BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A U.S. military offensive in Falluja last week in which 600 Iraqis may have died has raised concerns about excessive use of force and needs immediate investigation, a leading human rights group said Tuesday.
Both clips show US soldiers shooting apparently unarmed and injured Iraqis. According to military and legal experts interviewed by the Panorama programme, they show US troops breaking international law by shooting unarmed people.
Civilians who fled the fighting described the streets of Falluja as being littered with bodies, including women and children, and Iraqi politicians have accused U.S. forces of meting out collective punishment on the city’s residents.
“The questions being asked are very legitimate. When you cordon off a town and hear many stories that are very worrisome about civilians being killed it needs to be examined,” said Hania Mufti, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, a New York-based rights group.
“There is enough from the footage we’ve seen and from what has been said about what went on in Falluja to warrant a very serious investigation. We are deeply concerned about the consistent reports we are getting about women, children and unarmed civilians being killed,” Mufti told Reuters.
She stressed that most of the information received so far was anecdotal and said no conclusions could be drawn until a full investigation could be conducted.
Human Rights Watch
“I can’t say whether any crimes have been committed … but we’ll certainly be looking into whether there was excessive use of force and whether the methods used by the military were acceptable,” she said. “We would call on the U.S. military to be as cooperative as possible with our investigation.”
U.S. Marines launched an offensive against Falluja, a city of about 300,000 people 30 miles west of Baghdad, eight days ago to crack down on guerrillas and find those responsible for killing and burning four U.S. security guards March 31.
The fighting was some of the fiercest Iraq has seen since U.S.-led forces launched the war that overthrew Saddam Hussein a year ago. For the past three days, Falluja has been under a tenuous truce.
The director of Falluja’s general hospital has said more than 600 Iraqis were killed and some 1,200 were wounded in the battle. U.S. forces also suffered a heavy toll, with at least 70 soldiers killed in the past 12 days, many in Falluja.
The U.S. military has rejected allegations that its soldiers fired indiscriminately or used excessive force.
“I could see many bodies in the streets. Hundreds were lying in the street. Relatives were too scared to get them,” said Samir Rabee, who escaped with relatives and eight other families in the back of a refrigeration truck.
Mufti said it would probably be another few days before investigators could travel to the city, and then only if the U.S. offensive had not resumed.
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