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Iraq launches own probe in alleged rape-murder

BAGHDAD -- Iraq has launched its own probe into the alleged rape and killing of a 14-year-old girl by American soldiers even though they face a possible US court-martial in the case, an official said yesterday .

The US military, meanwhile, reported the capture of more than 100 known or suspected Al Qaeda terrorists and sectarian death squad leaders, and five people were killed yesterday in the violence sweeping the country.

The Iraqi investigation into the rape-slaying started Thursday and was expected to take one week, said chief prosecutor Adnan Mahmoud of the criminal court in Mahmoudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad, where the alleged March 12 assault took place.

Mahmoud is part of the investigation panel along with Mahmoudiya's mayor, police chief and the head of the town's main hospital.

He said the panel interviewed witnesses and inspected the house where Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, 14, was raped, shot dead, and set on fire, allegedly by a group of US soldiers who had observed her for days. Also killed in the house were her 5-year-old sister and parents.

The killings have bolstered Iraqi allegations of violent misconduct by US soldiers.

US authorities arrested five soldiers and a former private in connection with the case. The active-duty soldiers faced a military hearing earlier this month to determine if they should be court-martialed. A decision is pending.

He said the investigation was ordered by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has made it clear he wants the soldiers tried in an Iraqi court. The United States is not expected to allow that, but has assured Maliki that the case will be pursued vigorously under the American justice system.

The soldiers accused of rape and murder -- Specialist James P. Barker, Sergeant Paul E. Cortez, Private First Class Jesse V. Spielman, and Private First Class Bryan L. Howard -- could face the death penalty if they are convicted by a court-martial. Another soldier, Sergeant Anthony W. Yribe, is accused of failing to report the attack but is not alleged to have been a direct participant.

Former Private First Class Steven D. Green was discharged from the Army for a ``personality disorder" after the incident and was arrested in North Carolina in June on rape and murder charges. He has pleaded not guilty in federal court and is being held without bond.

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