American soldiers being investigated for alleged rape, killing of family in Iraq

The U.S. military has launched an investigation into allegations that American soldiers raped a young woman, then killed her and three members of her family and burned her body to cover up the assault, a U.S. official said Friday.

The Associated Press learned the five suspects in the March killing were from the same platoon as two soldiers kidnapped and killed south of Baghdad this month. Senior officers were aware of the family's death but believed it was due to sectarian violence, the official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

According to The New York Times, the incident took place on March 12 in the volatile market town of Mahmudiya, an insurgent stronghold about 20 miles from Baghdad.

The deaths were originally attributed by the military to "insurgent activity," American officials said. That implies that soldiers involved in the incident may have misreported it to their commanders, or that there may have been a cover-up in the chain of command, as is suspected in the case of the Haditha killings last November.

The latest investigation began on June 24, one day after two soldiers "reported alleged coalition force involvement" in the deaths of the Iraqi family, the military said in a written statement. A preliminary inquiry conducted after that report determined that there was enough evidence to start a criminal investigation, the military said.

"This is going to be a by-the-numbers, by-the-book investigation," Maj. Todd Breasseale, the military spokesman, said in a telephone interview.

Reflecting the gravity of the possible crime, Major Breasseale said that Maj. Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of the Fourth Infantry Division, ordered the inquiry "the minute he got the news" that his soldiers may have been involved in the Iraqi deaths. The major declined to give further details, and would not say how many soldiers are under investigation, or which specific unit they belong to.

Also this month, four soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division were charged with murdering three Iraqi detainees May 9 in Salah ad Din province, north of Baghdad.

In 2004, photos showing U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib jail were published around the world, informs Bloomberg.

O.Ch.