Too Little, Too Late on Haditha?

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A scene from the Nov. 19 raid

Three Marine officers are being stripped of command, in the first disciplinary action taken as a result of a massacre in Haditha, a town in Western Iraq, first reported by TIME. But the action will be seen by many Iraqis as too little, too late. And it doesn't help that the Marines' announcement is vague and very short on detail, raising more questions than it answers.

The Associated Press is reporting that three Marines have been relieved of command and reassigned "in connection with problems during their deployment to Iraq, including their battalion's actions during [the Haditha killings last November]." A spokesman for the First Marine Division, at Camp Pendleton in California, said that the three officers were reassigned because of a "lack of confidence in their leadership abilities," but no charges have been filed against them.

The Marines named are Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Chessani, commanding officer of 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment; Capt. James S. Kimber, commanding officer of Company I, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment; and Capt. Lucas M. McConnell, commanding officer of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.

In Haditha, where a Marine patrol killed 15 civilians on the morning of Nov 19, the news is certain to be greeted with mystification and scepticism. Although the U.S. military has described the killings as "collateral damage," many residents believe the Marines acted deliberately and maliciously after one of their own was killed in a roadside explosion. The mere reassignment of duties of three officers is unlikely to be seen as justice done.

No more details have been released about why Chessani, Kimber and McConnell were picked out for reassignment, whether they will be charged of wrongdoing, ans if other Marines will be punished as well.

The Marine spokesman said the decision to reassign the officers was taken independently of an ongoing investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service criminal probe. The NCIS, which must determine whether the Marines broke the rules of military engagement in Haditha, is expected to submit its report any day now.