BAGHDAD - A US military court deciding whether four soldiers should be court-martialled for rape and murder heard closing arguments today, with a prosecutor saying the crimes had nothing to do with the strains of war.

"Murder not war. Rape not war. That's what we're here talking about today. Not all that business about cold food, checkpoints, personnel assignments," said Prosecutor Captain Alex Pickands.

"Cold food didn't kill that family. Personnel assignments didn't rape and murder that 14-year-old little girl. They gathered together over cards and booze and come up with a plan to rape and murder that little girl."

The case has outraged Iraqis and led Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to call for a review of foreign troops' immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law.

The article 32 hearing -- the military equivalent of a grand jury -- heard earlier how troops were "driven nuts" by combat stress and how one of the accused burnt a puppy.

Private First Class Justic Cross described how conditions "pretty much crushed the platoon", which lived in constant fear of being killed in the Mahmudiya area south of Baghdad where the rape and murders took place in March.

"It drives you nuts. You feel like every step you might get blown up. You just hit a point where you're like, 'If I die today, I die'. You're just walking a death walk," he said.

Yesterday, the court at Camp Liberty heard graphic testimony of how three of the soldiers took turns raping the Iraqi girl before murdering her and her family.

Mahmudiya is part of what Iraqis call the Triangle of Death for its frequent attacks and kidnappings by insurgents and al Qaeda militants.

Private First Class Jesse Spielman, 21, Specialist James Barker, 23, Sergeant Paul Cortez, 23 and Private First Class Bryan Howard, 19, face charges of rape and murder among others.

If court-martialled after the Article 32 hearing and found guilty, they could face the death penalty. The hearing began on Monday and is expected to last several days.

Private Steven Green, 21, faces the same charges in a US federal court in Kentucky, home of the 502nd Infantry Regiment, his former unit. Green, who has pleaded not guilty, was discharged from the army for a "personality disorder".

Asked by a defence attorney if it was possible that Green committed the rape and murders on his own, Cross said: "Green does nothing by himself."

Staff Sergeant Eric Lauzier, the squad leader for the accused soldiers, told the hearing that Green often said he wanted to kill Iraqis.

During the testimony, soldiers spoke of how Green threw a puppy off the roof of a building and then set it on fire.

Cross told the hearing how soldiers took Iraqi cough syrup which "makes you feel high" to relieve stress.

"Everybody was very depressed. It was (an) outlet to release," he said.

An Iraqi army medic told the hearing on Sunday he entered the house and found the body of 14-year-old Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi naked and burnt from the waist up, with a single bullet wound beneath her left eye.

A fifth soldier, Sergeant Anthony Yribe, is charged with dereliction of duty and making a false statement.

"She was young and attractive. They knew where she was because they had seen her on a previous patrol. She was close. She was vulnerable."

The hearing was adjourned.

- REUTERS