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Iraq Transition

Marine charged in Iraqi death won't face death penalty

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CAMP PENDLETON, California (CNN) -- The government will not seek the death penalty against one of eight servicemen charged with the shooting death of an Iraqi civilian in April, a military prosecutor said Wednesday.

Lt. Col. John Baker made the announcement during a hearing for Pfc. John J. Jodka III, 20, one of seven Marines and a Navy corpsman facing charges in the case.

"The recommendation of the prosecution team is that a capital referral not be sought in this case. It is our position that a capital referral is not appropriate," Baker said.

The preliminary hearings for Jodka and Cpl. Marshall Magincalda, 23, were held at Camp Pendleton on Wednesday. Separate hearings are to be held for each of the suspects.

Jodka's lawyers pushed for statements made by Jodka and other Marines to be kept sealed.

"To openly discuss contents will completely pollute the local and national jury pool," said Col. Jane Siegel, an attorney for Jodka.

Baker argued that it would be difficult to question the witnesses -- all members of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service -- without at least referring to some of the statements.

The eight men, members of the Camp Pendleton-based 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, were taken out of Iraq and jailed at the base after accusations emerged that they killed Hasham Ibrahim Awad, 52, a disabled veteran of Iraq's war with Iran in the 1980s.

The troops are accused of removing Awad from his home in Hamdaniya and fatally shooting him. Jodka is accused of being one of the shooters.

But Joseph Casas, another of Jodka's attorneys, said the government has little evidence and there was no DNA connection.

"Take the statements out of the picture and, I submit to you, the government has nothing," Casas said.

Jodka's parents and grandparents were in the courtroom, which was packed with journalists. The Marine appeared to be listening carefully while his lawyers spoke, and occasionally took notes.

The judge said he would review all the evidence by Thursday afternoon and would hold a telephone conference with the lawyers.

Magincalda is accused of taking a shovel and an AK-47 from a home, walking to another house and taking Awad to a hole by the side of the road where Magincalda bound Awad's hands and feet. He also is accused of distributing shell casings around the man's body to make it look as though he was an insurgent.

He is charged with conspiracy, making false official statements, murder, larceny, assault, housebreaking, kidnapping and obstruction of justice.

All of the suspects have been in pretrial confinement at Camp Pendleton since the investigation began May 7. The investigation was ordered after Iraqi officials brought the allegations to Marine commanders.

Bombings kill 47

Insurgents launched a string of bombings Wednesday in Baghdad and the nearby provinces of Diyala and Babil, killing at least 47 people and wounding more than 100 others, emergency officials said.

The violence reflects an uptick in casualties since Sunday, with nearly 200 Iraqis dying in bombings and shootings -- a challenge for U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi troops who said they had been making progress in establishing law and order, particularly in the capital.

In an attack on a major commercial area in Baghdad, at least 24 Iraqis were killed and 45 more wounded Wednesday morning when a bomb ripped through Shurja, the city's largest market, Baghdad emergency police said.

An hour later, a car bomb exploded near a fuel station in central Baghdad, killing two and wounding 15, including five police officers, emergency officials said.

A second bomb in the same area near Andalus Square was detonated minutes later as a rescue team arrived to assist the wounded.

Attackers also struck security force targets in hot spots outside the capital.

At least 12 people were killed and 38 wounded Wednesday when an explosives-rigged bicycle detonated outside an Iraqi army recruitment center in Hilla, about 60 miles (97 kilometers) south of Baghdad in Babil province.

In the Diyala provincial town of Muqdadiya, at least three people were killed and 10 wounded -- including three police officers -- when a roadside bomb exploded near a police patrol, a Baquba police official said. Muqdadiya is north of Baquba, the provincial capital.

In Buhriz, another Diyala town south of Baquba, six members of a family were killed and two wounded in a roadside bomb attack targeting a minibus, a Baquba police official said.

Progress cited in training troops, disarming militias

In a briefing Wednesday, Gen. George Casey, the top-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq, spoke optimistically about efforts to train Iraqi troops and confront illegal militias, but at the same time he noted that challenges remained.

The priority for the Iraqi government is establishing order in Baghdad in a crackdown dubbed Operation Together Forward. Casey said he is "pleased with the progress" but realizes "we have a long way to go."

"The difficult part is going to be holding these areas with Iraqi security forces and building the relationships between the Iraqi people in the neighborhood and their security forces so that they can get on with their economic development in those areas," he said.

Despite the challenges, the forces are improving, Casey said.

"I can see over the next 12 to 18 months, I can see the Iraqi security forces progressing to a point where they can take on the security responsibilities for the country with very little coalition support," he said.

Casey rejected the notion that weekend fighting between Iraqi security forces and militants in southern city of Diwaniya was a setback for the armed forces.

"The Iraqi armed forces acquitted themselves quite well," he said. "They had losses, but they gave much better than they got -- and that battle's not finished yet. There were soldiers that were killed there. There is clearly an illegal armed force that is attempting to control areas of Diwaniya."

Twenty-three Iraqi soldiers died in the intense fighting, while 38 militiamen were killed, officials said.

Casey also said there have been political and military steps afoot to disarm militias. He said residents will see they won't need to rely on militias as local security forces take control.

Other developments

  • The U.S. military announced that a Marine died Tuesday from wounds sustained during "enemy action" in Anbar province, west of Baghdad. Since the start of the Iraq war in 2003, there have been 2,629 U.S. military fatalities. Seven American civilian contractors of the military also have died in the conflict.
  • American soldiers freed an abducted Iraqi on Wednesday and detained three people believed to have taken him hostage outside the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, the U.S. military said.
  • CNN's Dree deClamecy contributed to this story.

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