Marine Denies Firing at Women and Children in Haditha

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In addition, Wuterich was seen as taking the fall for senior leaders and more seasoned combat veterans, analysts said. It was his first time in combat when he led the squad on Nov. 19, 2005.

Brian Rooney, an attorney for another former defendant, said cases like Haditha are difficult to prosecute because a military jury is unlikely to question decisions made in combat unless wrongdoing is clear-cut and egregious, like rape.

"If it's a gray area, fog-of-war, you can't put yourself in a Marine's situation where he's legitimately trying to do the best he can," said Rooney, who represented Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, the highest-ranking Marine charged in the case. "When you're in a town like Haditha or Fallujah, you've got bad guys trying to kill you and trying to do it in very surreptitious ways."

The Haditha attack is considered among the war's defining moments, further tainting America's reputation when it was already at a low point after the release of photos of prisoner abuse by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison.

It still fuels anger in Iraq today.

[Opinion: Iraq Is Still A Work in Progress]

"We wonder about such a sentence issued against the defendant. We called upon US to be fair in passing sentences. Regrettably, we are disappointed about the issuance of such sentences," said Khalid Salman Rasif, a member of the Provincial Council in Haditha, adding he would contact the lawyer for victims' families for an explanation.

Kamil al-Dulaimi, a Sunni lawmaker from the Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi, called the plea agreement proof that "Americans still deal with Iraqis without any respect."

"It's just another barbaric act of Americans against Iraqis," al-Dulaimi told The Associated Press. "They spill the blood of Iraqis and get this worthless sentence for the savage crime against innocent civilians."

Wuterich, the father of three children, had faced the possibility of life behind bars when he was charged with nine counts of manslaughter, which will be dropped under the deal. Along with facing a maximum of three months in confinement, he could also lose two-thirds of his pay and see his rank demoted to private when he's sentenced.

Prosecutors declined to comment on the plea deal.

During the trial before a jury of combat Marines who served in Iraq, prosecutors argued he lost control after seeing the body of his friend blown apart by the bomb and led his men on a rampage in which they stormed two nearby homes, blasting their way in with gunfire and grenades. Among the dead was a man in a wheelchair.

In the deal, Wuterich acknowledged that his orders misled his men to believe they could shoot without hesitation and not follow the rules of engagement that required troops to positively identify their targets before they raided the homes.

He told the judge that caused "tragic events."

"I think we all understood what we were doing so I probably just should have said nothing," Wuterich told the judge.

He said his orders were based on the guidance of his platoon commander at the time, and that the squad did not take any gunfire during the 45-minute raid.

Many of his squad mates testified that they do not believe to this day that they did anything wrong because they feared insurgents were inside hiding.

Haditha prompted commanders to demand troops be more careful in distinguishing between civilians and combatants.

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