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Iraq: The Death-Squad War
Seeking justice among corrupt cops, crooks and torturers.

Michael Hastings, Newsweek

060218_iraq_wide.hlarge.jpg



Feb. 27, 2006 issue - They sat dejectedly on the floor in ill-fitting police uniforms, separated from the other inmates at Baghdad's Al Hakimiya detention facility. The 18 prisoners in blue were members of the highway patrol. Government investigators allege that the prisoners were also part of a roaming death squad and that they had been preparing to kill a Sunni prisoner when they were arrested at a checkpoint in Baghdad in late January. When NEWSWEEK encountered the detained cops during a visit to Al Hakimiya shortly after their arrest, one of them rose to his feet, gave his name as Maan Hadi and denied they had done anything wrong. He said he and his friends had captured a suspect who was wanted by U.S. authorities, but the Iraqi troops running the checkpoint decided to steal credit for the arrest. "They wanted our prisoner, and when we refused to give him up right away, they arrested us," Hadi said. "They beat the crap out of us."

U.S. and Iraqi officials are calling the group's arrest a breakthrough. "We have found one of the death squads," Maj. Gen. Joseph Peterson told the Chicago Tribune last week. "They are a part of the police force of Iraq." No one knows how many death squads are currently operating in Iraq, but in the past year hundreds of murdered bodies have been found, many of them with their wrists bound execution style and a single bullet through the head. Some death squads are killing Shiites; others are executing Sunnis. In many cases, witnesses tell of victims being abducted by unidentified men in police uniforms. Almost unnoticed amid the country's chaos, the dirty war is beginning to rival the insurgency in its deadliness and in its damage to national stability. "This is very dangerous," says Deputy Prime Minister Rowsch Shaways. "If it keeps up like this, it will lead us to civil war."

The patrolmen seemingly made no effort to disguise what they were doing when their five-car convoy pulled up at the checkpoint in northern Baghdad. They freely declared that they were taking their Sunni prisoner to a place where they could kill him, the Tribune reported. There were 22 officers in the group altogether. The four apparent ringleaders were taken into U.S. custody at Abu Ghraib, and the other 18 were sent to Al Hakimiya. Their prisoner was reportedly thrown in jail, tooŚon murder charges. The day after the general's interview hit the papers, Iraq's Ministry of Interior (MOI) hurriedly broke its long silence on the death squads, promising to launch a formal investigation. "Sunnis and Shiites are killing each other," the MOI official directing the inquiry, Hussein Ali Kamal, told NEWSWEEK. "Sunnis are attacking Shiite mosques. Shiites are attacking Sunni mosques. Both have death squads."

Can Iraqis trust the Ministry of Interior to put a stop to it? Interior is one of Iraq's most dishonest ministries, according to Judge Rahdi Hamza al-Rahdi, director of the government's top anti-corruption agency, the Commission on Public Integrity. Roughly 400 MOI officials are currently under the commission's scrutiny.

The fears are underscored by the way the MOI runs its detention facilities. Bribery is said to be so rampant that a standard list of under-the-table fees has apparently evolved. Mohammed Abid, a defense lawyer in Baghdad, says clients describe prices that range from 30,000 Iraqi dinar (about $21) for one minute on a mobile phone to $40,000 in U.S. currency for release from custody. Those rates are independently confirmed by an Iraqi police officer who has spent two years working at Al Hakimiya and does not wish to be named, out of fear and shame. "I'm coming forward for reasons that are between me and Allah," he says. "I have done things. I needed to tell someone." He says torture and beatings are part of the daily routine, creating an eager market for guards who sell painkillers to the inmates.

Iraq's officer in charge at Al Hakimiya, Brig. Gen. Tha-mer Sadoon, denies that any serious abuses have taken place there since his arrival in September. The Ministry of Interior refused to talk to NEWSWEEK about conditions at other MOI-run facilities. Some of those detention centers may not even be known. "I can surely say there are secret prisons," says Aida Sharif, a deputy minister at Iraq's Ministry of Human Rights. And God only knows what goes on there.

With Babak Dehghanpisheh in Baghdad
ę 2006 Newsweek, Inc.



:: Article nr. 20872 sent on 22-feb-2006 04:29 ECT

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