| Television footage from NBC shows the Marine shooting dead the wounded and unarmed Iraqi in the Falluja mosque. (Reuters)
London, Nov. 16: Just when the shame of Abu Ghraib was beginning to fade from public memory, the famed Marines have landed America in a public relations disaster that has echoes of an opinion-swinging execution during the Vietnam war.
The US military has begun an investigation into possible war crimes after a television pool report by NBC seemed to show a Marine shooting dead a wounded and unarmed Iraqi in a Falluja mosque.
The Marine can be heard saying on the pool footage provided to Reuters Television: 'He's f*****g faking he's dead. He (sic) faking he's f*****g dead.'
The Iraqi was one of five wounded left in the mosque after Marines fought their way in on Friday and Saturday. The US military has accused insurgents in Iraq of using mosques to launch attacks against American forces.
US forces, along with Iraqi government troops, launched an offensive one week ago on Falluja, and have gained overall control of the formerly rebel-held city, although scattered resistance remains.
Major Douglas Powell, a Marine Corps spokesman at the Pentagon, said the investigation, being conducted by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, has focused on 'possible law of war violations' by the Marines.
The pool report by NBC correspondent Kevin Sites said the mosque had been used by insurgents to attack American forces, who stormed it and an adjacent building, killing 10 militants and wounding five.
Sites said the wounded had been left in the mosque for others to pick up and move to the rear for treatment. No reason was given why that had not happened.
A second group of Marines entered the mosque on Saturday after reports that it had been reoccupied. Footage from the embedded television crew showed the five still in the mosque, although several appeared to be already close to death, Sites said.
He said one Marine noticed one of the prisoners was still breathing and shouted that the injured man was 'faking he's dead'.
'The Marine then raises his rifle and fires into the man's head. The pictures are too graphic for us to broadcast,' Sites added.
The Marine is then heard to say: 'He's dead now.'
The report said the Marine had returned to duty after being shot in the face a day earlier.
Sites said the shot prisoner 'did not appear to be armed or threatening in any way'.
NBC showed blurred images of the Marine and the shooting was heard though not seen on its news programme in the US on Monday night, but the network made the full video available to the media.
The disclosure comes months after the torture sessions at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq became public knowledge and discredited the tactics of the occupation forces.
The apparent execution is somewhat similar to a point-blank execution of a communist Vietcong prisoner by a South Vietnamese colonel in a Saigon street in 1968. A photograph ' taken by American photojournalist Eddie Adams -- that showed the exact moment when the bullet entered the prisoner's head became one of the most shocking and moving pieces of war photography and helped turn the mood in America against the Vietnam war.
Powell said no charges had yet been brought against any of the Marines.
'As soon as the video was brought to the attention of the Marines Corps leadership by the reporter, they immediately pulled the unit off the front lines and launched an investigation,' Powell said.
'They're not doing combat operations any more,' he added.
Written with Reuters report