Al Qaeda In Haditha

Al Qaeda in Haditha: The battle the media ignored

by Nathaniel R. Helms

October 6, 2007. Buried in the mountain of exhibits attached to the once secret Haditha, Iraq murder inquiry prepared by US Army Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell is an obscure Marine Corps intelligence summary that says the deadly encounter was an intentional propaganda ploy planned and paid for by Al Qaeda foreign fighters. 

Veteran military defense attorney Gary Meyers said he never understood why the Naval Criminal Investigative Service special agents leading the Haditha criminal investigation didn’t ‘examine the linkage’ between Al Qaeda, the local insurgency and the events at Haditha. Meyers was an attorney on the defense team that successfully defended Justin Sharratt, a Marine infantryman accused of multiple murders at Haditha.

The report, apparently overlooked by a Washington press corps awash in leaked Bargewell documents and secret Naval Criminal Investigative Service reports, shows that Marine Corps intelligence operatives were advised of the scheme to demonize the Marines by an informant named Muhannad Hassan Hamadi. The informant was snared by 3/1 Marines on December 11 2005 and decided to cooperate.

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Planning a “massacre”

The attack was carried out by multiple cells of local Wahabi extremists and well-paid local gunmen from Al Asa’ib al-Iraq [the Clans of the People of Iraq] that were led by Al Qaeda foreign fighters, the summary claims. Their case was bolstered by Marine signal intercepts revealing that the al Qaeda fighters planned to videotape the attacks and exploit the resulting carnage for propaganda purposes.

Eleven insurgents involved in the attack are identified by name and affiliation in the details of the summary. All of them were killed or captured in the days immediately following the Haditha incident.

During the November Haditha battle, the insurgents secreted themselves among local civilians to guarantee pursuing Marines would catch innocent civilians in the ensuing crossfire. On January 6, 2006 six insurgents who tried to do the same thing at another location in Haditha were turned in to Coalition authorities before they could mount a similar assault, the report says.

On January 18, 2006, almost two months after the infamous Haditha attack, Iraqi insurgents identified as Talal Abdullah Yusif and Omar Ramsey, planned to attack a dismounted Coalition Forces patrol, along with four brothers named Khalif Muhammad Hassan.

It wasn’t coincidental that brother Sa’ib Khalif Muhammad Hassan lived next to an Al Qaeda ‘safe house’ destroyed on November 19 by Marine jets. Sa’ib had rented the house to the foreign fighters. That attack was stopped by local Iraqis and Sa’ib Hassan was arrested, the report says. 

The summary also details the Marines finding three dead bodies near the Sub Hani Mosque after the November 19 fight was over. The dead men are described as ‘military-aged males’ wearing ‘chest rigs.’ Two of the decedents were ‘missing parts of lower torso.’ The authors opined the victims were foreign fighters killed in one of the Marine bombings during the day-long combat.

Our media, the enemy within

The prosecutors in the case against eight Marines charged with murder and cover up at Haditha still maintain the besieged infantrymen acted solely out of malice and poor judgment when they killed 24 Iraqis there. The prosecution’s investigation was launched after a story by Time magazine reporter Tim McGirk on March 6, 2006 accused the Marines of cold blooded murder in retaliation for the death of a brother Marine. 

McGirk received his video ‘evidence’ and contacts from two known Iraqi insurgent operatives already under observation by Marine Corps counter intelligence teams. One of the Iraqi witnesses McGirk relied on had just been released from almost six months captivity for insurgent activities and the other witness was considered a useful intelligence tool by Marines listening to him talk on his cell phone. McGirk never interviewed the Marines, who ironically had prepared a similar intelligence summary in anticipation of his canceled visit.

Captured insurgents revealed plan to detonate IEDs

The summary, labeled “Bargewell Discovery” pages ‘001083’ thru 001108′ – was prepared by 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines using UAV images, statements obtained from the informants, and intelligence gleaned from captured insurgents to explain what happened. The information was detailed in 13 Draft Intelligence Information Reports (DIIR) from a Marine Humint Exploitation Team (HET) operating in the area.

The captured insurgents revealed the attack was planned in Albu Hyatt, a nearby town where numerous Marines have been killed and wounded since the beginning of the war. The two main elements of the attack were the IED-initiated ambush on Route Chestnut and two IED ambushes planned along the so-called River Road that parallels the Euphrates River about 1.5 kilometers north of the Chestnut location.

The prisoners claimed the multi-pronged assault on the Marines was intended to garner local support by discrediting the Marines among the civilian population. If the coordinated attack had gone off as planned all three IED ambushes would have been sprung on the patrolling Marines almost simultaneously, the prisoners said. The insurgents plan depended on the Marines aggressively responding to the assaults to create as much carnage as possible.

Marine patrolling along the River Road spotted two of the IEDs in time to avoid the danger. Marine Explosive Ordinance Demolition teams sent to disarm the devices were then ambushed by insurgents using small arms and rocket propelled grenades.

A US Air Force Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicles orbiting the area subsequently launched a Hellfire missile attack on fleeing insurgents running through the palm grove. Other insurgents were tracked for more than four hours as they moved from house to house trying to escape the battlefield.

All of the intelligence data generated by the UAVs including the mission reports, video, and internet messages between the UAV operators, 3/1, Regimental Combat Team 2, and Multi-National Force headquarters in Baghdad  was later seized by NCIS special agents. A Marine who was there said the NCIS agents told the UAV operators on duty at VMU-2 (the Scan Eagle squadron operating the aircraft over Haditha) that they would be interrogated as well, but it never happened, the operator said.

More than a year after the coordinated attack eight Marines from Kilo Company, 3/1 were charged with multiple murder and covering up the incident.  Four Marines have subsequently been cleared on any wrongdoing and four more are still awaiting their fates.   

“Anyone who tries to compare this event to My Lai is an absolute fool.”

Almost four decades ago Meyers successfully defended a soldier accused of murder at My Lai, South Vietnam while he was a captain in the US Army JAG Corps. After Tim McGirk wrote his specious report claiming a squad of Marines massacred 24 civilians at Haditha the world press immediately compared the incident to the massacre at My Lai. The unwarranted comparisons still anger Meyers.

“From our perspective – from a legal perspective – we knew it was a kinetic event,” said Meyers. “We knew enough to present to the IO (Investigating Officer) that this was not an isolated event; that the entire city was in a kinetic state that day. Anyone who tries to compare this event to My Lai is an absolute fool.”

The 13 DIIRs were prepared by members of a Humint Exploitation Team identified as HET03. Marine HET units investigate and record local intelligence-worthy activities for interpretation and consumption by Intel officers trying to understand the enemy’s Tactics, Techniques & Procedures (TTP) as well as divine their intentions.

One of the DIIRs names five other insurgents involved in setting up the IED that killed LCpl Miguel “T.J.” Terrazas. One of their number, Majid Salah Mahdi Farraji, was killed when Marine Corps F-18s bombed the so-called ‘safe house’ were the battle migrated to after the initial IED ambush decimated Wuterich’s squad.

Nathaniel R. Helms
Defend Our Marines
October 2007

Note: Nat Helms is a Contributing Editor to Defend Our Marines. He is a Vietnam veteran, former police officer, war correspondent, and, most recently, author of My Men Are My Heroes: The Brad Kasal Story (Meredith Books, 2007).