meanwhile yesterday, for the first time since reports emerged that children, women and elderly men were slain by U.S. troops last November in Haditha, the Iraqi government took a tough stance on the deaths there. The Iraqi Cabinet agreed to open an investigation into the disputed events of Nov. 19, which left at least 24 civilians dead in the sleepy Western Iraq town after the death of a Marine in a roadside bombing.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that the dignity of Iraq had been trampled, and he promised to open talks with foreign troops to set ground rules for raids and detentions.
"We cannot tolerate violations against the dignity and security of the Iraqi people," the prime minister said.
The Haditha deaths, under investigation by the U.S. military, have put pressure on U.S. and Iraqi leaders. Allegations of a massacre have provided fodder for the anti-war camp in America and for those Iraqis who are embittered and suspicious of the presence of U.S. soldiers in their country.
As for al-Maliki, a wary Iraqi public is watching to see whether his Shiite-dominated government will take seriously the death of civilians in predominantly Sunni Arab towns such as Haditha.
"I have said that all provinces and all Iraqis are the same for us," al-Maliki said yesterday. "Their security, for us, is the same. Their interests, for us, are the same."
Beginning in boot camp, Marines are lectured on the Geneva Conventions and other laws governing warfare. Marines being trained for deployment to Iraq receive training in the rules of engagement that govern the use of lethal force.
They also engage in role-playing exercises to test their reactions to scenes meant to simulate the confusion and complexity of Iraq. Once they arrive there, troops are again told by Marine lawyers, noncommissioned officers and officers about the need to identify someone as a combatant before firing.
The military said yesterday that U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli has directed commanders on the ground to provide training to their troops within the next 30 days. Troops will be taught about military values, Iraqi cultural expectations and what the military called "disciplined, professional conduct in combat."
The courses will highlight "the importance of adhering to legal, moral and ethical standards on the battlefield," said a statement from the military. "The challenge for us is to make sure the actions of a few do not tarnish the good work of the many," Chiarelli said in the statement.
In response to Chiarelli's order, a spokesman for Camp Pendleton said yesterday that the base will also increase the amount of training in rules of engagement and the laws of armed conflict.
The announcement comes just one day after the U.S. military acknowledged shooting to death a pregnant woman and her mother near an American checkpoint in Samarra.
Nabeeha Nassayef, 33, was about to give birth, and her family had driven into the city to take her to the hospital. They were unfamiliar with the roads, her brother said, and wound up on a street that had been closed by U.S. troops.
"I took this road because it's a shortcut and my sister was in labor," said Khalid Nassayef Jassim, who was driving the car. "I was surprised by the exploding glass and blood coming from behind. When I turned back, my sister was shot in the head."
The U.S. military said it regretted the deaths and was investigating the incident.
Also yesterday, a defense lawyer said that military prosecutors plan to file murder, kidnapping and conspiracy charges against seven Marines and a Navy corpsman in the shooting death of an Iraqi civilian in April. The Iraqi man was killed west of Baghdad on April 26. His death was unrelated to the Haditha shootings.
Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, speaking yesterday at a weekly military news conference inside the fortified Green Zone, said that Chiarelli began a probe into military policies and procedures in Iraq after the Haditha reports emerged. That investigation is separate from the criminal probe conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
Caldwell, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said the military is conducting three other investigations into misconduct that "we are looking at closely."
In the past few months, Chiarelli has also "taken deliberate steps to reduce escalation of force" by examining how to improve checkpoints and signals used by U.S. forces to warn approaching civilians, said Caldwell.
"Chiarelli has been looking at everything," he said. "How is the checkpoint set up? Visual signs - do they need to be changed?"
Chiarelli has said that American troops in Iraq unintentionally create more rebels by treating Iraqis in a heavy-handed manner. Some American troops in Iraq have been their "own worst enemy," he told the Los Angeles Times last month.
While reports have surfaced repeatedly of civilians killed at U.S.-manned checkpoints, U.S. military officials have refused to divulge any statistics of the number of Iraqis killed or maimed by U.S. troops since the March 2003 American-led invasion of Iraq, saying it doesn't keep track of civilian deaths.
However, in the news conference yesterday, Caldwell said that "it's clear, there's somebody who's keeping track ... at this time, it's something we're paying very much attention to."
Megan K. Stack and Louise Roug write for the Los Angeles Times.