Iraq Justice Minister Condemns Rape-Slay, Minister Released

The justice minister demanded Tuesday that the U.N. Security Council ensure a group of U.S. troops are punished in the alleged rape and murder of a young Iraqi and the killing of her family, calling the attack "monstrous and inhuman."

Two female legislators also called for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to be summoned to parliament to give assurances that justice would be done.

Meanwhile, gunmen in camouflage uniforms kidnapped Deputy Electricity Minister Raed al-Hares, along with 11 of his bodyguards in eastern Baghdad, but he was released after several hours, officials said.

CountryWatch: Iraq

The gunmen stopped al-Hares' convoy in the Shiite neighborhood of Talbiya, then forced the Shiite official and his bodyguards into their vehicles, said police Lt. Ahmed Qassim. The Electricity Ministry said he was released in the evening but refused to give more details.

The kidnapping occurred three days after gunmen seized female Sunni legislator Tayseer al-Mashhadani in a Shiite area of east Baghdad. She and seven bodyguards are still missing.

The March 12 attack on the family in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad, was among the worst in a series of cases of U.S. troops accused of killing and abusing Iraqi civilians. Iraq's largest newspaper, Azzaman, said in an editorial Tuesday the rape "summarizes what has been going in Iraq for the past years not only by the American occupation army, but also by some Iraqi groups."

Former Pfc. Steven D. Green appeared in federal court in Charlotte, N.C., on Monday to face murder and rape charges. At least four other U.S. soldiers still in Iraq are under investigation, and the military has stressed it is taking the allegations seriously.

"If this act actually happened, it constitutes an ugly and unethical crime, monstrous and inhuman," said Justice Minister Hashim Abdul-Rahman al-Shebli, a Sunni Arab. "The Iraqi judiciary should be informed about this investigation which should be conducted under supervision of international and human organizations. Those involved should face justice."

"The ugliness of this crime demands a swift intervention of the U.N. Security Council to stop these violations of human rights and to condemn them so that they will not happen again," he added.

The two lawmakers, Safiya al-Suhail and Ayda al-Sharif, said condemnation was not enough.

"We demand severe punishment for the five soldiers involved," al-Sharif said. "Denouncements are not enough. If this act has taken place in another country, the world would have turned upside down."

Al-Suhail said al-Maliki should appear before parliament "to make sure investigations are taking place."

Mahmoudiya Mayor Mouayad Fadhil said Iraqi authorities have started their own investigation and that he had asked the hospital where the victims were taken for more details.

Green is accused of raping the woman and killing her and three relatives — an adult male and female and a girl estimated to be 5 years old. An official familiar with the investigation said he set fire to the rape victim's body in an apparent cover-up attempt.

Iraqi authorities identified the rape victim as Abeer Qassim Hamza. The other victims were her father, Qassim Hamza, her mother, Fikhriya Taha, and her sister, Hadeel Qassim Hamza.

The affidavit estimated the rape victim was about 25. But a doctor at the Mahmoudiya hospital gave her age as 14. He refused to be identified for fear of reprisals.

Mahdi Obeid, a neighbor, said that on March 12, he saw fire coming from the house. He rushed over to find Abeer's body on fire. He extinguished the flames and saw bullet wounds in her head and chest.

"It was a horrible scene," he said. "If I could go back in time, I would have not dared enter the house. I cannot wipe those barbaric scenes from my memory."

An insurgent group, the Mujahedeen Army, distributed an account of the incident on an Islamist Web site. It appeared the report, which generally corresponded with details already made public, was designed to draw attention to the deaths and stir up hostility against the U.S. military.

The Azzaman newspaper expressed skepticism the soldiers would be severely punished.

"The U.S. Army will conduct an investigation and the result at best is already known. One or two U.S. soldiers will receive a 'touristic punishment' and the whole crime will be forgotten as it happened with Abu Ghraib criminals," the newspaper said, referring to the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. guards at a prison in west Baghdad.

In southern Iraq, a provincial police chief resigned Tuesday and a governor said he would leave his post after coalition forces turn over security to Iraqi forces later this month, citing fears that violence will increase.

The decisions came after nearly 300 fired policemen stormed into the local government's headquarters in Samawah earlier in the day to protest their lost jobs, provincial council member Mohammed al-Zayadi said. Other former policemen also reportedly beat another council member after breaking into his house Monday night.

The panel accepted the resignation of Col. Mohammed Najim Abu Kihila, the chief of Muthanna police, "amid the deteriorating security, demonstrated by the assault on the provincial council's members and some citizens," al-Zayadi said.

He also said provincial Gov. Mohammad Ali Hassan offered his resignation and the council agreed to accept it as long as he stayed in his position until security was transferred from coalition forces to Iraqis later this month.

Iraqi authorities, meanwhile, imposed an 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. car and pedestrian curfew in Basra to bolster a state of emergency that has failed to curb increasing violence in the southern city. The measure will take effect on Friday, police Col. Karim al-Zeidi said.

A roadside bomb struck a police patrol in eastern Baghdad, killing three policemen and wounding three others, Lt. Bilal Ali said.

Police also found six bodies of construction workers in Baghdad — four who were shot in the head and left near a Sunni mosque and two others — a Shiite and a Sunni — who were left in a different location, Lt. Maitam Abdul-Razzaq said.

A Sunni sheik who was shot by gunmen on Monday in Fallujah died of his wounds and large numbers of clerics and other mourners participated in a funeral procession.