The Multinational Corps-Iraq said on Monday three members of 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, have been charged in connection with the deaths of three male detainees during an operation near Thar Thar Canal in southern Salahuddin province on May 9.

"A non-commissioned officer and two soldiers each have been charged with violating several articles of the uniform code of military justice including murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, communicating a threat, and obstructing justice," an announcement said.

It added that "on the day the alleged murders occurred, the unit commander ordered an inquiry to determine the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the three detainees".

Investigation

It said that a criminal investigation began on May 17 and is ongoing.

"The soldiers are currently in pre-trial confinement awaiting an Article 32 hearing to determine if sufficient evidence exists for the case to be referred to court-martial," the announcement said

Once charged, defendants have the right to an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury investigation.

Last week, the US Army announced that it had opened a criminal investigation into the suspicious deaths of three men in military custody in Iraq.

The investigation was requested by Lieutenant General Peter W Chiarelli, commander of multinational forces in Iraq.

Chiarelli's request and the decision to open the probe were announced on Thursday in an e-mail from Baghdad. Chiarelli acted on the basis of suspicions raised by soldiers about the deaths.