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Experts question Iraqi officials' statement on alleged rape

BAGHDAD, Iraq—The Iraqi prime minister's office, eager to prove that a Sunni Muslim woman was lying when she accused Iraqi police of raping her, released one page of a U.S. Army medical examination report on Wednesday that Iraqi officials said showed the woman wasn't sexually assaulted.

The single sheet, apparently part of a multi-page report, said that there were "no vaginal lacerations or obvious injury." An accompanying statement asserted that the medical report "confirmed" there had been no rape, but several rape experts in the United States said the report did no such thing.

The report didn't disprove the woman's allegations, the experts said, and it indicated that the woman suffered extensive injuries, including at least eight bruises on the front of her thighs consistent with a sexual assault.

"Generally it occurs when the suspect is holding the victim's legs open and the victim is attempting to close her legs," said Tara Henry, a former head of the sexual assault unit at Alaska Regional Hospital in Anchorage, who reviewed the report at the request of McClatchy Newspapers.

The report's release added to Iraq's already poisonous atmosphere of sectarian violence. Sunni Muslim politicians charged that the government's rapid rejection of the woman's charges proved that Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's administration is unwilling to investigate alleged abuses of Sunnis by Iraq's Shiite-dominated security forces.

Al-Maliki and other Shiite politicians responded by accusing the Sunnis and the alleged rape victim of using the controversy to try to thwart U.S.-Iraqi efforts to tamp down violence in the capital, where thousands of people have died in a cycle of tit-for-tat sectarian bombings and executions.

Officials have reported a drop in violence since the plan's initiation last week, but police still reported that 20 unidentified bodies were found in various parts of Baghdad on Wednesday. At least five car bombs exploded throughout the city, including one designed to release toxic chlorine gas, the second such "dirty bomb" in as many days. Two people were killed and seven injured by the explosion, and 25 were sickened by the fumes.

U.S. military authorities wouldn't comment on the medical document, which al-Maliki's office e-mailed to reporters along with the statement detailing its claim that the woman had lied.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, the chief military spokesman in Iraq, told reporters that the U.S. was conducting its own investigation into the rape allegations.

Another spokesman, Lt. Col. Chris Garver, said in a later interview that the woman had left the 28th Combat Support Hospital in the Green Zone on Monday with her medical report in hand, and that the U.S. also would look into how the Iraqi government obtained the report.

"We have not released any medical information whatsoever to anybody," Caldwell said. "It's a patient-privacy issue, and we would only release it in the case of a legal process that comes forth and requests that information. And it would have to be done through all the appropriate legal channels."

Controversy over the rape allegations broke on Monday when the woman, her faced veiled, appeared on Al-Jazeera television and detailed what she said was a gang rape by Iraqi national police who had taken her on Sunday from her home in the West Baghdad neighborhood of Amil, a formerly Sunni area largely emptied by recent sectarian fighting.

The woman said the police came to her home while her husband was away and accused her of cooking for Sunni fighters. They took her to their headquarters, where one of the officers put his hand over her mouth so she couldn't be heard and attacked her. Three of the officers raped her, she said.

A neighbor who saw her being led away alerted U.S. troops, who came to the police station and rescued her, she said.

U.S. officials said the circumstances of American involvement in the case were still unclear. Caldwell said the woman was taken to a U.S. hospital between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday, and that she stayed overnight, but that U.S. officials were still trying to make sense of the case.

Reaction to the woman's televised appearance was almost immediate. At 10:16 p.m. Monday Baghdad time, al-Maliki's office emailed news agencies that he had created a special committee to investigate the woman's allegations. But only two hours later, at 12:21 a.m. Tuesday, al-Maliki's office announced that the woman had lied, accused her of belonging to the insurgency, and commended the officers involved.

A statement from al-Maliki's office that accompanied the medical report on Wednesday said police had found the woman alone in a house preparing a large meal and later discovered a secret passageway to a house next door where police earlier had found the body of a kidnapping victim.

The statement said the police took her to their headquarters but that she was there only 15 minutes before an American team arrived and took her away.

Most rape victims, especially those who already are sexually active, don't suffer vaginal injuries during an assault, said Dr. Dan Sheridan, the coordinator of the forensic nursing program at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Other experts said the report indicates that medical personnel took numerous X-rays and CT scans, perhaps bolstering Sunni claims that the woman had been beaten.

"They did a CT scan of the head, the pelvis, and the neck. These tests would not have shown if someone was sexually assaulted, so there had to have been some kind of other trauma that they found," said Dr. Karen Simmons, medical director of the Rape Treatment Center in Miami, Fla.

"It shows that she was brought into a trauma unit in bad shape," said Joshua Weintraub, an attorney who once ran the sexual crimes office of the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office.


(Contributing to this report were McClatchy Newspapers special correspondent Mohammed al Dulaimy in Baghdad and staff writers Marisa Taylor in Washington, Susannah Nesmith in Miami and Julia O'Malley in Anchorage, Alaska.)


(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.