Iraq will ask the United Nations to end immunity from local law for U.S. troops, the country's human rights minister said on Monday, as the military named five soldiers charged in a rape-murder case that has outraged Iraqis.
According to the Pentagon, the indicted soldiers drank alcohol, abandoned their checkpoint, changed clothes to avoid detection and headed to a house, about 200 yards from a U.S. military checkpoint in Mahmoudiya, a poor slum on the outskirts of Baghdad. When they got there, the soldiers allegedly raped a 14-year-old girl and then killed the victim and her family to cover it up.
"One of the reasons for this is the UN resolution, which gives the multinational force soldiers immunity," the country's human rights Minister Wigdan Michael told Reuters. "Without punishment, you get violations. This happens when there is no punishment."
We've seen very clearly that any legal action that the U.S. government takes is very mild. It overlooks a lot of evidence and most importantly anyone over the level of private has a very low chance of getting convicted of anything.
Jim Poole, director, Global Policy Forum
"We will ask them to lift the immunity," Michael added. She said the Iraqi government will present demands to the UN Security Council next month.
U.S. troops in Iraq serve under a United Nations mandate that will expire at the end of the year.
Michael's comments come less than a week after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called for the ability to prosecute U.S. troops for crimes against Iraqi people. Speaking to reporters in Kuwait, Maliki said, "the immunity given to members of coalition forces encouraged them to commit crimes in cold blood."
The United Nations mandate isn't the only barrier to prosecuting U.S. troops in Iraqi court, however. In order to file criminal proceedings against U.S. soldiers, the Iraqi government would need to overturn an edict signed by former U.S. Administrator Paul Bremer in June 2004. Before leaving the country Bremer signed Order 17, which protected U.S. soldiers and military contractors from being prosecuted in Iraq.
Instead the U.S. military has launched its own prosecutions. Sixteen troops have been charged with murder in recent weeks including Marines who allegedly killed 24 civilians in the western Iraqi town of Haditha last November. The civilian victims in Haditha included a 66-year-old woman and a 4-year-old boy.
But despite those prosecutions, "many see this as a situation of impunity," says Jim Poole, director of the non-profit Global Policy Forum. "We've seen very clearly that any legal action that the U.S. government takes is very mild. It overlooks a lot of evidence and most importantly anyone over the level of private has a very low chance of getting convicted of anything."
In the case of the rape-murder in Mahmoudiya, a number of troubling questions remain uninvestigated. According to the Pentagon, the soldiers involved were able to illegally obtain alcohol, leave their checkpoint, change clothes, rape a 14-year-old, and kill five people including a five-year-old without their superiors knowing.
Major John Morgan, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, told OneWorld that to his knowledge, none of the soldiers' superiors are being investigated.
"If the allegations are true, you just have a group of soldiers who lost their bearings and their military training," he said.
Some veterans of the war in Iraq doubt anything could have been done to stop the war crimes.
"I want to say I'm surprised but I'm not really surprised," related Raf Noba, who served seven years in the military including a year in Iraq. He said during the first year of the occupation he did things "I'm not proud of." Since returning to the United States, he's been active in the Iraq Veterans Against the War group.
"After a while, you kind of lose the sense that the people you are occupying are human after all. That's part and parcel of the fact that you're really chasing ghosts," he said. "Iraqi insurgents blend in with the rest of the population. I'm not making excuses, but I can totally see how people would snap."
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