Details emerge in alleged atrocity by U.S. troops
By Ellen Knickmeyer
The Washington Post
BAGHDAD, Iraq — Fifteen-year-old Abeer Qasim Hamza was afraid, her mother confided in a neighbor.
As pretty as she was young, the girl had attracted the unwelcome attention of U.S. soldiers manning a checkpoint that the girl had to pass through almost daily in their village in the south-central city of Mahmoudiya, her mother told the neighbor.
Abeer told her mother often in her last days that the soldiers had made advances toward her, a neighbor, Omar Janabi, said this weekend, recounting a conversation he said he had with the girl’s mother, Fakhriyah, on March 10.
Fakhriyah feared the Americans might come for her daughter at night, at their home. She asked her neighbor if Abeer might sleep at his house, with the women there.
Janabi said he agreed. Then, “I tried to reassure her, remove some of her fear,” Janabi said. “I told her, the Americans would not do such a thing.”
Abeer did not live to take up the offer of shelter at Janabi’s home.
Instead, attackers came to the girl’s house the next day, apparently separating Abeer from her mother, father and 7-year-old sister.
Janabi and others knowledgeable about the incident said they believed the attackers raped Abeer in another room. Medical officials who handled the bodies said the girl had been raped, but they did not elaborate.
Before leaving, the attackers fatally shot the four family members — two of Abeer’s brothers had been away at school — and attempted to set Abeer’s body on fire, according to Janabi, another neighbor who spoke on condition of anonymity, the mayor of Mahmoudiya and a hospital administrator with knowledge of the death certificates and of the case overall.
The U.S. military said last week that authorities were investigating allegations of a rape and killings in Mahmoudiya by soldiers of the 502nd Infantry Regiment, part of the 4th Infantry Division.
The mayor of Mahmoudiya, Mouyad Fadhil Saif, said Sunday that the case was being investigated by the U.S. military as an alleged atrocity.
Janabi was one of the first people to arrive at the house after the attack, he said Saturday, speaking at the home of local tribal leaders. He said he found Abeer sprawled dead in a corner, her hair and a pillow next to her consumed by fire, and her dress pushed up to her neck.
“I was sure from the first glance that she had been raped,” he said.
Despite the reassurances he had given the girl’s mother earlier, Janabi said, “I wasn’t surprised what had happened, when I found that the suspicion of the mother was correct.”
The U.S. military has not identified the victims. U.S. military officials contacted this weekend said they did not know the names of the people involved or most other details of the case.
The military official pointed to one discrepancy in the accounts. Preliminary information in the military investigation put the age of the alleged rape victim at 20, rather than 15, as reported by her neighbors, officials and hospital records and officials in Mahmoudiya.
U.S. soldiers at the scene initially ascribed the killings to Sunni Arab insurgents active in the area, the U.S. military and local residents said. That puzzled villagers, who knew the family was Sunni, Janabi said.
Three months after the incident, two soldiers of the 502nd came forward to say that soldiers of the unit were responsible, a U.S. military official said last week. The U.S. military began an investigation the next day, the official said.