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Archive for Thursday, July 6, 2006

Pressure grows to end coalition immunity in Iraq

July 6, 2006

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— Iraq's prime minister Wednesday demanded an independent inquiry of the rape-slaying of a girl and the killing of her family, saying the immunity from Iraqi prosecution enjoyed by U.S. forces "encouraged them to commit such crimes."

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose brief tenure has been marked by several high-profile allegations of abuse by U.S. forces, called for an Iraqi investigation - or at least a joint inquiry - into the March 12 rape and murder of Abeer Qassim Hamza, and the killing of her mother, father and sister at their home in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad.

He also said the agreements under which U.S.-led coalition troops enjoy immunity from prosecution by Iraqi courts should be reviewed.

"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 in Kuwait.

Al-Maliki spoke two days after former Army Pfc. Steve D. Green was charged in federal court in Charlotte, N.C., with rape and four counts of murder. Green was held without bond. At least four other U.S. soldiers still in Iraq are under investigation in the attack.

In Baghdad, an American military spokesman stressed that the U.S. command was taking the allegations seriously and would discuss al-Maliki's demands when he returns from a tour of Persian Gulf countries.

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

Local Iraqis inspect the damage from a bomb detonated inside a local restaurant in Baghdad, Iraq. The bomb exploded Wednesday in a restaurant near a bus station, killing two civilians and wounding more than 10 in the center of the capital. A U.S. military spokesman on Wednesday said that an increase in car bombings was to be expected under the new leader of al-Qaida in Iraq.

Local Iraqis inspect the damage from a bomb detonated inside a local restaurant in Baghdad, Iraq. The bomb exploded Wednesday in a restaurant near a bus station, killing two civilians and wounding more than 10 in the center of the capital. A U.S. military spokesman on Wednesday said that an increase in car bombings was to be expected under the new leader of al-Qaida in Iraq.

Troubled unit

Green and the four others were members of the same unit as two soldiers whose mutilated bodies were found June 19, three days after they were abducted by insurgents in Youssifiyah. A third soldier was killed before the others were abducted.

But Caldwell said investigators had found nothing to indicate the June killings were retaliation for the rape-slaying. "It appears they're very separate and distinct events that occurred, from what we've been able to find thus far," he said, adding the ongoing questioning of some 20 "persons of interest" has yielded no information that would link the two incidents.

Both events, however, raised questions about procedures within the unit, which is part of the 101st Airborne Division but currently attached to the 4th Infantry Division. U.S. officials had said they were investigating how the three slain soldiers were left alone last month in an al-Qaida-infested area.

The alleged rape-slaying occurred after the soldiers left a checkpoint for the victims' house, according to court documents.

In Mahmoudiya, Abeer's uncle said the family thought insurgents had been responsible until the U.S. military announced an investigation last week.

"Nobody knew who killed them," Ahmed Taha told AP Television News. "Some said it was insurgents, and in fact, we ruled out the American troops."

After the U.S. announcement, some neighbors told him of seeing U.S. soldiers in the area at the time of the attack but said they had been too afraid to come forward at the time.

More vehicle bombings

The allegations emerged as al-Maliki's new national unity government was trying to promote a reconciliation plan to end the unrest.

At least 24 people were killed Wednesday in attacks nationwide, including six who died in a a car bombing outside a Sunni mosque in a mostly Shiite area of northwestern Baghdad. Fourteen others were wounded in that attack, police said.

Elsewhere, a suicide car bomber struck a new police station in Mosul, killing at least one person and wounding seven. Gunmen also killed a teacher near his home in eastern Mosul, and a barber shop was ambushed northeast of Baghdad, killing two civilians including the owner.

Caldwell predicted an increase in vehicle bombings now that Abu Hamza al-Muhajer, also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, has succeeded the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as head of al-Qaida in Iraq. Al-Masri's specialty is car bombs, the general said.

The U.S. military reported 74 car bombs in the four weeks ending June 9, two days after al-Zarqawi was killed, compared with 125 in the four weeks since that date.

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