Corpses are found by the dozen as police join death spree
From James Hider in Baghdad
THE corpses of ten men who had been handcuffed, tortured and shot in the head were found in the eastern outskirts of Baghdad yesterday as tension between Iraq’s Sunni and Shia communities escalated.
The discovery came a day after 12 bodies were found in similar circumstances. All but one of the twelve were Sunnis, including a cleric.
Last weekend ten Sunni men suffocated after being locked up for hours in an unventilated van by police commandos. It was not immediately known whether the ten men found yesterday were Sunni or Shia.
The almost daily appearance of bodies is fuelling Iraq’s already boiling sectarian hatreds, and Shia leaders, whose community has been slaughtered in car bombs by Sunni insurgents and their al-Qaeda allies, are struggling to prevent powerful Shia militias such as the Mahdi Army from seeking revenge, effectively triggering a civil war.
“Every day we find innocent people killed and their bodies dumped on the streets. We don’t know who’s responsible,” said Major-General Hussein al-Kamal, head of the Interior Ministry’s intelligence department. “The minister has ordered that a special committee look into this explosive issue.”
In the present tinderbox, even the smallest incident can spark tragedy. Last week a Shia family of nine were killed by gunmen in their home in Baghdad. The father, who was away when his wife and children were murdered, said the killing was sectarian.
Three months earlier he had become embroiled in an argument with a local Sunni barber who had mocked pictures of the Shia saint Imam Ali that he saw on the screen of his son’s mobile phone. The father remonstrated with the barber, who was later killed by unknown gunmen. The father said he believed his family had been attacked in revenge.
The bodies found yesterday were dressed in white Arab robes, with no identity documents on them. No one claimed them and the coroner could not say if they were Sunni or Shia. The only certainty is that once they are identified, someone will want revenge.
Sunni leaders said that the men whose corpses were found on Wednesday had been arrested before dawn in a series of police raids on their homes. Hours later they were found tortured, murdered and dumped in a streets in the Shia slum of Sadr City.
Sheikh Hassan Sabri Salman, of the hardline Association of Muslim Scholars, which supports anti-American guerrillas, said dozens of members of the much-feared Interior Ministry commando brigade had raided houses in northern Baghdad and detained a Sunni cleric named Dia Mohammed al-Janabi and the other men.
Sheikh Salman said they were taken to a nearby apartment “where they were locked in a small room and tortured before being executed”.
Adnan al-Dulaimi, a moderate Sunni leader and head of the Sunni Waqf, or religious endowment, called for an investigation into allegations of extrajudicial killings, the latest in a series of such charges levelled at the police commandos who are known as an efficient but ruthless paramilitary unit.
“This isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened,” Mr al-Dulaimi said. “We want to know who is responsible for such horrible crimes.”
Sheikh Salman’s accusations were lent weight when the Interior Ministry admitted that police commandos had locked ten Sunni men in an unvent- ilated police van at the weekend and left them inside. They had apparently been rounded up after a security patrol came under fire.With Iraq’s police poorly trained, understaffed and badly equipped, Shia militias such as the Mahdi Army have taken the law into their own hands in areas of Baghdad, rounding up suspected Sunni extremists.
Mahdi militiamen admit that they kill some of the detainees. Senior Iraqi officials say that frustrated security forces, mainly Shias and Kurds, sometimes torture and summarily kill suspects.