By Luke Baker and Alastair Macdonald
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A tearful U.S. soldier was sentenced to a year in jail Wednesday after pleading guilty to abusing Iraqi detainees in a scandal threatening to undermine President Bush's re-election chances.
Military policeman Jeremy Sivits, who apologized to Iraqis at the first court martial of soldiers accused of abuses which sparked worldwide outrage, was also expelled from the army.
It was not enough for Iraqis protesting outside Abu Ghraib prison, scene of the scandal that came to light 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 that became notorious as a torture center during Saddam Hussein's rule.
"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, Sivitis said, pulled out a camera after stamping on naked prisoners.
Sivits, who faced the lightest charges of seven U.S. soldiers accused so far, confessed to pushing a prisoner into the now infamous picture of a pile of naked Iraqis.
Three more 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 Sgt. Ivan Frederick and Sgt. Javal Davis all deferred pleas at hearings and will appear again on June 21.
Generals leading U.S. efforts to bring stability to Iraq before the handover of sovereignty were also questioned over the abuse scandal.
Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, and Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of ground forces in Iraq, faced the Senate Armed Services Committee along with Major General Geoffrey Miller, new head of Abu Ghraib.
"I think this issue needs to be resolved because it directly impacts American support for our effort in winning this war, and that support is clearly eroded since this thing broke," said Arizona Republican Senator John McCain.
The scandal has battered the image of the United States across the Arab world and prompted loud calls from around the globe for Washington to hand over real power to Iraqis.
CLOSE U.S. ALLIES JOIN CHORUS
Even close U.S. allies over Iraq joined the chorus after Monday's assassination of Izzedin Salim, head of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.
A group headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, accused by Washington of working for Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the car bomb.
Italy and Poland, major contributors to U.S.-led forces in Iraq, urged Washington to give Iraqis real power when it hands over sovereignty in six weeks.
The Governing Council was sending a delegation to the United Nations to demand Washington gives a new interim government more powers than intended in the June 30 handover.
U.S. officials say the abuses occurred last October and November at Abu Ghraib, involved about 20 detainees and were limited to a small number of soldiers.
The International Committee of the Red Cross and Amnesty International say they were more systematic and widespread.
Questioned by U.S. senators, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said control of military prisons would be handed to Iraqis as quickly as possible, but there was no timetable.
RELIGIOUS AND ETHNIC DIVIDES
Washington says a sudden U.S. departure from Iraq would risk bloodier anarchy in a country of religious and ethnic divides.
U.S.-led forces are struggling against guerrillas, notably militiamen backing rebel Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.
Iraq's top Shi'ite religious leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who rarely makes public statements, called on Sadr and U.S.-led forces this week to pull out of the holy cities of Najaf and Kerbala. But Sadr appeared to be ignoring the call.
Hospital sources said at least eight Iraqis were killed and 14 wounded in renewed fighting in Kerbala Wednesday near one of Shi'ite Islam's holiest sites.
The clashes erupted as U.S. tanks advanced near the shrine of Imam Hussein in Kerbala, one of several southern cities where Sadr's Mehdi Army militia rose up in a rebellion U.S. forces have spent weeks trying to crush.
U.S. warplanes launched strikes on the fringes of the city as tanks went within 50 yards of the shrine, ringed by a warren of narrow streets in which Sadr's fighters have taken refuge, witnesses said.