Dubai: Many Iraqi politicians yesterday reacted with absolute shock to reports of a deal under which a US Marine squad leader facing trial over the killing of 24 Iraqi civilians in 2005 will get a few months in prison at the most.
American military prosecutors offered Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, 31, a deal according to which the proceedings against him will come to an end.
Wuterich was the leader of a squad that killed Iraqi civilians in Haditha during raids after a Marine was killed and two were injured in a roadside bomb attack.
Wuterich, who was originally accused of unpremeditated murder and was facing life imprisonment, now faces up to three months in confinement, after the deal. He could also lose two-thirds of his pay and be demoted when he is sentenced, the Associated Press reported. Seven other Marines initially charged with the killings were exonerated or had cases against them dropped.
The deal is "a sign that the US judiciary is belittling Iraq's blood", said Talal Al Zoubai, an Iraqi lawmaker from Anbar province, of which Haditha is part of.
"The ugly crime [Haditha massacre] contradicts human values and rights, and the principles of democracy which the US brought to Iraq, [but] left us with armies of widows and orphans, armed society and divided it along sectarian lines" Al Zoubai said in a statement to Gulf News.
"There should have been a strong sentence that is appropriate to the size of the tragedy for the relatives of the victims and martyrs' kins," Al Zoubai added.
Wuterich pleaded guilty on Monday to negligent dereliction of duty for leading the squad in the carnage.
In a report from Camp Pendleton in California, where the trial is taking place, AP said that "in the deal, Wuterich admitted that his orders misled his men to believe they could shoot without hesitation and not follow the rules of engagement that required troops to positively identify their targets before they raided the homes". He told the judge that his error caused "tragic events".
During the trial before a jury of combat Marines who served in Iraq, prosecutors argued Wuterich lost control after seeing his friend blown apart by the bomb and led his men on the rampage during which they stormed two nearby homes, blasting their way in with gunfire and grenades. Among the dead was a man in a wheelchair.
"This is genocide, and not just a murder," said Ra'ed Al Dahlaki, a member of the legal committee of the Iraqi parliament. "The culprit should receive severe punishment for the sake of justice for Arab blood and Iraqi blood." Reaching a deal with Wuterich is akin to "debasing Muslim and Iraqi blood," he told Gulf News.
However, many of the Marines involved in the killings testified that they "don't believe to this day that they did anything wrong because they feared insurgents were hiding inside".
The massacre, which is often described as one the major events in the War in Iraq, has further tarnished America's reputation after it reached abysmal levels with the release of photos of prisoner abuse at Baghdad's Abu Gharib prison by US soldiers.