Background: The Haditha killings

US President George W. Bush said today Marines would be punished if found guilty over the shooting of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha in November.

Here are highlights of the case:

CHRONOLOGY

Nov. 19, 2005 - A roadside bomb kills Lance Corporal Miguel "TJ" Terrazas, 20, from El Paso, Texas, during a patrol by Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division in Haditha. In the following hours, 24 Iraqis are killed. Marine investigators inspect the scene and take photographs.

Nov. 20 - Military says roadside bomb killed a marine and 15 civilians. Captain Jeffrey Pool says in statement: "Iraqi Army soldiers and Marines returned fire killing eight insurgents." December/January - Families of some dead paid $2,500 for each by US military, Iraqi human rights activist says. US officer says in May he paid out $38,000 in total compensation.

January 2006 - Journalism student Taher Thabet, via an Iraqi human rights group, passes video of bodies and homes where they died to Time magazine. Time says Pool dismisses it as al Qaeda propaganda. But Baghdad military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson recommends investigation into possible foul play.

Feb. 14 - Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, the No.2 US commander in Iraq, initiates a preliminary investigation.

March 9 - Chiarelli directs further review of the incident by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service.

March 27 - Time magazine publishes survivors' allegations that marines ran amok after Terrazas' death. Iraqi human rights group issues the video showing residents describing rampage and bodies. US military confirms accounts from Haditha doctors to Reuters that all the civilians were shot, not killed by bomb. Witnesses say dead were in three houses and a car.

April 7 - Three officers, 3rd Battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Chessani, Kilo Company commander Captain Lucas McConnell and Captain James Kimber are relieved of command.

May 26 - US defence official says marines face charges up to murder after media reports that investigators are about to recommend charges against about a dozen marines, including murder and lying in reports.

May 30 - New Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki tells Reuters he is tiring of "excuses" about "mistakes" by US troops and wants Iraqis to probe Haditha and similar incidents.

May 31 - President Bush says in his first comment on the affair: "If ... laws were broken there will be punishment."


INVESTIGATION

- The NCIS investigation is not complete and no final decisions on charges have been made, defence officials say.

- John Warner, chairman of the Senate armed services committee, says it will probe incident and its aftermath.

- Democratic Congressman John Murtha, a former marine, says the military attempted a cover-up and accuses marines of killing "in cold blood". He says the effect on opinion about the war will be worse than the 2004 Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal.

- Some US media compare Haditha to the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam, when US soldiers ran amok in the village, and killed some 500 people, mostly women, children and old men.

- US politicians briefed on the investigation are quoted as saying several marines, led by a sergeant, went from house to house killing people and also killed four students and a taxi driver in a car that approached the scene. Photographs of the corpses suggested some victims had been kneeling when killed. Survivors and neighbours give similar accounts to journalists.


HADITHA

- Haditha is a Euphrates valley farming town 200 km northwest of Baghdad in Iraq's western Anbar province, the heartland of the Sunni Arab insurgency seeking to topple the Shi'ite-led government backed by the United States.

- Marines, who have suffered the worst casualties among US forces in the Iraq conflict, mounted several offensives last year in the region around Haditha, where they have often been hit by roadside bombs, the most effective killer of US troops.

- A roadside bomb killed 14 marines in August near Haditha and destroyed their armoured amphibious assault vehicle. Six were killed by gunmen in the town, and a seventh was killed by a car bomb in nearby Hit a few days earlier.


THE DEAD

In addition to Terrazas, Iraq's Hammurabi human rights organisation listed the dead of Nov. 19 as follows:

House 1: Asmaa Salman Raseef, 32, Abdullah Waleed Abdul Hameed, child, Abdul Hameed Hasan Ali, late 70s, Waleed Abdul Hameed Hassan, 35, Rasheed Abdul Hameed Hassan, 30, Khameesa Toama Ali, 65.

House 2: Younis Salim Raseef, 41, Aida Yaseen Ahmed, 35, Muhammad Younis Salim, child, Noor Younis Salim, 14, Sabaa Younis Salim, 9, Aisha Younis Salim, 2, Zainab Younis Salim, 3, Huda Yaseen Ahmed, 28.

Car: Ahmed Finer Muslih, 25, the taxi driver, Khalid Oyada Abid, 27, Wajdi Oyada Abid, 22, Akram Hameed Flayeh, 21, Muhammad Fatal Ahmed, 21.

House 3: Jamal Ayed Ahmed, 41, Chassib Ayed Ahmed, 27, Marwan Ayed Ahmed, 28, Kahtan Ayed Ahmed, 24.

- REUTERS

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