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Marines probe report of Iraqi civilian's killing

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Marine Corps has launched an investigation into allegations that its troops killed an Iraqi civilian west of Baghdad in April, the service announced Wednesday.

Several Marines from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment have been sent back to the United States while the investigation is under way, said Lt. Col. Bryan Salas, a Marine Corps spokesman based at Iraq's Camp Falluja.

Salas offered no further details, citing the ongoing probe.

The Marines are suspected of killing an Iraqi civilian near Hamandiyah, a town west of Baghdad, on April 26, a Marine statement said.

Maj. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer, commander of U.S. troops in western Iraq, asked for a probe by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service after Iraqis took the allegations to Marine commanders at a May 1 meeting.

"A preliminary investigation ... found sufficient information existed to recommend a criminal investigation into the incident," the statement said.

The new probe comes as the Marines are bracing for the findings of another investigation, one focusing on the deaths of at least 15 Iraqi civilians near the city of Haditha in November.

The Marines first claimed the civilian deaths were from a roadside bomb, then suggested the victims may have been caught in a firefight.

But Rep. John Murtha said last week that U.S. commanders have determined that Marines killed the Iraqis "in cold blood" after one of their comrades was killed. (Full story)

Murtha has alleged as many as 30 civilians may have been killed in that incident, twice the number originally reported. The Pennsylvania Democrat is a former Marine who was honored for his service in Vietnam.

Last month, the commander of the battalion involved in that incident and two company commanders were relieved of their commands and reassigned to staff jobs at Camp Pendleton, California.

One source close to the investigation said last week that "when all the facts come out, this is not going to be a 'good news' story."

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