The Army is investigating reports of assaults against Iraqi civilians and thefts of their money and jewelry by U.S. troops during patrols, raids and house searches, defense officials said Monday.
The probe by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division, or CID, suggests that a major scandal over abuse of Iraqi prisoners by Americans goes beyond detention centers into the homes and streets of the troubled country.
“I am not aware whether any of those CID investigations have been concluded,” Bryan Whitman, a spokesman for the Defense Department, told Reuters in response to questions about the reported incidents, which have drawn angry complaints from Iraqis.
Whitman and other defense officials, who asked not to be identified, confirmed a report Monday in The New York Times that the investigations of misconduct by troops had spread beyond detention centers, such as the infamous Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad.
Some U.S. soldiers have been charged with physically and sexually abusing prisoners at the prison, and investigators are also looking at other centers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Times reported that the Army was also investigating at least two dozen other cases, including the suspected theft of cash from Iraqis stopped by soldiers at roadside checkpoints, apparently under the pretext of confiscating money from suspected insurgents or their financial backers.
Iraqis complain of aggressive raids
Iraqis have accused U.S. troops of stealing money and other property during what they said were aggressive and even destructive U.S. raids on homes.
“It’s a huge problem. Almost everyone has something to say about gold, money and other valuables going missing, and they don’t believe they’ll ever get them back,” Adel Alami, a lawyer with Iraq’s Human Rights Organization told Reuters recently in Baghdad.
Over the past 14 months of occupation, U.S. forces have carried out thousands of raids on homes of Iraqis suspected of “anti-coalition activities.”
The U.S. military says items are generally confiscated on suspicion that they could be used to finance attacks against U.S.-led forces.
A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Baghdad said last week that he was aware of Iraqi complaints of theft during raids and that some U.S. soldiers had been disciplined for “inappropriate conduct.”
He said that a receipt was always given for confiscated items and that if the owner was found to be innocent, he or she could get the property back. But many Iraqis say that no receipts were provided and that raids often target the wrong people.