The military has a different account of what transpired. According to officials familiar with the investigation, the Marines broke into the third house and found a group of 10 to 15 women and children. The troops say they left one Marine to guard that house and pushed on to the house next door, where they found four men, one of whom was wielding an AK-47. A second seemed to be reaching into a wardrobe for another weapon, the officials say. The Marines shot both men dead; the military's initial report does not specify how the other two men died.
The Marines deny that any of the men were killed in the closet, which they say is too small to fit one adult male, much less four. According to the military officials, the series of raids took five hours and left at least 23 people dead. In all, two AK-47s were discovered. The military has classified the 15 victims in the first two houses as noncombatants. It considers the four men killed in the fourth house, as well as four youths killed by the Marines near the site of the roadside bombing, as enemy fighters. The question facing naval detectives is whether the Marines' killing of 15 noncombatants was an act of legitimate self-defense or negligent homicide. Military sources say that if the ncis finds evidence of wrongdoing, U.S. commanders in Iraq will decide whether to pursue legal action against the Marines.