Iraqi’s killing thought planned by Marines

WASHINGTON – U.S. military investigators believe the killing of an Iraqi civilian on April 26 was planned by a small group of Marines who shot the man and then planted a shovel and an AK-47 rifle at the scene, a senior Pentagon official said Tuesday.

The official, who has direct knowledge of the investigation under way by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said evidence found so far indicates Marines entered the town of Hamdaniya in search of an insurgent and, failing to find him, grabbed an unarmed man from his home and shot him.

The AK-47 and the shovel, which were taken from another home before the shooting, were meant to make it look like the man had been digging a hole for a roadside bomb and was killed in an exchange of gunfire, the official said.

Seven Marines and a Navy corpsman are being investigated in the case, but no charges have been filed. All eight were removed from duty with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment in Iraq and are being held at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

The Navy corpsman’s attorney, Jeremiah Sullivan, told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday that his client is being subjected to cruel and unusual punishment while being kept in the brig. He said the corpsman, whom he described as a 20-year-old who has served two combat tours in Iraq, is being kept in solitary confinement and is shackled whenever he is let out of his cell to exercise.

This case is unrelated to the shootings of 24 civilians last Nov. 19 in the city of Haditha by Marines from another unit. The NCIS also is investigating that case, and a parallel probe is reviewing what Pentagon officials have said appeared to be efforts by the Marines at Haditha to cover up the true circumstances of those killings.

Meanwhile, in Iraq, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki promised Tuesday to release 2,500 prisoners in an apparent effort to appease anger among the Sunni Arab minority over allegations of random detentions and mistreatment of prisoners.

Al-Maliki said 2,500 Iraqi detainees would be freed from U.S.- and Iraqi-run jails to promote “reconciliation and national dialogue.” The first batch of about 500 detainees will be released today and others will follow after their cases are reviewed, he said.

The U.S. military reported that an American soldier was killed in Baghdad on Monday when a bomb struck his convoy.

The U.S. military also said Monday that it had handed over responsibility for operating patrols in the volatile Anbar province to an Iraqi army unit. It said the Iraqi army’s 1st Division officially took control of a military base between Ramadi and Fallujah on Friday from the U.S. Army’s 1st Battalion, 110th Infantry Regiment.

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