TIKRIT, Iraq – U.S. investigators have asked Iraqi authorities to help them navigate cultural sensitivities to exhume the body of a teenager allegedly raped and then murdered with her family by American soldiers, a military official said Saturday.
U.S. Maj. Mark Wright said U.S. authorities are aware that Islamic tradition has strict rules governing exhumation and could require religious leaders to become involved in the investigation.
“You want to be aware of these cultural issues while at the same time making sure that the accused receives proper justice,” said Wright, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.
Muslim tradition generally frowns on exhumations, considering them desecration of the remains.
However, Ahmed Taha, the uncle of the dead teen, said Thursday that relatives were eager to cooperate with investigators and would allow them to exhume the body of the alleged rape victim, Abeer Qassim Hamza. Her parents and sister were also slain.
Ex-soldier Steven Green was arrested last week in North Carolina and has pleaded not guilty to one count of rape and four counts of murder.
Four soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment have been taken to a U.S. military camp in Baghdad for questioning, Wright said. He would not say if those soldiers had been arrested, but another U.S. official said Saturday that several more soldiers would soon be charged.
Elsewhere in Iraq, three U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi woman translator were killed in separate incidents Saturday, while the country’s largest Sunni Arab party appealed to authorities to end a military crackdown in Sunni villages northeast of Baghdad.
The three Americans were assigned to the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, which has some attached Army units, and died in fighting in the western province of Anbar, the U.S. military said.
They were the first U.S. fatalities reported in Iraq since Tuesday, raising the number of U.S. personnel killed this month to eight. The average of one death a day is down sharply from a rate of more than two a day in recent months.
Iraqi police said the translator was slain in a drive-by shooting in southwestern Baghdad. She worked for the Americans but was off-duty at the time, police Capt. Maithem Abdul-Razaq said.
Interpreters and others working for the Americans have long been targeted by insurgents who accuse them of collaborating with “occupation forces.”
In a statement Saturday, the Iraqi Islamic Party said U.S. and Iraqi troops had surrounded 15 mostly Sunni villages near Muqdadiyah, about 60 miles northeast of Baghdad, making it difficult for civilians to move around.
The statement called on Iraqi and U.S. forces to allow food and medicine to enter the villages and compensate farmers for damage to their crops.
Last week, the Iraqi military announced operations in the Muqdadiyah area after an increase in insurgent activity. The mostly farm area sits astride a highway between Baghdad and Kurdish areas to the north and is in a province where tensions are high between Shiites and Sunnis.
Iraqi police reported several killings in Baghdad on Saturday and many seemed tied to the animosities between Shiites and Sunnis.
Gunmen opened fire on a Shiite family trying to move out of a religiously mixed neighborhood for the Shiite city of Karbala. Police said five relatives were wounded in the attack in Dora, where sectarian tensions run high.
Also in Dora, gunmen in two cars stopped a vehicle on a street, forced the two passengers to get out and killed them in front of horrified bystanders, police reported.