BAGHDAD — Iraq will take legal action to ensure justice for the families of 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians killed in a U.S. raid in Haditha seven years ago, a government spokesman said Thursday, after the lone U.S. Marine convicted in the killings reached a deal to escape jail time.
Residents in Haditha, a former Sunni insurgent stronghold of about 85,000 people along the Euphrates River valley some 140 miles (220 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, have expressed outrage at the American military justice system for allowing Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich to avoid prison.
"The Haditha incident was a big crime against innocent civilians," said Ali al-Moussawi, a spokesman for the Iraqi government. "We will follow up all legal procedures and judiciary measures" to seek justice in the case, he added.
Al-Moussawi did not offer specifics and the Iraqi Justice Ministry declined to comment.
Marine Corps officials said they do not comment on such announcements made by foreign governments.
Neal Puckett, Wuterich's attorney said: "We have no comment about the stated intentions of the Iraqi government. Our client's military justice case has concluded. So far as we are concerned, the matter is closed."
Wuterich was convicted of a single count of negligent dereliction of duty. He faces having his rank reduced but he will not go to jail as a part of a plea agreement that ended his long-awaited manslaughter trial.
He has apologized for the loss of life, but has said his squad did not behave badly or dishonorably. He also has defended his order to raid homes in Haditha as a necessary act and acknowledged to instructing his men to "shoot first, ask questions later" after a roadside bomb killed a fellow Marine.
Wuterich's sentence Tuesday ended a six-year prosecution that failed to win any manslaughter convictions in one of the worst attacks on Iraqi civilians by U.S. troops during nine years of war. Eight Marines were initially charged in the case. One was acquitted and six others had their cases dropped.
Associated Press writer Julie Watson contributed to this report from San Diego, California.0