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A Certain Peace Amidst a Campaign of Death

Karen Button

May 4, 2006

Two weeks ago I received a harrowing account from a friend in the Adhamiya district of Baghdad. At 7:30 that morning there was shooting in the street and my friend opened the door to find out what was going on. Iraqi National Guard troops shouted at him to close the door immediately. Two seconds later, he told me, shots were fired through the door at head level. "I was shivering to see this hole in the door," he said. "My wife nearly fainted. We kept indoors for eight hours and didn’t move." Inside the house were also two of their children. "How is your wife?" I asked. "Praying," he responded.

This is daily life for Iraqis, where when families say goodbye to each other in the morning, it could be goodbye for good. And Baghdad, where violence is the worst, the country’s most lethal location.

For the past year Baghdad’s morgue has received on average 50 bodies a day, many of them brutally tortured, almost none that have died from natural causes. Morgue staff reported to an Iraqi collegue the average is now over 85 and that they recently received 480 bodies in one day alone—the highest number still remains 1,100 in one day last July.

For months Sunnis in Iraq’s capital have charged there is a campaign of death against them and that Ministry of Interior forces are behind it. Iraqis commonly refer to the 6th floor of the ministry’s building as sites for these tortures, on-the-street knowledge that the government won’t admit to.

Just yesterday, the conservative Iraqi station Al-Sharqiya TV reported that Baghdad’s Al-Yarmouk Hospital received 65 bodies this week alone, 25 of them yesterday, and all without heads. Reuters is reporting "some" were beheaded.

In an interview with Muthana Al-Dhari, spokesperson for the Association of Muslim Scholars, I was told, "It’s not only about the 6th floor, there is the 10th floor as well. The information we get about it is from the witnesses who’ve seen what’s going on in the Ministry of Interior. Three of the people who work in the media department [of the AMS] have been tortured in the Ministry of Interior."

In mid-February Dr. Faik Bakir, then director of Baghdad’s mosque, turned over a detailed report the UN documenting the number of dead received and the ways in which they died. According to Dr. Bakir, the morgue received over 10,000 bodies in 2005, up from the more than 8,000 in 2004 and 6,000 in 2003. He said almost all were "suspicious deaths," citing the causes as violence and war-related rather than by natural causes. Many had been tortured terribly. Most disturbing, he also said 7,000 people had been killed in recent months by death squads.

Before the war, in 2002, Bakir said the morgue had recorded less than 3,000 suspicious deaths.

The 24,000 bodies were from the Baghdad area alone, and do not account for the number of bodies that never make it to the morgue, thrown instead, into garbage piles or ditches, nor for those who have disappeared.

Shortly after, on 22 February, Samara’s Golden Shrine, an important Shi’a mosque, was bombed. The ensuing sectarian violence has been largely blamed for the increase in violence and deaths. While true that sectarian violence has contributed significantly to the loss of life, Imams nationwide called for tolerance and the Iraqi people themselves showed a strong unity in the weeks following.

Dr. Bakir, threatened for his disclosures fled Iraq for his own safety at the end of February.

At least two questions remain: Who is doing the killing and who is promoting sectarian violence?

It was just after this, in March, that The Guardian quoted then outgoing head of the UN human rights office in Iraq, John Pace, "The Badr brigade [Sciri's armed wing] are in the police and are mainly the ones doing the killing. They're the most notorious." Sciri, the Shi’ite political party Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, is backed by Iran. Iraqis also charge that the Medhi Army, the armed militia of Shi’a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, is targeting and killing people and that they, too, are backed by Iran.

Two weeks ago Badr and Mehdi forces were seen operating alongside Iraqi Police in an attack on Adhamiya, a predominantly Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad. Fierce street battles between the IP and residents raged. One resident told me, "We’ve seen the Badr; they are trying to gain control of our neighborhood!"

It was during these clashes that my friend’s front door was blasted through by bullets.

Iraqis have charged for some time that Iranian intelligence forces are part of these militias and are operating inside the Ministry of Interior. Mainstream news sources such as Knight Ridder and Time Magazine have reported the same. But the Adhamiyans had their own proof when five of the 37 militia captured turned out to be Iranians. "They couldn’t even speak Arabic," said one source I spoke with, and had munitions "unlike those used by the Iraqis."

The men were taken to the Abu Hanifa mosque in Adhamiya, where high-level negotiations were held between Sunni Muslim groups and officials from the ministries of the interior and defense.

Residents, able to prove that Iranians were coming with the Iraqi Police, used the leverage to gain a five-point agreement in which the IP, interior ministry forces and all militias were forced to pull out of the district. Residents agreed to accept the presence of the Iraqi National Guard in certain areas, so long as they are working to defeat the death squads, but maintained the right to retaliate if they are seen to be working with any of the militias. Residents also agreed to reel in their own defense forces unless needed. Occupation forces were not included in the agreement; residents maintained their right to resist the occupation.

A similar agreement was drawn up six months ago, but this one has, for the most part, held for two weeks now.

When I asked my friend yesterday if the agreement was still holding he replied, "There are explosions everywhere in Baghdad, but not in Adhamiya."

Adhamiyans can now walk freely down the street, shops have re-opened, cars have appeared back on the road…though driving outside of Adhamiya is still as dangerous as ever and a desperate situation remains regards lack of water and electricity in a city where the temperature hovers daily around 100 degrees.

The irony, of course, is that the peace in Adhamiya is being maintained not because US troops and government security forces are present, but because they are gone.

Contributions to this article from Arkan Hamad in Baghdad.

:: Article nr. 23071 sent on 05-may-2006 03:10 ECT


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