US soldiers accused of rape and murder of Iraqi family

The US military is investigating whether American soldiers raped an Iraqi woman and then killed her and three members of her family, including a child, south of Baghdad in March, officials said yesterday. It is the latest in a series of military investigations in which US troops are suspected of killing civilians in Iraq.

Maj-Gen James Thurman, the top US Army commander in the Baghdad area, asked the army's criminal investigation command to look into the deaths in Mahmudiyah, south of the capital, the military said.

The investigation began last Saturday, one day after two US soldiers reported suspicions about the involvement of other soldiers, the military said in a statement released in Baghdad.

A US Army official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing, said at least three American soldiers from the 502nd Infantry Regiment were under investigation.

Last week, 12 US troops were charged with murder over the deaths of Iraqi civilians in two separate incidents. In addition, another criminal investigation is continuing into the suspected role of US marines in killing 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians in the western town of Haditha last November.

In the latest case, the army official said one of the soldiers who came forward with information about the crime said two soldiers were involved in the rape of the woman and then one of them killed her, a child and two adults, in their home.

The soldier suspected of killing the four family members was discharged from the military and is back in the United States, the official said. The official did not provide the reason for the discharge.

The soldiers were reported to have returned from the scene with bloodstains on their clothes, the official said.

No one has yet been charged, the official said.

The other soldier who provided information about the crime said that he had heard that three soldiers may have been involved, the official said.

The official said that he did not know how the four Iraqis were killed.

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