May 29, 2006

Too soon to judge alleged Iraq killings: US general

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Charges will be brought against U.S.
Marines if an investigation into the alleged killing of unarmed
Iraqi civilians uncovers wrongdoing, the chairman of the U.S.
Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Monday.

Marine Gen. Peter Pace also told CNN that he still did not
know why it had taken nearly three months for the Pentagon to
find out about the November 19 incident in the Iraqi town of
Haditha, in which up to 24 civilians were killed.

"If the allegations as they are being portrayed in the
newspapers turn out to be valid, then of course there'll be
charges," Pace, the highest ranking U.S. military officer and
primary military advisor to the president and defense
secretary, said.

Pace said the Pentagon had not found out about the incident
until Feb 10.

"We do not know yet why we did not know," he said.

The U.S. military has said 15 civilians were killed in
Haditha, about 140 miles northwest of Baghdad. Other accounts
put the number at around 24.

A U.S. defense official said on Friday Marines could face
criminal charges, possibly including murder, in what would be
the worst case of abuse by American soldiers in Iraq since the
2003 invasion.

"I don't suspect anything," Pace said. "I want to wait for
the investigation. We will find out what happened and we will
make it public, but to speculate right now wouldn't do anyone
any good."

Pace, the first Marine to serve as chairman of the Joint
Chiefs, said "99.9 percent" of US soldiers in Iraq were
conducting themselves with honor and courage.