- The Washington Times - Friday, June 30, 2006

The Army has opened a criminal investigation into charges that soldiers murdered an Iraqi family south of Baghdad last month, marking the fourth such ongoing probe of American personnel in the war.

At the Pentagon, a top U.S. commander in Baghdad said yesterday that attacks have gone up, not down, since new Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered a citywide crackdown.

Army Col. Jeffrey J. Snow, a brigade commander in the 10th Mountain Division, also openly worried that negative press coverage of the war will sap the American public’s support for the troops.

“I think sometimes we just focus a little bit too much attention to, you know, [improvised explosive devices], and kidnappings and murders,” Col. Snow said.

The command in Baghdad said Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, who heads all forces in and around Baghdad, had asked the Army Criminal Investigative Division to probe whether five soldiers were involved in killing an Iraqi family of four in the town of Mahmoudiyah, in the so-called Triangle of Death.

The probe follows the brutal killings by insurgents in the area of two Army soldiers who belonged to the same platoon as those now being investigated in connection with murder. The time of the family’s killing is not clear, but it occurred during a time when Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the overall battlefield commander, ordered retraining on core values for every soldier and Marine, especially on the issue of protecting noncombatants.

Ryan Lenza, an Associated Press reporter embedded with Army troops, reported that one soldier admitted to his role in the killings and was arrested. The Army says no soldier has been formally charged.

The disclosure of yet another slaying probe promises to complicate the ongoing process of Mr. al-Maliki trying to coax Sunni Muslim opposition and tribal leaders to join his new government. Foreign terrorists use such purported incidents of U.S. abuse to inflame the Sunni community, which lost power to the Shi’ites in December elections, and to recruit terrorists to come to Iraq.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is now investigating the suspected killing of 24 Iraqis in Haditha by Marines, and criminal defense lawyers expect murder charges to be filed. The Marine Corps already has charged seven Marines and a sailor with murder in the death of an Iraqi man on April 26. And, the Army has filed murder charges against four soldiers in the death of male detainees.

At the Pentagon, Col. Snow said via a conference call from Iraq that he worries that a “political decision” in Washington may cut short the mission. Some Democrats have demanded a definite pullout date for U.S. troops, but the Senate and House voted down those proposals.

Col. Snow, who listed a number of achievements by his brigades in Sunni and Shi’ite neighborhoods of west Baghdad, said he also worries about bad press.

“This war is a battle of wills,” he said. “The insurgents will never defeat our soldiers’ will to fight — ever. So they’ve taken aim at the willpower of the American people. Our soldiers may be in the cross hairs ever day, but it is the American voter who is the real target, and it is the media that carries the message back each day across the airwaves.

“So when the news is not balanced and it’s always bad, that clearly leads to negative perceptions back home. Now, I’m not saying bad things don’t happen. They do. But there are also good things going on, and we are making progress.”

Pressed to document the progress in terms of enemy attacks, Col. Snow said, “Attacks here recently are up in our area. However, the effectiveness, the overall effectiveness of them, down.” He said the increase stems from his brigade conducting more patrols and checkpoints to put pressure on insurgents.

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