Archive for Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Iraqi officials criticize U.S. over rape, slayings

Fears mount that Iraqi security inadequate

July 5, 2006

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— Iraqi lawmakers blasted the United States on Tuesday over a rape-slaying case, while a southern governor said he was resigning amid fears Iraqi forces cannot handle security once coalition troops transfer responsibility there this month.

Two women legislators called for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to be summoned to parliament to give assurances that justice would be done in the March 12 slaying of four members of a family in Mahmoudiya. A teenage girl allegedly was raped before being killed.

Former Pfc. Steven D. Green was charged Monday in federal court in North Carolina with murder and rape. At least four other U.S. soldiers still in Iraq are under investigation, and the military has stressed it is taking the allegations seriously.

Justice Minister Hashim Abdul-Rahman al-Shebli, a Sunni Arab, denounced the purported attack as "monstrous and inhuman" and called on the U.N. Security Council "to stop these violations of human rights."

The two lawmakers, Safiya al-Suhail and Ayda al-Sharif, said condemnation was not enough.

"We demand severe punishment for the five soldiers involved," al-Sharif said. "Denouncements are not enough. If this act has taken place in another country, the world would have turned upside down."

U.S. Death Toll

As of Tuesday, at least 2,539 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. The figure includes seven military civilians. At least 2,000 died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.

The March 12 attack on the Sunni Arab family in Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad, was among the worst in a series of cases of U.S. troops accused of killing and abusing Iraqi civilians.

The case came to light last week as al-Maliki's new government was seeking to promote its national reconciliation program - a key step in the U.S. strategy to transfer security responsibility to the Iraqis so U.S. and other coalition forces can go home.

As part of that strategy, coalition troops plan to hand over security this month to the Iraqis in Muthanna, a generally peaceful southern province dominated by Shiite Muslims. Muthanna will be the first province handed over to Iraqi forces in its entirety.

Security concerns

On Tuesday, however, Gov. Mohammad Ali Hassan resigned his post effective as soon as British and Australian forces transfer responsibility, probably next week. Provincial police chief Col. Mohammed Najim Abu Kihila stepped down effective immediately.

Provincial council member Mohammed al-Zayadi cited "the deteriorating security situation" as the reason for the shake-up.

The moves followed a rowdy council meeting in Samawah during which nearly 300 fired policemen stormed into the local government headquarters to protest the loss of their jobs. One council member complained he was beaten by former policemen, who broke into his house the night before to protest their dismissals, witnesses said.

Japan is in the process of withdrawing its 600 troops from their base near Samawah, the capital of the sparsely populated desert province 230 miles southeast of Baghdad.

British and Australian troops also are preparing to leave after al-Maliki said Iraqi forces would be ready to take over security responsibilities in Muthanna.

However, the shake-up raises questions about whether Iraqi security forces in the province are ready for the responsibility.

"We reject the transfer of security from the coalition forces to the Iraqi forces because security will deteriorate more and more," one council member said on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

The transfer program is a key element in the U.S. plan to set the stage for a withdrawal of the 127,000-member American military force as support for the war wanes in the United States.

However, al-Maliki's government, which took office in May, is still struggling to clamp down on the rampant violence sweeping Baghdad and Sunni Arab areas of the country.

Investigation

In Mahmoudiya, Mayor Mouayad Fadhil said Iraqi authorities have started their own investigation into the rape-murder. Iraqi authorities identified the rape victim as Abeer Qassim Hamza.

The other victims were her father, Qassim Hamza; her mother, Fikhriya Taha; and her sister, Hadeel Qassim Hamza. FBI documents estimated the rape victim was about 25. But a doctor at the Mahmoudiya hospital gave her age as 14. He refused to be identified for fear of reprisals.

Mahdi Obeid, a neighbor, said he saw fire coming from the house on March 12. He rushed over to find Abeer's body on fire. He extinguished the flames and saw bullet wounds in her head and chest, he said.

"It was a horrible scene," he said. "If I could go back in time, I would have not dared enter the house. I cannot wipe those barbaric scenes from my memory."

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