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5 GIs Eyed In Iraq Rape, Murder Probe

The U.S. Army will investigate charges that five American soldiers were involved in the killings of four Iraqi relatives, including a woman who had been raped, military officials said Friday. It's the sixth current inquiry into the alleged slayings of Iraqi civilians by American troops.

Some of the five soldiers also allegedly burned the body of the woman they are accused of assaulting in the March incident, a U.S. military official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

The U.S. command issued a statement saying only that Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of coalition troops in Baghdad, had ordered a criminal investigation into the alleged killing of a family of four in Mahmoudiyah, south of Baghdad.

At least 14 American troops have been convicted in other cases.

The United States also is investigating allegations that two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians were killed by Marines in the western town of Haditha on Nov. 19 in a revenge attack after one of their own died in a roadside bombing.

"The entire investigation will encompass everything that could have happened that evening. We're not releasing any specifics of an ongoing investigation," military spokesman Maj. Todd Breasseale said of the Mahmoudiyah allegations.

"There is no indication what led soldiers to this home. The investigation just cracked open. We're just beginning to dig into the details."

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said he had no additional details on the incident but added that the military routinely investigates all allegations of misconduct.

However, a U.S. official close to the investigation said at least one of the soldiers, all assigned to the 502nd Infantry Regiment, has admitted his role and been arrested. Two soldiers from the same regiment were slain this month when they were kidnapped at a checkpoint near Youssifiyah.

In other developments:

  • In his latest Web audio tape, Osama bin Laden vows the attacks on the U.S. will continue. In the 19-minute message, bin Laden paid tribute to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, calling him a "lion of the holy war" and a "prince," CBS News correspondent Richard Roth . Bin Laden called on President Bush to release al-Zarqawi's body to his family, and said Jordan should allow the slain terrorist to be buried in his homeland. Bin Laden will also release a new Internet message dealing with Somalia and Iraq, according to the IntelCenter.
  • Romania will not withdraw its troops from Iraq, President Traian Basescu said Friday. "The proposal to withdraw the troops was rejected," said Basescu following a meeting of the country's top defense council, which has the power to decide the fate of the mission. Romania has 890 troops in Iraq.
  • Russia on Friday offered a $10 million reward for information on the killers of five Russian Embassy staff in Iraq. "For information which will lead to the result being achieved, the National Anti-terrorist Committee of the Russian Federation will pay a reward of $10 million," said the head of the Federal Security Service, Nikolai Patrushev, according to the RIA-Novosti news agency.
  • In Muqdadiyah, a rocket-propelled grenade hit a Shiite mosque, and 30 minutes later, gunmen in black uniforms often worn by Shiite militias attacked a Sunni mosque, police said.
  • Attackers in two cars also gunned down Sunni Sheik Hatam Mitaab al-Khazraji after he finished Friday prayers in Abu Saida, northwest of Baqouba, police said.The U.S. military has staged several raids in the area since al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed there earlier this month. The military said Thursday it had gained an advantage in the fight against the terror network.
  • Elsewhere, a Marine was killed Friday in fighting in the volatile Anbar province west of Baghdad, while a U.S. soldier died the day before in small arms fire in the northern city of Mosul, the military said. The deaths raised to at least 2,531 members of the U.S. military who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

    The accused soldiers were from the same platoon as privates Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Turner. The military has said one and possibly both of the slain soldiers were tortured and beheaded.

    The official said the mutilation of the slain soldiers stirred feelings of guilt and led at least one of them to reveal the rape-slaying on June 22.

    According to a senior Army official, the alleged incident was first revealed by a soldier during a routine counseling session. The official, who requested anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, said that soldier did not witness the incident but heard about it.

    A second soldier, who also was not involved, said he overhead soldiers conspiring to commit the crimes, and then later saw bloodstains on their clothes, the official said.

    He also said the four people killed included three adults and a child, and one of the adults was the woman who allegedly was raped.

    One of the accused soldiers already has been discharged and is believed to be in the United States, several U.S. officials said on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. The others have had their weapons taken away and are confined to Forward Operating Base Mahmoudiyah.

    Senior officers were aware of the family's death but believed it was due to sectarian violence, common in the religiously mixed town, a U.S. official said.

    The killings appeared to have been a "crime of opportunity," the official said. The soldiers had not been attacked by insurgents but had noticed the woman on previous patrols.

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