Iraq has launched its own probe into the alleged rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl by American soldiers even though they face a possible U.S. court-martial in the case, an official said Tuesday.
The U.S. military, meanwhile, reported the capture of more than 100 known or suspected al-Qaida terrorists and sectarian death squad leaders, and five people were killed Tuesday in the violence sweeping the country.
The Iraqi investigation into the rape-slaying started Thursday and was expected to take one week, said chief prosecutor Adnan Mahmoud of the criminal court in Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad, where the March 12 assault took place.
Mahmoud is part of the investigation panel along with Mahmoudiya’s mayor, police chief and the head of the town’s main hospital.
He said the panel interviewed witnesses and inspected the house where Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, 14, was raped, shot dead and set on fire, allegedly by a group of U.S. soldiers who had observed her for days. Also killed in the house were her 5-year-old sister and parents.
Five soldiers face charges
The gruesome murders have bolstered Iraqi allegations of misconduct by American soldiers, including illegal killings, beatings and other abuse.
U.S. authorities arrested five soldiers and a former private in connection with the case. The active-duty soldiers faced a military hearing earlier this month to determine if they should be court-martialed. A decision is pending.
“We will do our best to try to get those soldiers to stand trail in an Iraqi court. If not we will try them in absentia,” Mahmoud said.
He said the investigation was ordered by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has made it clear he wants the soldiers tried in an Iraqi court.
The United States is not expected to allow that but has assured al-Maliki that the case will be pursued vigorously under the American justice system and that the soldiers will be punished if convicted.
Still, the case has increased demands for changes in an agreement that exempts U.S. soldiers from prosecution in Iraqi courts.
‘Case under the spotlight’
Mahmoud said the immunity should not apply in this case.
“The accused U.S. soldiers were not involved in military action when they committed the crime, so they should not enjoy immunity given to U.S. soldiers,” he said. “We are trying to keep this case under the spotlight as long as possible so that it is not forgotten and the criminals are able to get away.”
The soldiers accused of rape and murder — Spc. James P. Barker, Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard — could face the death penalty if they are convicted by a court-martial. Another soldier, Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe, is accused of failing to report the attack but is not alleged to have been a direct participant.
Former Pfc. Steven D. Green was discharged from the Army for a “personality disorder” after the incident and was arrested in North Carolina in June on rape and murder charges. He has pleaded not guilty in federal court and is being held without bond.
The rape-slaying has increased calls for the withdrawal of American forces at a time when U.S. commanders are trying to stamp out a Sunni Arab insurgency grinding on more than three years after the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
The insurgents hope to restore the power that the Sunni Muslims wielded in this Shiite-majority country during Saddam’s rule. The U.S. military says al-Qaida members, both Iraqi and foreigners, have joined the insurgency.
Raids net 100 suspected insurgents
On Tuesday, U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell told reporters that “well over 100 known and suspected al-Qaida terrorists and terrorist associates” were arrested during several raids in the past week.
“All these captures have severely disrupted and disorganized the capability of al-Qaida in Iraq,” Caldwell said.
Among those arrested was a Saudi Arabian al-Qaida member, who was preparing Iraqi men for suicide operations, a U.S. statement said.
Also arrested, in Saddam’s hometown of Tikrit, was a suspect who allegedly was directly linked to the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.
The attack triggered a cycle of tit-for-tat attacks by Shiites and Sunnis in sectarian violence that many fear could lead to a civil war.
For ordinary Iraqis, the precarious security situation has been made worse by the harsh living conditions — long power cuts and fuel shortages.
On Tuesday, about 550 employees of the Iraqi Pipes and Lines Company in the southern cities of Basra and Nasiriyah went on strike to demand higher pay.
The company runs tankers and pipelines, transporting oil and gas from the Shuaiba refinery in Basra to electricity stations, factories and companies in southern Iraq.
Also Tuesday, former electricity minister Ayham al-Samaraie was arrested on corruption charges after he surrendered to a court, Judge Radhi al-Radhi, chief of the Public Integrity Commission, said. Al-Samaraie, a dual Iraq-U.S. citizen and Sunni Arab political figure, was a member of the transitional government set up after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.