LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Military officials have launched a preliminary inquiry into the actions of a Las Vegas Marine who says he shot an Iraqi soldier twice in the back of the head following a grenade attack on his comrades.
Gunnery Sgt. Gus Covarrubias, 38, described the shooting in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal shortly after returning from Iraq.
The interview, published Friday, described an intense battle in Baghdad on April 8, when Covarrubias said he pursued a member of the Iraqi Republican Guard who fired a rocket-propelled grenade at his unit. The blast injured several soldiers, including Covarrubias, who said he received a concussion.
The 20-year veteran of the Marine Corps said he found the soldier inside a nearby home with the grenade launcher by his side. Covarrubias said he ordered the man to stop and forced him to turn around.
"I went behind him and shot him in the back of the head. Twice," Covarrubias told the Review-Journal.
Officials at the Marine Forces Reserve headquarters in Quantico, Va., issued a statement Friday, saying the Naval Criminal Investigative Service has begun an investigation into Covarrubias' account.
"The preliminary inquiry will determine if the actions described by Gunnery Sgt. Covarrubias during combat operations met the established rules of engagement and complied with the law of war," the statement said. "The inquiry will be thorough and impartial and will determine whether a formal investigation is warranted."
Covarrubias on Friday did not answer his phone or knocks at the door of his Las Vegas home.
Marine reservist Sgt. Michael Dunn, who fought alongside Covarrubias and was injured in the battle, said he stands by him "100 percent."
"If he wouldn't have done it, those guys probably would've come back and killed or severely injured other Marines," Dunn said. "He did the right thing."
Military experts said the inquiry likely will focus on whether the Iraqi soldier was considered a prisoner of war.
"As soon as (the Iraqi soldier) had surrendered and obeyed a command to turn around, he was no longer an enemy combatant. He was a POW," said John Pike, director of globalsecurity.org, a defense and intelligence policy organization.
"We do not allow our soldiers to execute POWs at their own discretion," he said. "And this, as described, looks like the summary execution of a POW."
After killing the Iraqi soldier, Covarrubias said he took the man's military identification card. He was pictured on the front page of the Review-Journal, along with the ID card and assault rifle of another soldier he killed.
"I'm not vindictive, and I might get in trouble for telling you this, but I take it very personally when you do that to my family," Covarrubias said. "The Marines are my family."
Pike said he was surprised by Covarrubias' candor.
"These kinds of incidents are a lot more common than anyone is ever going to let on. But it's usually not the sort of thing people talk about," Pike said. "The Iraqis quite possibly did it to us, and I'm not surprised we did it to them, but it's not supposed to happen."