Iraqi Sunnis Claim Military Has Been Executing Civilians
By Dexter Filkins
THE NEW YORK TIMES
As the U.S. military pushes the largely Shiite Iraqi security services into a larger role in combating the insurgency, evidence has begun to mount suggesting that the Iraqi forces are carrying out executions in predominantly Sunni neighborhoods.
Hundreds of accounts of killings and abductions have emerged in recent weeks, most of them brought forward by Sunni civilians, who claim that their relatives have been taken away by Iraqi men in uniform without warrant or explanation.
Some Sunni males have been found dead in ditches and fields, with bullet holes in their temples, acid burns on their skin, and holes in their bodies apparently made by electric drills. Many have simply vanished.
Some of the young men have turned up alive in prison; in a secret bunker discovered earlier this month in an Interior Ministry building in Baghdad, American and Iraqi officials acknowledged that some of the mostly Sunni inmates appear to have been tortured.
Bayan Jabr, Iraq’s interior minister, and other government officials, denied any government involvement, saying the killings were carried out by men driving stolen police cars and wearing police and army uniforms purchased at local markets. “Impossible! Impossible!” Jabr said. “That is totally wrong; it’s only rumors; it is nonsense.”
Many of the claims of murder and abduction have been substantiated by at least one human rights organization working here — which asked not to be identified because of safety concerns — and documented by Sunni leaders working in their communities.
American officials, who are overseeing the training of the Iraqi army and the police, acknowledge that police officers and Iraqi soldiers, and the militias with which they are associated, may indeed be carrying out killings and abductions in Sunni communities, without direct American knowledge.
But they also say it is difficult, in an already murky guerrilla war, to determine exactly who is responsible. The American officials insisted on anonymity because they were working closely with the Iraqi government and did not want to criticize it publicly.
The widespread conviction among Sunnis that the Shiite-led government is bent on waging a campaign of terror against them is sending waves of fear through the community, just as Iraqi and American officials are trying to coax the Sunnis to take part in nationwide elections on Dec. 15.
Sunnis believe that the security forces are carrying out sectarian reprisals, in part to combat the insurgency, but also in revenge for years of repression at the hands of Saddam Hussein’s government.
Ayad Allawi, a prominent Iraqi politician who is close to the Sunni community, charged in an interview published Sunday in The London Observer that the Iraqi government — and the Ministry of Interior in particular — was condoning torture and running death squads.
The allegations raise the possibility of the war being fought here by a set of far messier rules, as the Americans push more responsibility for fighting it onto the Iraqis. One worry, expressed repeatedly by American and Iraqis here, is that an abrupt pullout of U.S. troops could clear the way for a sectarian war.