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Iraq promises its own inquiry as fury mounts over civilian killings

Tensions rise as new government rejects US verdict clearing American troops of deliberately shooting 11 Iraqis

The Iraqi government has reacted furiously to a ruling that cleared American forces of executing a family of civilians north of Baghdad earlier this year, and pledged to continue its own inquiries into allegations of US war crimes.

An American military investigation this weekend cleared US troops of rounding up and deliberately shooting 11 people - including five children and four women - in a house in the village of Ishaqi, before blowing up the building.

But Iraq rejected the American exoneration of its own forces yesterday. Anger over the incident has raised tensions even further between the US government and the Iraqi administration it backs. Relations deteriorated throughout the week after a series of revelations and claims of criminal behaviour by US forces.

The bulk of the allegations surround an alleged massacre in Haditha last year that was first reported in the UK by The Independent on Sunday. Two inquiries are ongoing into Haditha and new details are still emerging from those. But it was the US military's finding regarding the Ishaqi killings that enraged Iraqis yesterday.

"We have [heard] from more than one source that the Ishaqi killings were carried out under questionable circumstances. More than one child was killed. This report was not fair for the Iraqi people and the children who were killed," said an aide to Nuri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister, yesterday.

The US military had issued a statement about Ishaqi saying allegations that US troops "executed a family ... and then hid the alleged crimes by directing an air strike, are absolutely false".

It said troops had been fired on as they raided a house to arrest an al-Qa'ida suspect. They returned fire and called in air support, which destroyed the building, killing one militant and resulting in "up to nine collateral deaths". The military had previously said one guerrilla, two women and a child were killed in the raid in Ishaqi, 60 miles north of Baghdad, on 15 March.

Issa Hrat Khalaf, whose brother was killed at Ishaqi, said US forces were responsible. "Where are the terrorists? Are they the old lady or the kids? It looks like the lives of Iraqis are worthless," he said, referring to pictures broadcast by the BBC last week.

The outcome of the Pentagon investigation emerged a day after the video footage that appears to show the aftermath of US action in Ishaqi. The video shows a number of dead adults and children at the site.

Mr Maliki, who took office two weeks ago at the helm of a US-backed national unity government, is battling a growing perception that US troops can shoot and kill with impunity.

He has already expressed his anger about Haditha, describing it as a "horrible crime" and has accused US troops of habitually attacking civilians. The investigations into events there appear set to return a far more damning verdict that the Ishaqi inquiry.

Marines stand accused of deliberately killing 24 unarmed civilians in the western town of Haditha on 19 November after one of their party died when a roadside bomb went off.

There are two investigations into the Haditha killings - one of which will report in the next few days. It has looked at allegations that senior officers covered up evidence that the civilians were shot in cold blood.

And yesterday it was reported that the role of senior commanders was the main focus of the inquiry. "It's impossible to believe they didn't know," an unnamed general was reported as saying in the US press. "You'd have to know this thing stunk."

Besides Haditha and Ishaqi, it was also claimed by the US media yesterday that eight servicemen were in custody in the US awaiting charges expected to include "murder, kidnap and conspiracy". The charges relate to the shooting dead of an Iraqi man west of Baghdad in April.