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US soldier found guilty of murdering Iraqi
Updated: 2004-12-11 08:42

A US officer who shot dead an unarmed and wounded Iraqi civilian to "put him out of his misery" was found guilty of murder, as Iraq's political parties won more time to register candidates for next month's elections.

The move came a day after the long-oppressed majority Shiites unveiled a major alliance likely to leave them with the lion's share of the vote in the January 30 polls for a transitional government.

The number of American troops killed in action in Iraq meanwhile climbed over the 1,000 mark as debate grew in the United States over complaints by soldiers that they are going into the country without properly armoured vehicles.

At a court martial, Staff Sergeant Johnny Horne was found guilty of the unpremeditated murder of a severely wounded Iraqi civilian in Baghdad's Sadr City district in August. He was due to be sentenced on Saturday although a pre-trial plea bargain limits his penalty to 10 years in jail.

The murder of Kassim Hassan took place after US soldiers spotted a garbage truck apparently dropping homemade bombs in Sadr City, the capital's most populous Shiite Muslim neighbourhood, the court heard.

The soldiers started shooting at the truck, which caught fire, and a severely wounded Hassan pulled himself out of the vehicle and fell to the ground.

"When I found him, I came to the conclusion that he needed to be put out of his misery," Horne said. "I fired a shot into his head and his attempts to breathe ceased."

Horne was also found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder with two other soldiers, Staff Sergeant Cardenas Alban and Second Lieutenant Erick Anderson, who have yet to stand trial.

The US marines announced that one of their men was killed in action Thursday during an operation in Al-Anbar province, where the Sunni Muslim hotspots of Fallujah and Ramadi are located.

Pentagon statistics released Thursday showed the number of US military personnel killed in action in Iraq was 1,003. It was not clear if the latest reported death was included in that figure.

Two US soldiers were killed Thursday and four wounded when two helicopters collided at a military airfield in Mosul in northern Iraq, the army said.

In a US base in Kuwait, the US army was armouring all vehicles carrying troops into Iraq, a top US commander said, a day after a US soldier in Kuwait complained to Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that his unit was going into action without properly armoured vehicles.

The exchange has revived debate in the United States over whether the administration was adequately prepared when it went to war against Iraq in March 2003.

Iraq's electoral commission meanwhile postponed till December 15 the deadline for parties to present their list of election candidates. The original deadline was by the end of Friday but several political movements asked for more time.

Iraqis are to elect a 275-member national assembly on January 30, the country's first free elections in half a century. The assembly will write a constitution, which, if adopted in a referendum, will form the basis for another poll to be held by December 15 next year.

Shiites on Thursday unveiled a broad electoral alliance.

The 228-strong list, backed by the Shiites' highest religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, includes no major Sunni political movements and excludes firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Shiites, who make up about 60 percent of Iraq's 26 million population, were long oppressed by Saddam's Sunni minority, but since his ouster they have been flexing their new-found political muscle.

The main parties representing the Sunni minority have called for the election to be postponed because of ongoing insurgent violence.

Iraqi Vice-President Ibrahim al-Jaafari denied in remarks published Friday that Iran was trying to influence Iraqi elections with the aim of creating a "crescent" dominated by Shiites in the region.

Despite the relative calm in Iraq, insurgent attacks continued Friday.

An Iraqi civilian was killed by a roadside bomb in Samarra, north of Baghdad, and a businessman working with coalition forces was kidnapped in the Baiji area, further to the north, police said.

Also in the Baiji area, unknown assailants fired anti-tank rockets at at a Turkish truck carrying goods to a US military base. The rockets set the vehicle on fire. The fate of the driver was not immediately known.

In Baquba, three civilians were wounded when the bus they were travelling in was hit by a roadside bomb.

Two truck drivers of Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan nationality taken hostage in Iraq in October have been released, a government minister in Dhaka said. The news followed the release of a Lebanese businessman also seized in October.

In London, a row was brewing over who was to blame for British troop deaths in Iraq last month after Britain's top military officer accused the media of making it easier for rebels to stage attacks.

German Defence Minister Peter Struck meanwhile visited German troops training Iraqi soldiers in the United Arab Emirates and held talks on training Iraqi army engineers in the Gulf country next year.

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