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US Troops in Iraq Cleared of Misconduct in Ishaqi Incident

A U.S. military investigation has concluded that U.S. troops did not intentionally kill innocent civilians in an Iraqi village. Two other incidents are still under investigation. The statements come amid continued violence and lawlessness in Iraq, including the killing of one Russian diplomat and the kidnapping of four others in Baghdad.

For days, U.S. military commanders in Iraq have weathered a whirlwind of allegations of killings of civilians by American forces. Saturday, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad said one allegation is entirely without merit: that U.S. troops executed a family during a raid in Ishaqi, and then attempted to conceal the deed. Major General William Caldwell:

"Allegations that the troops executed a family living in a safe house, and then hid these alleged crimes by directing an air strike are absolutely false," he said.

What happened, the U.S. military says, is that American forces were fired on during a raid on a building believed to house an al-Qaida suspect. The troops are said to have returned fire and called in an air strike, which destroyed the building and killed the suspect - and resulted in up to nine other deaths. U.S. commanders say the troops acted in accordance with established rules of engagement.

But just what took place in another Iraqi municipality, Haditha, remains unclear. Local Iraqis accuse U.S. forces of going on a rampage, killing two dozen civilians last November.

An attorney - Khaled Salem Rsayef - representing claimants in Haditha says U.S. forces acted criminally, both during and after the alleged incident.

"They sealed off the whole city for a month, not allowing anyone to enter the city and arresting anyone who speaks about the incident, so the issue did not appear on television for a long time," he said. "The truth is [that] the ones who provoked this issue are the Americans themselves."

Major General Caldwell says events in Haditha remain under investigation, but stressed that coalition troops in Iraq will be held to account for any misdeeds.

"The coalition does not and will not tolerate unethical or criminal behavior," he said. "All allegations of such activity will be fully investigated, and any members found to have committed such activities - violations will be held accountable."

Officials of Iraq's new unity government have expressed outrage over alleged misdeeds by U.S. forces, and say they will continue their own investigations.

U.S. officials have assured Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that he will be kept fully informed about the U.S. investigations under way.

Meanwhile, Russian officials say a Russian diplomat has been killed and four embassy staffers kidnapped during an attack on their vehicle in Baghdad. The officials say they are in contact with Iraqi authorities, and will press for the captives' release.

In other violence, gunmen killed at least seven Iraqi policemen, and wounded several others in Baquba. Outside the municipality, police found eight severed heads. Several bodies were also discovered in Baghdad with bullet wounds and signs of torture.

Amid continuing violence, President Bush has repeatedly stated that U.S. forces will remain in Iraq as long as they are needed to safeguard the nation's fledgling democracy. But some Democrats say a gradual withdrawal of American troops should be under way by year's end. Peter Welch, a Democratic congressional candidate from Vermont, delivered his party's Saturday radio address.

"We must ensure that 2006 is a year of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty," said Welch. "We must establish clear benchmarks for the Iraqis to take care of their own country and defend themselves, so that we can transition our troops out, and move to fight a smarter war on terrorism."

Welch criticized the Republican-led Congress' oversight of funds allocated to the U.S. effort in Iraq and the broader war on terror.