Los Angeles Times
July 1, 2006
BAGHDAD — The U.S. military is investigating U.S. soldiers accused of raping an Iraqi woman near their guard post, killing her and three family members and burning their home with the bodies inside.
The rape and murder case, announced Friday, was opened by the military a week ago after two U.S. soldiers came forward with information about the March 12 deaths in the town of Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad.
A terse statement issued Friday by the Army said that on June 23, the two soldiers reported the alleged American involvement and that a preliminary investigation found sufficient evidence to continue.
Four soldiers are under investigation in the case.
"We found out when someone spilled their guts," said a U.S. military official with knowledge of the inquiry, which is being conducted by the Army Criminal Investigation Command under orders from Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of the 4th Infantry Division.
"There is a lot of heat on the leadership," the official said. "This is the last thing we need."
The rape allegations are potentially explosive in a Muslim nation where tribal customs often enforce female chastity under penalty of death.
Previous reports of American servicemen killing civilians have led Iraqis to call for Washington to withdraw its troops.
The deaths in March occurred in the same area as the kidnapping and killing last month of two Army privates, an Army official said, and involve the same unit — the 502nd Infantry Regiment, which is attached to the 4th Infantry Division — but it was unclear whether there was a connection between the deaths of the family members in Mahmoudiya and the June 16 attack on the U.S. soldiers at an observation post near Yousifiya.
One soldier was killed in the attack and two were kidnapped. Days later, their bodies were found mutilated and booby-trapped with explosives near a Yousifiya power plant complex.
Yousifiya and Mahmoudiya lie along the Euphrates River, in an area many Iraqis call the "Triangle of Death" because of the level of insurgent violence. Scores of Iraqis, especially Shiite Muslims traveling to southern Iraq, have been killed in the region, and U.S. military officials said Abu Musab Zarqawi, the recently slain leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, might have hidden out in the palm-fringed villages.
The Army official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing, said the soldiers in the unit were in a "combat stress debriefing" a week after the kidnapping incident to deal with any psychological issues stemming from it. At the session, the official said, a soldier told his superiors that he had heard of other members in the unit who were involved in the rape of a woman and the killing of three others.
The investigation turned up another witness, who said he had heard the same account and added that the soldiers involved were seen with blood on their uniforms.
Military investigators now believe that two soldiers raped the woman and that one of them killed her and three other people — two adults and a child — in the house.
The incident was initially reported as "insurgent activity," the military source said.
The soldiers have been confined to their base and stripped of their weapons, said the source, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because of the investigation.
However, the Army official said one of the soldiers had been discharged and was back in the United States, where the military was working with civilian authorities to track him down.
Recent allegations of servicemen killing unarmed Iraqi civilians have led to several investigations by the U.S. military.
After a Time magazine article in March alleged that Marines had killed 24 Iraqi civilians, including 10 women and children, in the western town of Haditha on Nov. 19, the military launched an investigation of the incident and of the possibility that military officials had conspired to cover it up.
The military is also investigating seven Marines and a Navy corpsman in connection with the April 26 slaying of an Iraqi civilian in Hamandiya, west of Baghdad. That case also involves a possible cover-up.
Last week, military officials announced that two soldiers had been charged with voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of an unarmed Ramadi resident Feb. 15. The soldiers are accused of trying to make it appear that the man was an insurgent by placing a rifle next to his body.
In the Mahmoudiya case, investigators are trying to determine whether the bodies were burned to destroy evidence of a crime.
Muayed Fadil, the mayor of Yousifiya, said that investigators called him Thursday to ask about the deaths and that he found it unusual that they were so interested in this particular family.
"They said, 'We want to know their names, where they were living, how they were killed,' " he said. "They asked me, 'Do you know their relatives or the chief of their tribe?' I told them I will work to find out who their relatives are."
He said the investigators did not divulge that U.S. soldiers had been accused in the deaths.
The military source acknowledged that it was unusual for such a small contingent of soldiers to be operating alone in Iraq. Generally, U.S. troops travel in convoys. The lack of manpower south of Baghdad is a chronic problem and may have led commanders to stretch their forces thin, the source said.
"I don't want to speculate on what the commander down there was thinking, but I don't know why he had his troops arrayed that way," the source said. "I do know there's a lack of manpower down there."
An investigation of the deaths of the three American soldiers last month seeks to determine why they were alone at their observation post outside the base. The source said lack of manpower might have been a factor in that case as well.
Violence continued to flare in the country Friday. The worst involved a battle between Shiites and Sunni Arabs in a village northeast of Baghdad stemming from a bombing this week that killed at least 25 people.
As Iraqi police officers attempted to break up the conflict, snipers killed the head of the police force and two of his bodyguards. American and Iraqi troops then entered the battle, killing three fighters and wounding three.
The Sunnis were attacked while they were moving out of the village of Daliqiya after being threatened by Shiite residents in the religiously mixed hamlet, officials said.
A U.S. Marine was killed Wednesday during combat operations in Al Anbar province, officials said. Two soldiers were killed and one was wounded while on patrol Thursday near Baghdad and Balad. The names of the casualties were not released, pending notification of relatives.
Also Friday, Russia said it would pay $10 million for information about the killers of five of its embassy workers in Iraq. The announcement came two days after President Vladimir V. Putin ordered special forces to hunt down and kill the assailants.
Four Russians seized in early June were killed and a fifth was slain during the abduction. Insurgents videotaped the execution of two of the men. The militants had demanded that Russia pull its troops out of Chechnya, a predominantly Muslim republic in southern Russia.