Baghdad, Iraq U.S. military officials fear that religious hurdles in exhuming the body of a teenager could complicate the prosecution of American soldiers accused of raping and murdering the girl - and create a political nightmare for the U.S. mission here.
Given the seriousness of the allegations, U.S. officials believe a vigorous prosecution is essential and punishment should be severe if the five U.S. soldiers and one former soldier are convicted.
Anything short of that would be seen by Iraqis as a cover up and could shatter remaining support for the U.S. presence here.
Five soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division are accused of raping and murdering Abeer al-Janabi near the town of Mahmoudiya on March 12. A sixth soldier is accused of failing to report the crime.
The soldiers allegedly saw the victim at a checkpoint in the town and plotted the attack for a week, according to federal court documents. Three of her family members were killed in the assault.
As of Sunday, at least 2,550 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
But the victim's male relatives have refused to allow her body to be exhumed because of objections from a Muslim cleric. Islamic law frowns on exhumations as desecration of the dead.
Without forensic evidence, prosecutors must rely heavily on statements from the suspects. Defense lawyers will doubtless claim those statements were made under duress and seek to keep them from the jury.
While some evidence has been collected at the home where the assault allegedly occurred, officials say none of it confirms guilt.
The soldiers - Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, Spc. James P. Barker, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman and Pfc. Bryan L. Howard - are accused of rape and murder. They allegedly conspired with former soldier Steven D. Green, who was arrested last month in North Carolina.
Green, who was discharged from the Army because of a personality disorder, likely will be tried in federal court. The former Army private pleaded not guilty to one count of rape and four counts of murder and is being held without bond.
Sgt. Anthony W. Yribe, is charged with failing to report the attack but is not alleged to have been a direct participant.
A suicide bomber detonated explosives Sunday inside a cafe packed with Shiites in northern Iraq, killing 26 people and injuring 22, an Iraqi general said.
The U.S. military said an American soldier was killed in a roadside bombing in south Baghdad. No further details were released.
In the south, a British soldier was killed and another wounded during a raid against a "terrorist suspect" in Basra, the British military said. British troops arrested a top Shiite militia leader in the city, Iraqi police said, but it was unclear whether the two events were linked.
In Baghdad, gunmen seized Adel Kazzaz, director of the North Oil Co., shortly after he left the Oil Ministry in eastern Baghdad, ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said.
The government-owned North Oil Co. runs Iraq's oil fields around the northern city of Kirkuk, and Kazzaz was in the capital for a meeting with ministry officials.
The northern fields have been plagued for years by sabotage attacks on pipelines and other infrastructure. Oil exports were restored last month after a long delay but halted again last week and not expected to resume soon.