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THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ

Army Files Charges of Murder

June 18, 2004|From a Times Staff Writer

BAGHDAD — The U.S. Army has filed murder charges against a Task Force 1st Armored Division soldier who is accused of killing the driver of a vehicle after a high-speed chase in south-central Iraq last month, the military announced Thursday.

The incident was thought to be the first in which a soldier was charged with murder in Iraq.

The soldier, a commissioned officer whose name and rank were not released, faces an Article 32 investigation, similar to a civilian court grand jury proceeding. No date has been set.

The charges stem from an incident May 21 near the city of Kufa during operations against the militia of Muqtada Sadr, a militant Shiite Muslim cleric. Sadr's forces seized control of Kufa, Najaf and several other cities in Iraq's Shiite heartland in April. U.S. forces were dispatched with orders to "kill or capture" the cleric.

In the incident, soldiers conducted a high-speed chase of a vehicle that was suspected of carrying members of Sadr's Al Mahdi militia. During the pursuit, the Army said Thursday, the soldiers fired at the vehicle, wounding the driver and passenger.

Shortly afterward, the Army said, the driver was shot and killed at short range.

Though the military released few other details, the incident as described is similar to one involving a key aide of Sadr, Mohammed Tabtabai.

He was captured last month after U.S. forces shot at his car, wounding him and killing his driver, according to accounts at the time.

During the Army investigation, an officer is to hear evidence and then prepare recommendations for the handling of the case and submit them to the task force's commander, Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey.

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