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Iraqis denounce deal by Marine in 2005 slayings

BAGHDAD — Iraqis were outraged Tuesday to learn that the Marine considered the ringleader of a 2005 massacre that left 24 of their countrymen dead was sentenced on Tuesday to a reduction in rank but avoided any jail time after pleading guilty the day before to a reduced charge.

"That soldier would be sent to prison for more than three months if he had thrown trash on the streets in America," said Khalid Salman, 45, whose cousin was killed by the Marines in the massacre, which occurred in the town of Haditha in November 2005. "This is not new and it's not new for the American courts that already did little about Abu Ghraib and other crimes in Iraq."

For the past nine years, Iraqis have found themselves looking to the U.S. legal system to provide justice for what they believe were war crimes committed by Americans, and most of the time, many say, they have been disappointed.

The Marine, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, 31, pleaded guilty Monday in a military court in California to dereliction of duty, telling the judge that he regretted ordering his men to "shoot first, ask questions later," according to news agency reports. He had faced up to 152 years in prison if convicted on the charges of manslaughter and assault on which he stood accused.

On Tuesday, military judge Lt. Col. David Jones said the plea agreement prevented any jail time for Wuterich. Jones did recommend that the sergeant's rank be reduced to private, but decided not to cut two-thirds of his pay because the divorced father has sole custody of his three daughters. The rank reduction has to be approved by a Marine general, who already signed off on the plea deal.

Wuterich, of Meriden, Conn., read a statement apologizing to the victims' families and said he never fired on or intended to harm women and children.

The Marines entered the town after a roadside bomb killed a fellow Marine.

Information from the New York Times and Associated Press was used in this report.