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Iraq seeks end to US soldiers’ immunity

July 11, 2006

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BAGHDAD, July 10: Iraq will ask the United Nations to end immunity from local law for US troops, the human rights minister said on Monday, as the military named five soldiers charged in a rape-murder case that has outraged Iraqis.

In an interview a week after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called for a review of foreign troops’ immunity, Wigdan Michael said work on it was now under way and a request could be ready by next month to go to the U.N. Security Council, under whose mandate U.S.-led forces are in control of Iraq.

“We’re very serious about this,” she said, blaming a lack of enforcement of U.S. military law in the past for encouraging soldiers to commit crimes against Iraqi civilians, such as the alleged rape and murder of a teenager and killing of her family.

“We formed a committee last week to prepare reports and put it before the cabinet in three weeks. After that, Maliki will present it to the Security Council. We will ask them to lift the immunity,” Mr Michael said. “If we don’t get that, then we’ll ask for an effective role in the investigations that are going on.

“The Iraqi government must have a role.”

Analysts say it is improbable the United States would ever make its troops answerable to Iraq’s chaotic judicial system.

The day before handing formal sovereignty back to Iraqis in June 2004, the US occupation authority issued a decree giving its troops immunity from Iraqi law. That remains in force and is confirmed in an annexe to Resolution 1546, the Security Council document that established the U.S.-led force’s mandate in Iraq.

Many Iraqis have complained for the past three years about hundreds of civilians killed by U.S. troops and abuses such as those highlighted in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal of 2004.

But a handful of new U.S. investigations into incidents including the killing of 24 people at Haditha and the quadruple murder and rape at Mahmudiya have caused an outcry that prompted the newly formed national unity government to speak out.

Some government supporters have also added their voices to calls for U.S.-led forces to start withdrawing from Iraq soon.

‘CLIMATE OF IMPUNITY’: Mr Michael said a failure by US commanders to hold soldiers to account had fostered a climate of impunity among troops: “One of the reasons for this is the UN resolution, which gives the multinational force soldiers immunity. Without punishment, you get violations. This happens when there is no punishment.”

US commanders insist troops are not immune from justice and must answer to US military law. But officials concede that a flurry of cases reflect a crackdown aimed at restoring their credibility with Iraqis. Sixteen troops were charged with murder in Iraq in recent weeks, as many as in the previous three years.

Four soldiers were charged on Saturday with rape and murder in the Mahmudiya case, dating from March. A military official named them on Monday as Privates First Class Jesse Spielman and Bryan Howard, Sergeant James Barker and Specialist Paul Cortez.

All are accused of conspiring with Steven Green, then a private in the 502nd Infantry Regiment, who was charged as a civilian with rape and murder in a U.S. court last week.

Civilian prosecutors say four soldiers went to the home after drinking, intending to rape 14-year-old Abeer al-Janabi and left a fifth manning their nearby checkpoint. They say Green shot Janabi’s parents and 6-year-old sister, before he and one other raped the teenager and Green also then shot her dead.

Sergeant Anthony Yribe was charged with dereliction of duty for failing to report what he knew of the case.

U.S. officials had said the girl was aged over 20. However, documents obtained on Sunday showed she was 14. —Reuters