On Thursday United States ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and the top American military commander there, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., together issued an unusual statement apologizing for the rape and murder of a young Iraqi woman and the killing of her family, the New York Times reports. The statement acknowledged that the crime, in which at least four soldiers are suspects, had injured the "Iraqi people as a whole."
The incident became public last week, when the Fourth Infantry Division announced it was investigating the involvement of American soldiers in the rape and slayings of Iraqis, writes the Times. This is at least the fifth crime against Iraqi civilians currently under military investigation, the most infamous being the killings in Haditha.
But what is particularly significant about the apology -- in addition to the fact that no one has officially been charged -- is that the statement seemed to be in direct response to a conference held just hours earlier where Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki said that he might ask the American military to do away with immunity afforded to U.S. soldiers from Iraqi prosecution. "Our people cannot tolerate that every day there is an ugly crime such as that in Mahmudiya," Maliki said, referring to the town where the killings occurred. It is long held that American soldiers are exempt from local or international laws when serving on foreign soil.
The public outcry of Iraqis against the crime has been more severe than that of nearly any other since the war began. As the Times explains, "sexual assault is considered one of the most heinous and shameful crimes in Muslim society; even mentioning the subject is often considered taboo." The victim's relatives have been "reluctant to divulge the burial site out of shame over the fact that one of the dead, a girl as young as 15, was reported to have been raped by at least two American soldiers." The mayor of Mahmudiya, Mouayid Fadhil, told the Times, "We dont want to talk about this. She was raped."
Three soldiers, some of whom reportedly admitted their roles in the crime, are currently being confined to a base in Mahmudiya, and a fourth, a recently discharged Army private, was arrested in North Carolina on Monday on suspicion of rape and murder.