BAGHDAD (AP) — Negotiations to keep U.S. troops in Iraq came under new strain Friday in the wake of WikiLeaks' release of a U.N. letter alleging that an Iraqi family was handcuffed and shot in the head in a 2006 raid by American forces — not accidentally killed in an airstrike.
Iraq's government said Friday it will investigate the new allegations. And some officials said that the document was reason enough for Iraq to force the American military to leave instead of signing a deal allowing troops to stay beyond a year-end departure deadline.
On March 15, 2006, U.S. troops searching for an al-Qaida cell converged on a house in Ishaqi, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Baghdad. The U.S. military said the troops were hit by gunfire from inside the house, and called in an airstrike after a gun battle, destroying the house.
Twelve days later, U.N. investigator Philip Alston sent a letter to U.S. officials saying autopsies by the morgue at nearby Tikrit Hospital had "revealed that all corpses were shot in the head and handcuffed." Alston provided no details about the source of his information.
Images taken by an AP photographer shortly after the raid in Ishaqi showed the bodies of at least two men and three children, none in handcuffs, laid out in blankets outside the house. Footage shot by an AP Television News cameraman at the time showed at least five children dead. At least one adult male and four of the children had deep wounds to the head that could have been caused by bullets or shrapnel. One child had an obvious entry wound to the side. The interiors of the walls left standing were pocked with bullet holes.
The U.S. military investigated the incident and said on June 2, 2006 that, while as many as nine civilians may have been killed, the commander had followed the rules of engagement, and Iraqi allegations that the family was executed were false.
The issue moved back into the public eye in Iraq and around the world this week as media including McClatchy Newspapers published reports on Alston's cable, which was released by the anti-secrecy website this summer in a trove of confidential U.S. government documents — many of them classified.
"According to the information received," Alston wrote, "Troops entered the house, handcuffed all residents and executed all of them. After the initial (U.S.) intervention, a U.S. air raid ensued that destroyed the house."
Alston did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Marine Col. Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters in Washington that "We've already investigated these allegations and there is no new information." He said Alston's cable reflected information that was several years old but only recently released.
Violence has dropped dramatically across Iraq, but U.S. and Iraqi officials are weighing whether continued instability in the nation's government and security forces require asking U.S. troops to stay beyond the Dec. 31 deadline to leave, as mandated under a 2008 agreement.
"The new report about this crime will have its impact on signing any new agreement," said Sunni lawmaker Aliya Nusayif. She said Iraq's parliament will investigate the new details about the raid and seek to prosecute any U.S. soldiers who commit future crimes in Iraq.
Whether U.S. forces in Iraq will continue to have legal immunity from prosecution if they stay is one of the major stumbling blocks in the ongoing negotiations, as Washington will not allow the military to remain without it.
An adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said the government will revive a stalled probe into the 2006 raid. Al-Maliki has said he need more information from the U.S. to fully investigate the raid.
"We will not give up the rights of the Iraqi people, and this subject will be followed," said Ali al-Moussawi, the prime minister's media adviser.
A spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq referred request for comment to the Pentagon.
Ishaqi is located in the Iraqi province of Salahuddin. Repeated attempts to investigate or prosecute the U.S. soldiers have been ignored by courts and the government in Baghdad, provincial council chairman Amman Yousif said Friday.
He said that local officials "reject the extension or the existence of American troops in Salahuddin" — in part because of Ishaqi.
"They have never expressed their apologies," Yousif said of the U.S. military. "We want them to apologize, to compensate the victims' families and withdraw from Iraq."
Though violence has dropped, deadly attacks still occur almost every day in Iraq. A bomb on Baghdad's southern outskirts Friday killed three people and wounded for other officials, according to police and hospital officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release the information.
Associated Press Writers Hamid Ahmed in Baghdad and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.
- Philip Alston