Tuesday, July 03, 2007

3rd American Soldier Charged in Murder of an Iraqi Civilian

Iraqi kids stand by their damaged house in the Shiite enclave of Sadr City Saturday, June 30, 2007. U.S. soldiers killed 26 suspected insurgents before dawn Saturday in Baghdad's Sadr City neighborhood, the military said. Iraqi police and hospital officials said the victims were civilians killed in their homes. (AP Photo/Karim Kadim)

The New York Times reports:
A third American soldier has been charged with murdering an Iraqi civilian and planting a weapon in a shooting that the soldiers tried to cover up, the United States military said Monday.

The soldier, Sgt. Evan Vela, of Phoenix, Idaho, served in the headquarters unit of the First Battalion, 501st Infantry, of the 25th Infantry Division, based at Fort Richardson, Alaska. That is the same unit as Staff Sgt. Michael A. Hensley and Specialist Jorge G. Sandoval Jr., who were charged last week with killing three Iraqis and placing weapons near their bodies to make it seem as though they were combatants.
Sergeant Vela is charged with one count of premeditated murder, and also of placing a weapon with the body, obstruction of justice and making a false statement, according to a statement by the military.

The killings happened near Iskandariya, south of Baghdad, between April and June, the military said in a statement. All three soldiers have been detained and are awaiting trial.

The military said two soldiers and one marine were killed in western Anbar Province on Sunday, in addition to two soldiers whose deaths were reported earlier. Those follow 101 American military deaths in June, according to figures from the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, making the 331 fatalities from April through June the deadliest quarter yet for United States forces.

In Diyala Province, the scene of heavy recent fighting between Sunni militants and American forces, an Iraqi police official in Muqdadiya said the civilian death toll from terrorist attacks in the Sherween area on Sunday night had reached 16, with 30 wounded. However, Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim al-Rubaie, the Iraqi commander of operations in Diyala, said coalition and Iraqi forces had made significant advances during the recent large-scale operation to clear Al Qaeda from Baquba.

“The terrorists even targeted schools, as they wanted to halt the progress of science in these areas,” he said Monday. “Life has gradually started to go back to normality in these areas, and residents were happy with the military operations.”

In Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Qassim Atta, an Iraqi military spokesman, said the security crackdown there had led to a reduction in attacks on civilians but an increase in attacks on American-led forces. However, hours later a car bomb in Binouk, a district in northern Baghdad, killed four people and wounded 25, an Interior Ministry official said last night.

Farther south, American F-16s bombed buildings in Diwaniya after insurgents launched 75 rockets and mortar shells at a coalition base. Iraqi officials said the jets killed 10 civilians, including women and children, wounded 30 others and destroyed several houses.

A statement from the United States military said the jets “targeted and bombed the insurgent launch sites.” Accusing insurgents of using civilians as human shields, it said coalition forces were “reviewing the incident to ensure that appropriate and proportionate force was used.”

The strike led to a protest march by residents, some of whom opened fire on a government building, leading to an exchange in which a 17-year-old demonstrator and two security guards were killed.

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