Marines in Haditha: Locals not focused on alleged ’05 massacre
HADITHA, Iraq — When average Americans hear the word “Haditha,” they are likely to think of the much-publicized 2005 incident involving Marines allegedly murdering 24 Iraqi civilians.
For locals in Haditha, the incident is memorable but not the hot-button issue it is in America, Marines deployed here said. “We’ve asked some of the local nationals who come in here on a daily basis about it,” said Staff Sgt. Andres Quiniones, who works at the Haditha Civil Military Operations Center. “Everyone still remembers it, but we’ve never had anybody come in and start complaining about it. I guarantee it’s talked about more in the States than it is here.”
The Haditha incident took place Nov. 19, 2005. One Marine was killed, one was severely injured and another suffered minor wounds when a roadside bomb was detonated under their Humvee. Then, two dozen Iraqi civilians died in what prosecutors allege were revenge killings by Marines.
Four Marines with Company K, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., have been charged with unpremeditated murder for allegedly killing the Iraqi civilians in retaliation. Courts-martial should begin in a few months. The incident is almost a nonissue for the average Hadithan, but they do respect that the Marines are taking the matter to trial, said Lt. Col. Jim Donnellan, commander of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.
As for the Marines on Haditha’s streets, some have taken the extreme measure of wearing helmet video cameras in case they need indisputable proof if their actions are questioned. “I’ve seen squad leaders and Marines with that,” Donnellan said. “It’s disheartening because you feel like they’ve lost their confidence that we’re going to take care of them. When the whole story comes out, they will realize that what’s happening to them and the firefights they’re engaged in are nowhere near any of these kind of accusations.”
When Iraqis in Haditha think of a horrible massacre in their city, they think not of the 2005 episode but rather of 2004 public executions of Iraqi policemen by insurgents, Marines said. In April and November 2004, Marines in Haditha were sent to Fallujah to participate in the now well-known battle. Haditha insurgents waged a killing spree in the Marines’ absence. Insurgents in Haditha murdered local officials and publicly executed several policemen at a soccer field.
“When the [Marines] left, you had a total implosion of the local government,” said Capt. Matt Tracy, commander of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.
“You had 21 officers killed, the municipal buildings destroyed and a group of 19 Shia that were killed in the soccer stadium. That weighs more on everyone’s psyche than the massacre. The massacre is seen as an unfortunate event that occurs during war.”
Tracy, who commands the Marine company operating in Haditha, does not hear very much talk about the November 2005 incident. The question he does get from the locals is: What will happen when the Marines leave?
“Which is, I think, 180 degrees out from the perception that Americans have of this place,” he said. “The fear here is that the Americans will leave.”