By Habib al-Zubaidy
MAHMUDIYA, Iraq, May 22 (Reuters) - Iraqis in the town where U.S. soldiers raped a 14-year-old girl and killed her family said on Friday they were unhappy the ringleader received a life sentence in a U.S. court, not the maximum penalty of execution.
Former U.S. soldier Steven Green, 24, will be sentenced to life in prison after a jury on Thursday failed to agree on whether he deserved death, the penalty sought by prosecutors.
He was found guilty by the same jury two weeks ago of committing the 2006 crimes on the outskirts of the town of Mahmudiya, 20 miles (30 km) south of Baghdad.
"What the American soldier did is a terrorist act and he deserves execution," said Ahmed Samir Jaber, 27, a mechanic, from underneath the bonnet of an old car he was fixing in Mahmudiya, a dusty trading town on the edge of the desert.
"The court has not delivered justice. If I killed an American girl, the American court would have executed me."
Prosecutors said Green was the ringleader of a gang of five soldiers who plotted the attack, donned black "ninja" outfits and raped Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi then killed her, her father, mother and 6-year-old sister.
At the time of his conviction, family members urged a death sentence. None could be immediately contacted on Friday.
Execution is commonplace in Iraq and across the Middle East for lesser crimes than Green’s. At least a dozen convicts were executed this month in Baghdad and over 100 are on death row.
Iraqis said the United States also has the death penalty, and that Green’s sentence smacks of double standards.
"If this girl and her family had been American, he would have been executed for this dirty act. This is not justice," said Ali Mohsen al-Fetlawi, 37, a photo studio owner.
Alaa al-Haribi, 35, a civil servant, said Iraqis felt powerless at the sentence. "We prayed for them to execute him but we can’t do anything about their decision because the court is American, so that’s that," he said.
But one Mahmudiya resident, truck driver Mahmoud Janabi, said the sentence, though falling short of what he hoped, would send a strong message to U.S. troops.
"I’m happy because at least other American soldiers will see this and think twice before doing acts like this again." (For the story on the sentence, click on [nN21316235]) (Writing by Tim Cocks)