A former US soldier has been arrested on charges of raping an Iraqi woman and killing her and three members of her family. The incident took place in the town of Mahmudiyah in March. According to prosecutors, former Private First Class Steven Green broke into the family’s home and killed the woman’s parents and young sister. Green and another soldier allegedly raped the woman, shot her, and then set her body on fire in an apparent effort to cover up the crime. The woman’s name was Abeer Qasim Hamza. The military reported her age as twenty, but locals say she was fifteen. Neighbors told investigators Abeer Qasim Hamza had expressed concerns to her mother because the soldiers had made advances towards her before. The case marks the fifth in recent weeks in which US troops have been charged with committing atrocities in Iraq.
Four other active soldiers are being held pending the outcome of a military probe.
In other news from Iraq, the New York Times is reporting US forces plan to bulldoze several blocks in the middle of the city of Ramadi and convert them into a new “Green Zone” similar to the US command area in Baghdad. Lt. Col. Stephen Neary said some of the razed land will be turned into a park. He added: “Aesthetically it will be an improvement.” The military is engaged in a large scale operation in Ramadi that has already led to the flight of thousands of residents. According to the New York Times, one poster displayed in the local US base reads: “Be polite, be professional and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.” Another poster refers to the name of the military unit and says: “Kilo Company: Killed more people than cancer.”
Meanwhile, officials at Baghdad’s central morgue say killings have sharply increased since the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. More than fifteen hundred bodies were delivered last month — a sixteen percent increase over the month before. Meanwhile, United Press International is reporting delivery of dead bodies is so high the morgue has run out of adequate space to store them. On Saturday, sixty-six people were killed and more than one hundred injured when a truck bomb hit a crowded market in Baghdad. It was the deadliest attack since Iraq’s new government took office in May.
North Korea has test fired seven missiles in the last day. The test’s one long-range missile reportedly failed than a minute into flight. The test marked North Korea’s first since it launched a medium-range missile over Japan eight years ago. Emergency meetings will be held in Japan, Korea, as well as at the United Nations later today.
In Mexico, the party of populist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is demanding a full, vote-by-vote recount in the country’s closest-ever presidential race. A preliminary count of the votes cast in Sunday’s election gave a slim lead to conservative candidate Felipe Calderon. But federal election officials acknowledged Tuesday that more than three million ballots–or eight percent of the total–remain uncounted. In the latest tally, Calderon leads Lopez Obrador by under one percentage point, meaning the race is still too close to call.
In other news from Mexico, former President Luis Echeverria has been placed under house arrest on accusations he ordered government forces to open fire on student protesters nearly forty years ago. On Friday, a judge ruled there is sufficient evidence for Echeverria to stand trial on a charge of genocide. The killings occurred on October 2nd, 1968, ten days before the Olympic Games opened in Mexico. Human rights groups estimate at least three hundred people died in the massacre.
Israel is escalating the military assault on the Gaza Strip launched following the recent capture of an Israeli soldier. Earlier tonight, the Palestinian Interior Ministry became the latest target of nightly attacks on Gaza City. The strike set the Ministry building on fire and caused damage to neighboring apartments. Several people, including four children, were wounded in the attack. Another overnight Israeli strike targeted an empty school in Northern Gaza. Meanwhile, militants from the armed wing of Hamas took responsibility for a rocket attack that hit a deserted schoolyard in the Israeli town of Ashkelon. It was the deepest rocket attack inside Israel to date. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called the rocket firing a “major escalation” and ordered troops to move into Palestinian residential areas. Israel says it will create a “security zone” to thwart rocket-firing militants. Referring to two northern towns in Gaza, senior Israeli cabinet minister Zeev Boim said: “As far as I’m concerned, the people of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya can start packing.”
Israel has been widely criticized for its actions in Gaza. On Monday, the Swedish government said the assault amounted to collective punishment and called for an end to attacks on civilian property. The government’s statement follows a warning last week by Amnesty International that the attacks violate international humanitarian law and constitute war crimes.
In Denmark, a group of demonstrators marked the Fourth of July with a protest against the US prison at Guantanamo Bay.
In Nepal, the US government is coming under criticism from Maoist rebels who accuse it of undermining the peace process. The Bush administration has said it will withhold aid if the rebels join the government without first laying down their arms.
In intelligence news, the CIA has admitted it has folded the unit tasked with finding Osama bin Laden and his top aides. CIA officials say they made the move because they believe Al Qaeda operations are largely carried out independently of a central command.
This news on Cuba — The Independent of London is reporting a new report from a State Department group will urge the Bush administration to begin preparing for an intervention in the event of the death of President Fidel Castro. The group, the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, was created by President Bush three years ago. Their recommendations include creating an $80 million dollar fund to promote US initiatives in Cuba. An annex to the report lists several proposals on how the Bush administration could undermine Castro’s government. Cuban parliamentarian Ricardo Alarcon likened the report to a declaration of war.
And in Connecticut, Senator Joe Lieberman has announced he will run as an independent if he loses next month’s Democratic primary. Lieberman is in a tight race with challenger Ned Lamont. His popularity has waned among Democrats over his support for the Iraq war and other policies backed by President Bush. Lieberman’s campaign has begun collecting signatures towards putting him on the ballot as an independent in the event he loses the race. In a statement, Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton of New York said she hopes Lieberman wins the race, but will support the nominee chosen by Democratic voters. On Tuesday, Lieberman was heckled as he took part in an Independence Day Parade in his home state. One group of demonstrators carried two giant paper-mached mâché heads of Lieberman locking lips with President Bush. Lieberman dismissed the protesters, calling them “a distant minority.”