Published on Wednesday, July 5, 2006 by Reuters
Iraqi PM Demands Rape Probe, Slams US Immunity
by Ibon Villelabeitia
BAGHDAD - Iraq's prime minister called on Wednesday for an independent inquiry into the alleged rape and murder of a teenager and killing of her family by U.S. soldiers and a review of foreign troops' immunity from Iraqi law.
Five months before the expiry of the U.S.-led occupation force's United Nations mandate, Nuri al-Maliki said he was not calling for the early departure of the troops, who he said would remain for as long as Iraqi forces required assistance.
"Yes we will demand an independent Iraqi inquiry, or a joint investigation with Multinational Forces," Nuri al-Maliki told reporters during a visit to Kuwait, in his first public comments since the case came to light five days ago.
"We do not accept the violation of Iraqi people's honor as happened in this case. We believe that the immunity granted to international forces has emboldened them to commit such crimes and ... there must be a review of this immunity," he said.
Lawmakers had demanded Maliki brief parliament on the case.
Under a 3-year-old mandate from the U.N. Security Council, the 140,000 or so U.S. and foreign troops are immune from Iraqi law. Maliki, in his third month in office, has urged U.S. commanders to hold their soldiers to account under military law -- something many Iraqis feel has not happened.
The rape and murder case is the fifth in a high-profile series of U.S. inquiries into killings of Iraqi civilians in recent months, and comes at time when Maliki and Washington face delicate negotiations over a treaty to regulate the presence of the U.S.-led force once the U.N. mandate expires in December.
The rape element in a conservative Muslim society -- highlighted by Maliki's mention of "honor" -- could make the case especially damaging for the U.S. military, which has recently tightened procedures to crack down on rogue elements.
Justice Minister Hashem al-Shibly on Tuesday also demanded a full investigation by his ministry and the Security Council, calling it a "horrific, barbaric and inhuman" crime.
Iraqi media, apparently embarrassed to report on the rape at first, offered widespread coverage of the issue on Tuesday.
Iraq's government, dependent on U.S. troops, is not going to demand the Americans leave. But pressure is growing, not just from the restive and once dominant Sunni minority but also among Maliki's fellow Shiites, for signs the troops will soon depart.
The top general in Washington, Peter Pace, said on Tuesday: "We are going to get to the bottom of these allegations."
Former private Steven Green, 21, is accused of shooting a couple and their young daughter near a checkpoint, then raping and killing the child's teenage sister. Three other U.S. soldiers are suspected of taking part.
U.S. commanders acknowledge the harm of cases like Abu Ghraib and allegations U.S. soldiers killed 24 civilians at Haditha. Last month, they pressed 12 murder charges, more than in the last three years.
Baghdad's central morgue said on Wednesday it had received 1,595 bodies last month -- the highest monthly total since the February bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra sparked a wave of sectarian killings.
The figures for June show the pace of killings has increased, even after a U.S. military strike killed al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi on June 7.
Morgue assistant manager Doctor Abdul Razzaq al-Obaidi compared the June figures with the 1,375 bodies the morgue received in May: "June is the highest month in terms of receiving cases of violence since Samarra," he told Reuters.
Additional reporting by Haitham Haddadin in Kuwait and Aseel Kami in Baghdad
© Reuters 2006