CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - A military jury acquitted a Marine intelligence officer yesterday of charges that he tried to help cover up the killings of 24 Iraqis, including women and children.

Cheers erupted as the seven-officer panel cleared 1st Lt. Andrew Grayson, who was the first of three Marines to be tried in the biggest U.S. criminal case involving Iraqi deaths linked to the war.

The judge, Maj. Brian E. Kasprzyk, admonished those in court to contain themselves.

The verdict came just five hours after deliberations began.

Grayson, who has always maintained he did nothing wrong, was not at the scene of the killings on Nov. 19, 2005, in Haditha. He was accused of telling a sergeant to delete photographs of the dead from a digital camera. *