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Abuse soldier sentenced to year in jail, to leave army

Baghdad, May 19 (Reuters): A tearful US soldier was sentenced to a year in jail today after confessing he and colleagues abused Iraqi prisoners in a scandal that threatens to undermine President George W. Bush’s re-election chances.

Military policeman Jeremy Sivits, who apologised to Iraqis at the first court martial of soldiers accused of abuses that sparked worldwide outrage, was also expelled from the army.

The court imposed a maximum sentence on Sivits but it was not enough for protesters outside Abu Ghraib prison, scene of the scandal that erupted when pictures were published of naked and terrified Iraqi inmates being abused and sexually humiliated.

“It’s a kangaroo court, set up just to placate Iraqis,” said Hala Azzawi, mother of one of some 3,000 Iraqis held at the jail near Baghdad, notorious as Sadam Hussein’s torture centre. “I wish they would get death, it’s less than they deserve.”

Sivits, a 24-year-old reservist with the rank of Specialist, pointed the finger at others, against whom he will testify under a plea bargain, over the abuses. Chief among them was Specialist Charles Graner who, Sivits said, pulled out a camera after stamping on naked prisoners.

Sivits, who faced the lightest charges of seven US soldiers accused so far, admitted pushing a prisoner into a now infamous picture of a pile of naked Iraqis.

Three more US guards at the prison were arraigned on more serious charges as the abuse scandal and guerrilla violence increased pressure on Washington to hand over real power to Iraqis along with formal sovereignty on June 30.

Graner, Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick and Sergeant Javal Davis all deferred pleas at quickfire hearings and will appear again on June 21.

US officials have said the abuses were confined to a small group of guards at Abu Ghraib, although the International Committee of the Red Cross and Amnesty International say abuse was more systematic and widespread.

But General John Abizaid, head of US Central Command, suggested today that mistreatment was more extensive than previously acknowledged, saying the military had investigated 75 cases of abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan since late 2002.

“I think the question before us (is): is there a systemic abuse problem with regard to interrogation that exists in the Central Command area of operations'” he told a Senate hearing.

The scandal has battered the image of the US across the Arab world and prompted loud calls from around the globe for Washington to hand over real power to Iraqis. Even close US allies over Iraq joined the chorus after Monday’s assassination of Izzedin Salim, head of the US-appointed Iraqi governing council, heaping pressure on Bush as he seeks re-election in November.

A group headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, accused by Washington of working for Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida, claimed responsibility for the suicide car bomb. Italy and Poland, major contributors to US-led forces in Iraq, urged Washington to give Iraqis real power when it hands over sovereignty in six weeks.

41 killed in bombing

Al Arabiya television said at least 41 civilians were killed today in a US air raid on an Iraqi village celebrating a wedding.

The Dubai-based network, quoting eyewitnesses in the town of al-Qaim on the Syrian border, said the frontier village of Makr al-Deeb was attacked before dawn.

In Baghdad, a U.S. military spokesman said reports about the attack were being investigated.

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