Monday, July 10, 2006
By Mariam Karouny
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq will ask the United Nations to end immunity from local law for U.S. troops, the government said on Monday, as the U.S. 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 demanded a review of foreign troops' immunity, Human Rights Minister 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 operate in Iraq.
"We're very serious about this," she said, adding a lack of enforcement of U.S. military law in the past had encouraged soldiers to commit crimes against Iraqi civilians.
"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," 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.
Asked to respond to Michael's remarks, White House spokesman Tony Snow dismissed that as a "hypothetical game".
But Snow said: "We also understand Prime Minister Maliki's concerns and we want to make sure he's fully informed and also that he is satisfied, regardless of what the treaty situation may be on these issues, that justice truly is being done, and that he can make that demonstration to his people as well."
The day before handing formal sovereignty back to Iraqis in June 2004, the U.S. occupation authority issued a decree giving its troops immunity from Iraqi law. That remains in force and is confirmed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1546 on 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 case at Mahmudiya, have caused an outcry that prompted the newly formed national unity government to speak out.
Michael said commanders' failure to hold soldiers to account had fostered a climate of impunity: "One of the reasons for this is the U.N. resolution, which gives the multinational force soldiers immunity. Without punishment, you get violations."
U.S. commanders say troops are not immune from justice and must answer to U.S. military law. But officials concede a flurry of cases reflect a crackdown aimed at restoring 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.
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. official documents say Janabi was raped.
U.S. officials have said Janabi was aged 20 or 25. But documents obtained by Reuters put her age at 14.
(Additional reporting by Mussab Al-Khairalla and Alastair Macdonald)