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Pentagon sources: Civilians likely killed without provocation

Photos from scene said to be 'inconsistent' with Marine account

Multiple explanations have been offered as to how these people in Haditha died.


Marine Corps

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An ongoing military investigation supports allegations that U.S. Marines in November killed 24 innocent Iraqi civilians without being provoked, senior Pentagon sources said Friday.

Charges, including murder, could soon be filed against Marines allegedly involved, the sources said.

The killings reportedly occurred while troops from the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines were searching for insurgents who planted a roadside bomb that killed a member of the unit.

The Marines originally had reported that 15 civilians were killed by a roadside bomb in Haditha, a city along the Euphrates River in western Iraq. The Marines later suggested the civilians may have been caught in a firefight.

However, photographs being reviewed by investigators "are inconsistent with how the Marines claim the Iraqis died," according to a military source familiar with the investigation. (Watch the Pentagon investigate civilian deaths -- 2:25)

An Iraqi human rights group, Hammurabi Human Rights Association, caught the scene on video, which was obtained by Time magazine. A criminal investigation ensued. Time Warner is the parent company of Time magazine and CNN.

Last week, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pennsylvania, a decorated retired Marine colonel who is opposed to the war in Iraq, said the investigation of the Haditha deaths would show that the civilian toll was higher than 15 and that the Marines killed them "in cold blood." He said he received his information from U.S. commanders.

"There was no firefight. There was no IED that killed these innocent people. Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them, and they killed innocent civilians in cold blood," Murtha said. "They actually went into the houses and killed women and children."

The Marine battalion commander and two company commanders have been relieved of their commands and reassigned to staff posts at Camp Pendleton, California.

Separate accusations surfaced earlier this month that Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment killed a civilian near Hamandiya, west of Baghdad, on April 26.

Several Marines from the regiment were sent back to the United States, and Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer, commander of 1st Marines Expeditionary Force, asked that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service look into allegations made by Iraqis to Marine commanders at a May 1 meeting.

Sen. John Warner, R-Virginia, said Thursday that he would rank both incidents as "very, very serious allegations." There is no timeline set for either investigation, but he expects both to be completed quickly, said Warner, who chairs the Senate Armed Forces Committee.

The two incidents prompted Gen. Michael Hagee, commandant of the Marine Corps, to fly to Iraq on Thursday and speak to Marines about the use of force in a speech titled "On Marine Virtue."

"We do not employ force just for the sake of employing force. We use lethal force only when justified, proportional and, most importantly, lawful," Hagee said, according to a copy of his speech released by the Marine Corps. "This is the American way of war. We must regulate force and violence, we only damage property that must be damaged and we protect the non-combatants we find on the battlefield."

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