- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2006

TIKRIT, Iraq — Four more U.S. soldiers have been charged with rape and murder and a fifth with dereliction of duty in the rape-slaying of an Iraqi girl and the killings of her relatives in Mahmoudiya, the military said yesterday.

The five were accused Saturday after an investigation into charges that American soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division raped the teenager and killed her and three relatives at her home south of Baghdad.

Former soldier Steven D. Green was arrested last week in North Carolina and has pleaded not guilty to one count of rape and four counts of murder. He was ordered held without bond on the charges, which carry a possible death penalty.

Yesterday’s disclosure of additional rape and murder charges against U.S. soldiers came on a particularly violent day, with more than 50 Iraqis killed in a spate of sectarian attacks.

Masked Shi’ite gunmen roamed through west Baghdad’s Jihad neighborhood yesterday, dragging Sunnis from their cars, picking them out on the street and killing them in a rampage that police said left at least 41 persons dead in a dramatic escalation of sectarian violence.

Hours later, two car bombs exploded near a Shi’ite mosque in the city’s north, killing 17 persons and wounding at least 38 in what appeared to be a reprisal attack, police said.

Black-clad Shi’ite militiamen manned checkpoints on roads into most major Shi’ite neighborhoods to guard against revenge attacks, as scattered clashes occurred across the Iraqi capital.

Sunni leaders expressed outrage over the killings, and President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, appealed for calm, warning that the nation stood “in front of a dangerous precipice.”

A senior government official, Haidar Majid, contested the police figures, saying late yesterday that only nine persons died in Jihad.

Police Lt. Mohammed Khayoun insisted the figure of 41 was correct — with 24 bodies taken to Yarmouk hospital and 17 to the city morgue. There was no way to reconcile the discrepancy.

Regardless, the brazen attack was likely to further enflame Shi’ite-Sunni tensions and undermine public confidence in Iraq’s new unity government. It also raises new questions about the effectiveness of the Iraqi police and army to curb sectarian violence in the capital.

Police and Shi’ite leaders speculated the rampage was carried out in retaliation for a Saturday night car bombing at a Shi’ite mosque that killed two persons and wounded nine.

Clashes also broke out between gunmen and Iraqi police in at least three neighborhoods across the capital, police and residents said. Three Shi’ite militiamen were killed in fighting with security forces in one of them, police said.

The spokesman for a Sunni clerical association, Mohammed Beshar al-Faydhi, blamed the Jihad attack on the Mahdi Army militia, led by radical Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Sheik al-Sadr denied responsibility and called on both Shi’ites and Sunnis to “join hands for the sake of Iraq’s independence and stability.” He assured Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, leader of the largest Sunni Arab party, that he would punish any of his militiamen if they were involved.

In the rape investigation, the U.S. statement said the five soldiers still on active duty will face an Article 32 investigation, similar to a grand jury hearing in civilian law. The Article 32 proceeding will determine whether there is enough evidence to place them on trial.

One of the soldiers was charged with failing to report the attack but is not believed to have participated in it directly, the statement said. The four facing murder charges could face the death penalty if convicted.

The names of the five were not released, but a U.S. military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, said yesterday that the soldiers recently charged are two sergeants, two privates first-class and one specialist.

The March 12 attack on the family was among the worst in a series of cases of U.S. troops accused of killing and abusing Iraqi civilians.

U.S. officials are concerned the suspected rape-slaying will strain relations with the new U.S.-backed government and increase calls for changes in an agreement that exempts American soldiers from prosecution in Iraqi courts.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has demanded an independent investigation into the case, which followed a series of claims that U.S. troops killed and mistreated Iraqi civilians.

According to an FBI affidavit filed in Mr. Green’s case, he and at least two others targeted the teenager and her family for a week before the attack, which was not revealed until witnesses came forward in late June.

Also yesterday, an American soldier died in a “noncombat related incident,” the U.S. command said without giving further details.

In the western city of Ramadi, a car bomb exploded next to a U.S. convoy, wounding four American soldiers, the military said. The attack occurred as the convoy headed to the government center in the city, an insurgent hotbed 70 miles west of Baghdad.

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