(see also NY Times story below, with rape allegations in 9th paragraph.)
BEIJI, Iraq –Five U.S. soldiers are being investigated for allegedly raping a young woman, then killing her and three relatives, an American military official said Friday, describing the latest allegations of abuse of Iraqi civilians.
The soldiers also allegedly burned the body of the woman they are accused of assaulting in the March incident, the official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
The U.S. command issued a sparse statement, saying Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of coalition troops in Baghdad, had ordered a criminal investigation into the alleged killing of a family of four in Mahmoudiyah, south of Baghdad. The statement had no other details.
The case represents the latest allegations against U.S. soldiers stemming from the deaths of Iraqis. At least 14 U.S. troops have been convicted.
The United States also is investigating allegations that two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians were killed by U.S. Marines in the western town of Haditha on Nov. 19 in a revenge attack after one of their own died in a roadside bombing.
“The entire investigation will encompass everything that could have happened that evening. We’re not releasing any specifics of an ongoing investigation,” military spokesman Maj. Todd Breasseale said of the Mahmoudiyah allegations.
“There is no indication what led soldiers to this home. The investigation just cracked open. We’re just beginning to dig into the details.”
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said he had no additional details on the incident but added that the military routinely investigates all allegations of misconduct.
However, a U.S. official close to the investigation said at least one of the soldiers, all assigned to the 502nd Infantry Regiment, has admitted his role and been arrested. Two soldiers from the same regiment were slain this month when they were kidnapped at a checkpoint near Youssifiyah.
The official told the AP the accused soldiers were from the same platoon as the two slain soldiers. The military has said one and possibly both of the slain soldiers were tortured and beheaded.
The official said the mutilation of the slain soldiers stirred feelings of guilt and led at least one of them to reveal the rape-slaying on June 22.
According to a senior Army official, the alleged incident was first revealed by a soldier during a routine counseling-type session. The official, who requested anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said that soldier did not witness the incident but heard about it.
A second soldier, who also was not involved, said he overhead soldiers conspiring to commit the crimes, and then later saw bloodstains on their clothes, the official said.
He also said the four people killed included three adults and a child, and one of the adults was the woman who allegedly was raped.
One of the accused soldiers already has been discharged and is believed to be in the United States, several U.S. officials said on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. The others have had their weapons taken away and are confined to Forward Operating Base Mahmoudiyah.
Senior officers were aware of the family’s death but believed it was due to sectarian violence, common in the religiously mixed town, a U.S. official said.
The killings appeared to have been a “crime of opportunity,” the official said. The soldiers had not been attacked by insurgents but had noticed the woman on previous patrols.
AP correspondent Ryan Lenz is embedded with the 101st Airborne Division in Beiji, Iraq. He was previously embedded with the 502nd Infantry Regiment in Mahmoudiyah.
The Associated Press News and Information Research Center and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report
New York Times story (with rape and other specific allegations in 9th paragraph)
G.I.’s Face Inquiry on Killing of Iraqi Family
New York Times
By EDWARD WONG
Published: June 30, 2006
BAGHDAD, Iraq, June 30 — The United States military said Friday that it was investigating whether American soldiers had killed a family of four Iraqi civilians in March in their home south of Baghdad, adding another inquiry to a growing list of cases where Americans are accused of fatally shooting unarmed Iraqis.
The investigation is being overseen by the highest levels of the American command, and was ordered by the general commanding the Fourth Infantry Division, which is assigned to control the capital and areas immediately to the south, a military spokesman said.
The shooting incident took place March 12 in the volatile market town of Mahmudiya, an insurgent stronghold about 20 miles from Baghdad.
The deaths were originally attributed by the military to “insurgent activity,” American officials said in a written statement. That implies that soldiers involved in the incident may have misreported it to their commanders, or that there may have been a cover-up in the chain of command, as is suspected in the case of the Haditha killings last November.
The latest investigation began on June 24, one day after two soldiers “reported alleged coalition force involvement” in the deaths of the Iraqi family, the military said. A preliminary inquiry conducted after that report determined that there was enough evidence to start a full-scale criminal investigation, the military said.
“This is going to be a by-the-numbers, by-the-book investigation,” Maj. Todd Breasseale, the military spokesman, said in a telephone interview.
Reflecting the gravity of the possible crime, Major Breasseale said that Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of the Fourth Infantry Division, ordered the inquiry “the minute he got the news” of what his soldiers may have done. The major declined to give further details, and would not say how many soldiers are under investigation, or which specific unit they belong to.
The Associated Press reported today that the investigation involved five soldiers from a unit of the 502nd Infantry Regiment, which was attached to the Fourth Division command while operating in the area, though it is formally part of a different division, the 101st Airborne.
Early reports indicate that soldiers may have raped a woman, burned her body and killed the woman’s family, the news agency reported, citing an un named American official. The A.P. recently had a reporter embedded with the 502nd Infantry Regiment.
Earlier this month, two soldiers from the same unit were abducted while guarding a traffic control point in the town of Yusufiya, and were killed by insurgents. Their mutilated bodies were found along a booby-trapped road, after the American military deployed 8,000 American and Iraqi troops into the area in a search-and-rescue operation that was perhaps the largest of the war so far. A third soldier was killed in Yusufiya at the time of the ambush.
Though it appears the killing of the Iraqi family was unrelated to the Yusifya ambush, the March incident came to light when a soldier felt compelled to report it after the discovery of the bodies of his kidnapped comrades, the Associated Press reported. One soldier has been arrested, and four have had their weapons taken away and are confined to their base in Mahmudiya.
Both Mahmudiya and Yusufiya lie in the so-called Triangle of Death, an area of extreme hazard along the Euphrates River valley that has become a cauldron of insurgents, criminal gangs and lawless tribes. It was a munitions production base for Saddam Hussein’s government, and the home of senior Baath Party members, whose villas line the palm-fringed river banks.
The American military considers the area a crucial strategic approach to Baghdad, with important arteries running south to the holy city of Najaf and the oil center of Basra, but it has never been able to maintain any semblance of control in the region.
This latest investigation comes at a time of increasing scrutiny over the killings of civilians by American troops in Iraq. Nearly a half-dozen charges or investigations have been announced by the military in June alone.
The sudden flurry raises questions about whether American troops are facing increasing psychological duress as the war here grinds on, or perhaps whether the American military has been more keen, following the revelations surrounding Haditha, to make public its investigations into human rights abuses.
Many American troops here in Iraq are on their second or third tours. The Fourth Infantry Division, for instance, had already rotated once through Iraq, in the northern Sunni triangle, before taking control of the Baghdad area.
The incidents have taken place in areas where the Sunni-led insurgency is most virulent and where American troops have taken the most casualties, though commanders are quick to say that nothing excuses the egregious crimes that the soldiers and Marines in question are accused of committing.
The most prominent case involves an investigation into whether Marines executed as many as 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians in the western town of Haditha last November after a roadside bomb explosion killed a Marine. At the time, the American military put out a news release saying that 15 Iraqi civilians in the town had been killed by an insurgent bomb attack.
On June 1, as the political furor over Haditha was growing, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki lashed out at the American military, saying that violence against Iraqi civilians by American troops was a “regular occurrence.”
“They crush them with their vehicles, and kill them just on suspicion,” he said at the time. “This is completely unacceptable.”
Major Breasseale said today that it was unclear when results from the Haditha investigation would be made public.
Earlier this month, the Army charged four American soldiers suspected of killing three detainees in Iraq and then threatening another American soldier with death if he reported the shootings.
Two days later, the Marine Corps said it had charged seven Marines and one Navy Corpsman with murder and kidnapping in the April killing of an Iraqi man in a village on the western outskirts of Baghdad. In that incident, the assailants are accused of planting a Kalashnikov rifle and shovel near the body of the victim, to make him appear to be an insurgent, after shooting him in the face four times.
As recently as last Sunday, the American military said two Pennsylvania National Guardsmen had been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Iraqi man on Feb. 15.
The announcement of the latest investigation came as the military said today that three soldiers had been killed in separate combat incidents. One died Thursday night from a bomb explosion during a foot patrol south of Baghdad. Another was killed in an explosion while on patrol Thursday night near Balad, north of the capital. A soldier was also injured in that attack.
The third death occurred Thursday in the northern city of Mosul, when a soldier was killed by small arms fire.
At least 60 American troops died in Iraq in June, a decrease from 69 in May and 76 in April, but still almost twice as many as in March, one of the least deadly of the war for Americans. Until the sharp spike in April, American fatalities had been falling for about half a year. American commanders at the time attributed the decline to a shift in targets by the insurgents, attacking Iraqi civilians and security forces rather than Americans, and to the fact that American soldiers were leaving their bases less often on operations and patrols.
Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for the American command, said he saw no clear-cut reason for the rise in fatalities after March or the small drop in June. “We are not inclined to attribute the rise and fall in numbers to any particular factor,” he said. “Coalition forces remain a priority target for terrorists and insurgents, even though we’ve also seen a steady increase in attacks on civilians and Iraqi security forces as their primary targets.
“There are simply too many factors involved to draw broad conclusions based on numbers from one month to the next,” he added.