Iraq PM calls for inquiry into rape-murder case

/ Source: The Associated Press

Iraq’s prime minister called Wednesday for an independent investigation into an alleged rape-slaying by U.S. soldiers and said the immunity of coalition troops from Iraq prosecution should be reviewed.

Across Iraq, meanwhile, nine people were killed in continuing violence.

In his strongest comments to date on alleged abuse by American soldiers, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said their immunity from prosecution in Iraq has encouraged atrocities.

“We believe that the immunity given to members of coalition forces encouraged them to commit such crimes in cold blood (and) that makes it necessary to review it,” al-Maliki told reporters during a visit to Kuwait.

He called for either an independent Iraqi investigation or a joint investigation with coalition forces into the March 12 rape and murder of Abeer Qassim Hamza. Her mother, father and sister were also killed in the attack at their home in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad.

Former Army Pfc. Steve D. Green was charged with rape and four counts of murder Monday in federal court in Charlotte, N.C. At least four other U.S. soldiers still in Iraq are under investigation.

“We are going to demand an independent Iraqi investigation or at least a joint investigation between us and the multinational forces,” al-Maliki said.

U.S. willing to discuss, military says
Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said the coalition would discuss the prime minister’s demands.

“We are here as guests of the Iraqi government. They are a sovereign nation,” Caldwell said. “When the prime minister gets back, the coalition will engage with him and discuss what he wants to discuss.”

Abeer’s uncle said the family didn’t believe Americans were involved until the U.S. military announced an investigation last week. Ahmed Taha said neighbors initially said they thought insurgents had killed Abeer, along with her family.

He said he arrived at the scene about four hours after the rape-slaying was reported to have occurred and found Abeer’s body burned and her mother, Fikhriya Taha; her father, Qassim Hamza; and her younger sister, Hadeel Qassim Hamza, shot to death.

FBI documents have estimated the rape victim was about 25, but Ahmed Taha said his niece was 15.

He said Iraqi police were informed and came with U.S. troops to take the bodies to the nearby American base. The family retrieved the bodies at the base the next morning.

“Nobody knew who killed them,” he told AP Television News. “Some said it was insurgents, and in fact, we ruled out the American troops” until the U.S. investigation was announced Friday.

He said neighbors had seen the U.S. soldiers at the time of the crime, but did not come forward until the investigation was publicized. “They were afraid of telling the truth, really, we were surprised by this news.”

Same platoon as abducted soldiers
The accused are from the same platoon as two soldiers whose mutilated bodies were found June 19, three days after they were abducted by insurgents in Youssifiyah.

But Caldwell said investigators had found nothing to indicate the killings of the soldiers was retaliation for the rape-slaying, as some have suggested. “It appears they’re very separate and distinct events that occurred, from what we’ve been able to find thus far,” he said.

He also said questions about why the U.S. soldiers apparently had been left to their own devices despite rigorous military protocol in Iraq were among the many issues being investigated and he said results should be available in the next week or so.

Meanwhile, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi said a group claiming to have kidnapped a Sunni legislator made several demands for her freedom: the release of all detainees, a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops and an end to attacks on Shiite mosques.

Al-Hashimi said the group contacted his Iraqi Islamic Party, but did not offer proof that it was holding lawmaker Tayseer al-Mashhadani. He said he believed she was still alive.

Al-Mashhadani and seven of her bodyguards were seized Saturday by gunmen at a checkpoint in a Shiite part of eastern Baghdad. The main Sunni political alliance has suspended its participation in parliament to demand her release.

“We call on you in the name of Islam to end her suffering,” al-Hashimi said in a message to the kidnappers.

Al-Maliki told Jordan’s government he was postponing a visit to that country because of “political obligations in Iraq,” said Jordanian government spokesman Nasser Judeh.

Saddam's daughter on most wanted list
Judeh denied the trip, scheduled for Thursday, was postponed because of Saddam Hussein’s eldest daughter, Raghad Saddam Hussein, whom Iraq recently included on a list of 41 most wanted people.

Raghad has lived in Jordan since fleeing Iraq in 2003. Jordanian Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit said earlier this week that Raghad her children live in Jordan for humanitarian reasons and are guests of the royal family. He said Jordan had not received any official request from Iraq regarding Raghad.

In continuing violence, gunmen in a car opened fire on a Shiite family as they walked in a southwestern Baghdad neighborhood, killing a 12-year-old boy and wounding his brother and two other relatives.

A bomb struck the busy Tayaran Square in central Baghdad, killing two people and wounding 10.

Elsewhere in the capital, an employee of the Dora oil refinery was killed in a drive-by shooting, and an intelligence capital in the Interior Ministry was seriously wounded when gunmen opened fire on his car. Police found the body of a man who was shot in the head in eastern Baghdad.

In the northern city of Mosul, a suicide car bomb struck a police patrol, killing two people and wounding four.

In Kirkuk, north of Baghdad, a roadside bomb struck a car carrying members of a private security company, killing one person and wounding three. Firefighters arriving to help also were hit by a roadside bomb, and two were wounded.

1,500 soldiers search for insurgents
About 1,500 Iraqi soldiers, meanwhile, fanned out near Muqdadiyah, a volatile town in Diyala province about 60 miles northeast of Baghdad, to clear the area of insurgents, Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Awad said.

The commander said four cars and a motorcycle packed with explosives had been seized and 14 suspected insurgents detained since the operation began Tuesday. Al-Awad also said two kidnapped civilians had been released.

U.S. and Iraqi forces also raided a hospital that was suspected of being used as an insurgent base in the western city of Ramadi. The Saddam Hospital has been used as a launching pad for mortar and sniper fire against coalition forces, as well as violence against civilians, the military said.