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Marines accused of cover-up after Haditha killings
A military investigation has reportedly concluded that US Marines embarked on the "methodical" killing of two dozen Iraqi civilians - including women and children - in what may be the worst incident of its kind since the 2003 invasion.
The Pentagon had said initially that the Iraqis were killed by an insurgent bomb and a separate inquiry is investigating whether there was a cover-up.
Results of the Naval Criminal Investigation Service's (NCIS) inquiry have not been published but officials briefed on the matter said not one civilian had been killed as the result of a makeshift bomb and that the marines had not come under hostile fire.
The killings took place in November in Haditha, a city north-west of Baghdad considered an insurgent stronghold. When reports of the deaths first emerged the Pentagon said one marine and 15 civilians were killed by a roadside bomb.
It now appears a marine was killed by the bomb and that his colleagues then moved through the area, shooting five men standing next to a taxi and then entering at least two homes containing women and children where the killings continued.
"This was not a burst of fire but a sustained operation over several hours, maybe five hours," one official told The New York Times.
The military was forced to investigate the issue after a video recording, made by a young survivor of the incident and provided to Time magazine, suggested something very different to the official story had taken place.
Three United States Marines officers have been relieved of their duties while inquiries continue.