4,000 more US troops to Baghdad as atrocity trial commences

Talk about addictive behavior. 4,000 more US troops are sent into Baghdad, where they are mixing it up with Moktada al-Sadr’s militia in a small urban counter-insurgency operation. (LAT, Aug. 8) So 4,000 more troops can become so stressed out that they commit atrocities and further swell the ranks of Sadr and other jihadist forces. Good thinking! From the New York Times, Aug. 9:

BAGHDAD — Five homemade bombs and a bank robbery left 24 people dead in Baghdad on Tuesday as the level of violence here remained undiminished despite a buildup of American and Iraqi troops meant to restore a sense of order.

Also Tuesday, several witnesses testified in the continuing military hearing for four soldiers charged with raping a 14-year-old girl and then killing her and her family in March.

The witnesses, members of the soldiers’ unit — Company B of the First Battalion, 502nd Infantry, 101st Airborne Division — were called by defense lawyers to describe the extreme conditions the soldiers had endured in their patrols south of Baghdad, and the low morale and combat stress that followed.

The hearing, known as an Article 32, mixes elements of a grand jury proceeding and a jury trial — including the introduction of evidence, testimony from witnesses and cross-examination by defense lawyers — and is the means by which a presiding officer determines whether enough evidence exists to recommend a court-martial, nonjudicial punishment or the dismissal of charges.

The four soldiers accused of killing the family, in Mahmudiya, a volatile town south of Baghdad, are Specialist James P. Barker, Pfc. Jesse V. Spielman, Pfc. Bryan L. Howard and Sgt. Paul E. Cortez.

In addition to rape and murder, each is also charged with arson; after raping the girl, military prosecutors said, the four burned her body with kerosene to conceal evidence.

A fifth soldier, Sergeant Anthony W. Yribe, who is not said to have been present at the rape and killings, is charged with dereliction of duty, for failing to report the crimes.

Several soldiers testified Sunday and Monday that a former member of Company B, Steven D. Green, thought up the plan to attack the family and rape the girl, and persuaded the other four, during card games and while driving golf balls, to go along with it.

Mr. Green, whom the Army allowed to enlist on “moral waivers” because he had a criminal record for minor offenses, was discharged as a private in May after a psychiatric evaluation.

He is in custody in Kentucky, where he faces federal rape and murder charges. He has pleaded not guilty.

In testimony on Tuesday, Sgt. Daniel Carrick, a member of the accused soldiers’ platoon, described how patrolling around Mahmudiya, a tense region south of Baghdad known as the “triangle of death,” turned many soldiers bitter, particularly Mr. Green.

“Green had hatred for a lot of people in general,” Sergeant Carrick said.

Sgt. First Class Jeffrey Fenlason testified about a conversation with Mr. Green “regarding his lack of concern or caring for Iraqi life versus American soldiers’ life.”

Several soldiers also testified to a grisly tale of how Mr. Green tossed a puppy off the roof of a building and set it on fire.

The increased American and Iraqi Army patrols in Baghdad on Tuesday seemed to have had little effect on the daily violence.

At 10:50 a.m., two explosions in a market in central Baghdad killed 10 people and wounded 69 others, an Interior Ministry official said. Minutes later, in the Adhamiya section of the city, gunmen burst into the Rashid Bank, killed three guards and two bank employees and stole 7 million Iraqi dinars, or about $5,000, the official said.

Earlier Tuesday morning, three apparently coordinated explosions near the Interior Ministry, in the center of Baghdad, killed nine people and wounded eight others, including three policemen, said the ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to a reporter. Two of the three explosions occurred near police patrols, and the third was at a busy bus station, he said.

The military announced that four American service members were killed Sunday. Three were killed by a roadside bomb southwest of Baghdad. The fourth, who served with the First Brigade, First Armored Division, died in fighting in Anbar Province, west of Baghdad, the military said in a statement.

In the past week, four Iraqi journalists from various news organizations based here were fatally shot, said a member of an Iraqi journalists’ group that tracks attacks on reporters.

Muhammad Abbas Hamid, 30, a reporter for the Shiite newspaper Al Bayinna al Jadida, was shot Monday as he left his home in the Adil section of west Baghdad, said the newspaper’s publisher, who asked that his name not be printed out of fear of reprisal.

Late Monday, the police found the body of Ismail Amin Ali, 30, a freelance journalist, less than a mile from where he was abducted two weeks ago in northeast Baghdad, according to the journalists’ group, the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory.

In an interview on Tuesday evening, Ziad al-Ajeely, who tracks attacks on journalists for the group, identified the two other journalists killed in Baghdad in the past week as Abdul Wahab al-Qaisi, a reporter for Kol al Dunia magazine, and Adil Naji al-Mansory, a reporter for Al Alim television.

Baghdad’s central morgue said it received the bodies of 1,855 people in July, an average of nearly 60 a day, nearly all of whom appeared to have died violently. The tally was a 16 percent rise from June and a 71 percent increase from January.

The United Nations said last month that an average of about 100 people were killed daily throughout Iraq in May and June. The organization based its figures on numbers from the Ministry of Health, which collates records of violent deaths from hospitals around the country and from Baghdad’s central morgue, where unidentified bodies are delivered.

Ministry officials said Tuesday that they had not completed the nationwide count for July.

Officials say the greatest concentration of violent deaths has been in Baghdad, which is the focus of a new military strategy to suppress the surge in violence.

Over the weekend, an American combat unit numbering nearly 4,000 soldiers, and featuring the highly mobile and resilient Stryker vehicles, rolled into Baghdad as part of a plan to elevate the street presence of American forces.

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