By Aref Mohammed
BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) – Relatives of two Iraqis killed by U.S. soldiers in a raid demanded justice on Monday and said they were bringing charges.
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Sunday denounced the raid as a violation of a security pact, the first crisis in an otherwise smooth implementation of a deal that sets a deadline for full U.S. withdrawal by the end of 2011.
â€œWe are a peaceful family and Iâ€™m still in shock at how they suddenly raided our house, vandalized everything and killed my brother and his wife,â€ said Iraqi police captain Muamar Abdul-Munin, who was detained in the U.S. operation along with six others and released after government protests.
â€œWe have started pressing charges against the U.S. forces. We want the guilty to be brought to justice.â€
The U.S. military says the raid in Kut, 150 km (95 miles) southeast of Baghdad in Wasit province, was carried out with the approval of Iraqi forces, as required under the security pact.
Under the pact, U.S. soldiers can be tried in local courts for grave, premeditated crimes committed off base and out of uniform. Otherwise, they are subject to U.S. military justice.
Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari denied the Iraqi military had approved the raid.
â€œNo one knew and no one in the army or police agreed to this raid,â€ he said.
Close to 100,000 people have died in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, according to independent auditor Iraq Body Count, including a number of civilians killed by U.S. forces in raids, check-point shootings or other incidents.
Since the security pact took effect this year, U.S. troops have killed at least 45 people, most of them civilians, said Iraqi NGO Monitor of Constitutional Freedom and Bill of Rights.
But the Kut raid marked the first major outcry from the government.
Analysts say Maliki may have been obliged to react strongly to shore up his image as a defender of Iraqi sovereignty.
The raid took place in an area of the Shiâ€™ite Muslim south where his allies made a strong showing in provincial elections in January, catapulting the increasingly assertive prime minister to political gains against Shiâ€™ite rivals.
â€œWhat happened on Sunday shows the barbaric, brutal and criminal nature of U.S. forces,â€ said Ahmed al-Masoudi, a parliamentary spokesman for supporters of anti-American Shiâ€™ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
â€œWe must fulfill the articles of the pact by sending the personnel who committed this crime to Iraqi courts to prosecute them. The credibility of the U.S. and Iraqâ€™s so-called sovereignty are now facing a real test.â€
The U.S. military said the raid targeted Shiâ€™ite militias it says are supported by Iran. U.S. troops killed a man suspected of supplying arms to fighters. A woman was shot in crossfire.
Abdul-Munin said he and five others detained were bundled into helicopters with hoods over their heads and taken to an unknown destination where a female U.S. officer interrogated them about their links to Iran and Iranian-backed militia.
â€œI said Iâ€™d never been in Iran before. After a while they came back to us and said â€˜we are sorryâ€™. â€˜We acted on wrong informationâ€™,â€ he quoted the officer as saying.
Abdul-Munin dismissed suggestions that the security pact appeared to protect the U.S. soldiers from prosecution if it had been sanctioned by Iraqi officials. Two Iraqi commanders were detained for having authorized it, the Defense Ministry said.
â€œThe murderers, the soldiers, must pay the price for what they did,â€ Abdul-Munin said.
Wasit saw fierce fighting during an uprising by Sadrâ€™s fighters last year, but like other parts of the south has since become largely quiet as Sadrâ€™s followers observe a ceasefire.
A senior U.S. officer in Wasit, Colonel Richard Francey, said his unit was saddened by the outcome of Sundayâ€™s operation and expressed his deepest condolences.
(Additional reporting in Baghdad by Waleed Ibrahim, Writing by Michael Christie; Editing by Angus MacSwan)