Friday, March 03, 2006attacks of the past few weeks:
Morgue pressed to stay quiet
Death toll since blast vigorously debated
By ELLEN KNICKMEYER
The Washington Post
March 01. 2006 8:00AM
Officials overseeing Baghdad's morgue have come under pressure not to investigate the soaring number of apparent cases of executions and torture in the country, the former U.N. human rights chief for Iraq said yesterday.
John Pace, who left his post in Iraq earlier this month, spoke as Iraqi and U.S. officials offered widely varying numbers for the toll so far in the explosion of sectarian violence that followed last Wednesday's bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.
Pace said the pressure had come from "both sides,"but declined to give further details. The statement appeared to refer to both the Shiite-led government and the Sunni insurgency fighting it.
Prime Minister Ibrahim Al-Jaafari said yesterday that the death toll provided to The Washington Post by Baghdad morgue workers -more than 1,300 dead since last Wednesday - was "inaccurate and exaggerated."
Al-Jaafari said the toll was 379. Gen. Ali Shamarri of the Interior Ministry statistics department put the toll at 1,077.
U.S. and Iraqi officials offered figures yesterday both higher and lower than Al-Jaafari's count. The U.S. military said it had confirmed 220 deaths. Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a military spokesman in Iraq, said the country's joint Iraqi-U.S. operations center reported receiving accounts of 365 civilian deaths, and said officials at the center believed the count could reach about 550.
Last week's bombing of the Askariya shrine, also known as the Golden Mosque, in Samarra unleashed the most intense burst of Shiite-Sunni violence since the U.S. invasion in 2003. Shiite religious militias, particularly the black-clad fighters of cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, deployed in their first wide-scale show of force since their battles with U.S. forces in 2004.
Now, the second part of this, which prompted me to post this entire thing. Yesterday The Guardian reported that the Baghdad official who revealed these tortures and executions to Pace has been forced to flee, adding a great deal of validity to the claims:
Baghdad official who exposed executions flees
Thursday March 2, 2006
Faik Bakir, the director of the Baghdad morgue, has fled Iraq in fear of his life after reporting that more than 7,000 people have been killed by death squads in recent months, the outgoing head of the UN human rights office in Iraq has disclosed.
"The vast majority of bodies showed signs of summary execution - many with their hands tied behind their back. Some showed evidence of torture, with arms and leg joints broken by electric drills," said John Pace, the Maltese UN official. The killings had been happening long before the bloodshed after last week's bombing of the Shia shrine in Samarra.
Mr Pace, whose contract in Iraq ended last month, said many killings were carried out by Shia militias linked to the industry ministry run by Bayan Jabr, a leading figure in the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri).
Mr Pace said records, supported by photographs, came from Baghdad's forensic institute, which passed them to the UN. The Baghdad morgue has been receiving 700 or more bodies a month. The figures peaked at 1,100 last July - many showing signs of torture.
Reports of government-sponsored death squads have sparked fear among many prominent Iraqis, prompting a rise in the number leaving the country. Mr Pace said the morgue's director had received death threats after he reported the murders. "He's out of the country now," said Mr Pace, adding that the attribution of the killings to government-linked militias did not come from Dr Bakir.
"There are other sources for that. Some militias are integrated with the police and wear police uniforms," he said. "The Badr brigade [Sciri's armed wing] are in the police and are mainly the ones doing the killing. They're the most notorious."
Some Iraqis accuse the Mahdi army militia, linked to the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, of seizing and killing people. But Mr Pace said: "I'm not as sure of the Mahdi army as I am of the others."