Monday, July 10, 2006
More Than 50 Brutally Executed in Baghdad
By Joshua Partlow and Saad al-Izzy
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, July 9, 2006; 12:42 PM
BAGHDAD, July 9 -- Shiite militiamen rampaged through a Baghdad neighborhood Sunday morning, killing more than 50 people and leaving many of the bodies littering the streets, according to Iraqi officials and witnesses. The attacks were apparently retaliation for a car bombing at a Shiite mosque the night before.
The dramatic display of sectarian killing began when armed men, some dressed in black, entered the al-Jihad neighborhood of western Baghdad. They set up checkpoints to stop cars, burst into homes, and singled out Sunni Arab residents for execution, witnesses and police said. Some of the corpses were handcuffed and pocked with bullet holes while others were pegged with nails, witnesses said.
Police picked up 57 bodies from the neighborhood, and three Interior Ministry police were also killed there, said Ali Hussein, a commando with the Interior Ministry who ferried bodies to the Yarmouk Hospital. Gen. Saad Mohammed al-Tamini of the Interior Ministry confirmed that more than 50 people were killed.
[Late in the day, bombs in two parked car struck the al-Timim Shiite mosque in central Baghdad, killing 17 people and wounding 38, according to police Lt. Mohammed Khayoun.]
Residents of al-Jihad identified the gunmen as members of the Mahdi Army, the powerful militia controlled by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. In the past three days Iraqi troops, with the support of U.S.-led coalition forces, have raided the homes of some leaders of the Mahdi Army homes and detained them.
Iraq's deputy prime minister for security affairs, Salam al-Zawbae, accused the defense and interior ministries of working with the militias to carry out the violence.
"Interior and defense ministries are infiltrated [by militias] and there are officials who lead brigades who are involved in this," Zawbae said in an interview on al-Jazeera television. "What is happening now is an ugly slaughter."
Officials in Sadr's organization denied the involvement of the Mahdi Army.
"Since we joined the parliament, the Sadr movement and the Mahdi Army became targets," said Sahib al-Amiri, a close aide to Sadr in the southern holy city of Najaf. "They don't have any evidence that the armed men who are killing in al-Jihad neighborhood are members of the Mahdi Army."
"These armed men are receiving their orders from the occupation forces to create civil strife among Iraqi people," he added.
Across the al-Jihad neighborhood, a predominantly Sunni enclave along the road to the Baghdad International Airport, police in white pickup trucks patrolled the roads. Fighters gathered in the streets holding rocket launchers and belts of machine gun ammunition. A hot wind scoured across the neighborhood scattering the black smoke that billowed from burning tires.
Ali Muhsin, 58, a retiree from al-Jihad, said he witnessed three cars of gunmen pull up near his house and begin shooting people. Four corpses lay on the ground about 100 yards from his door and another four were shot at a vegetable market nearby, he said.
He saw gunmen get out of an Opal sedan, grab two bodies from the trunk, "and throw them on the street," he said.
"The whole problem and the killings is because of the occupation and the government is trying to create sectarian violence," he said.
Residents said that the violence stemmed from a car bomb attack on the Shiite Al-Zahra mosque Saturday night.
When Abdul Rahman Mohammed Hameed woke up at 9 a.m. Sunday he said he saw Mahdi Army militiamen deployed in the streets and manning a checkpoint on the main commercial street through the neighborhood. Busloads of militiamen were involved, he said.
"We heard some fierce shooting but it stopped and we have not been able to see what is going on," said Hameed. "We have gathered our stuff to flee the area but we are afraid to leave."
An official in a Sunni political party in al-Jihad said he saw Mahdi Army fighters riding in the same vehicles with Interior Ministry commanders. He took his family out of the house because he feared it would be raided by militiamen. Outside, he said he saw 15 bodies.
"Some of them were tortured with drills," he said. "Some of them were hanged by ropes."
Confronting the Mahdi Army has never been easy for U.S. and Iraqi forces, which put down two Sadr-led uprisings in 2004. While U.S. officials have blamed the group for contributing to the spike in sectarian violence here in recent months, politicians loyal to Sadr control more than 30 seats in Iraq's parliament and several cabinet posts, making the militia a politically risky target.
Special correspondents Bassam Sebti in Baghdad and Saad Sarhan in Najaf contributed to this report.