Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I Sure Am Glad We Got Rid Of Saddam's Rape Rooms and Death Squads

My favorite part about this LA Times article exposing the existence of Shiite milita death squads working within the Iraqi Interior Ministry as police is where the Interior Minister, the man who apparently leads the death squads, has also been given the job of investigating whether they exist or not:

BAGHDAD — A 1,500-member Iraqi police force with close ties to Shiite militia groups has emerged as a focus of investigations into suspected death squads working within the country's Interior Ministry.

Iraq's national highway patrol was established largely to stave off insurgent attacks on roadways. But U.S. military officials, interviewed over the last several days, say they suspect the patrol of being deeply involved in illegal detentions, torture and extrajudicial killings.

The officials said that in recent months the U.S. has withdrawn financial and advisory support from the patrol in an effort to distance the American training effort from what they perceived to be a renegade force.

"We don't train them, we don't give them equipment, we don't conduct site visits over there. They are just bad, criminal people," said a high-ranking U.S. military officer who advises the Interior Ministry. The officer was one of three who each spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they wanted to maintain relationships with Iraqi police officials and avoid retaliation by U.S. military superiors.

Last month, Iraqi army soldiers stopped a 22-member squad of uniformed highway patrol officers at a nighttime checkpoint in northern Baghdad and discovered a man in their custody who told them the police planned to kill him. His contention was supported by confessions of officers in the squad, U.S. advisors said.


The U.S. military works closely with Iraqi army units, conducting joint operations and sharing space on some military bases. By contrast, police forces have evolved far more independently in approximately 11,000 stations and outposts around the nation.

The result is a motley conglomeration of agencies under the Interior Ministry with overlapping jurisdictions and poorly defined functions.

"You've got the facilities protection service, the public order brigades, the commandos, the highway patrol, the regular police, the traffic police, patrol officers," said a second U.S. military official.

"Who knows who they all are? Nobody controls them but the minister," the officer said, referring to Interior Minister Bayan Jabr.

Jabr, a Shiite with close ties to the Badr Brigade, a paramilitary group, has been at the center of allegations of abuse at the hands of Iraqi security forces. The minister's notoriety rose last year as the bodies of hundreds of men — mostly Sunni Arabs — started appearing in sewage treatment plants, garbage dumps and desert ravines. Most of the bodies showed signs of torture and execution-style killings. Many families of the deceased said their kin had last been seen in the back of a police vehicle.

The Shiites, who constitute about 60% of the Iraqi population, were severely repressed under Saddam Hussein's regime, which favored the Sunni minority. The Shiites came to power in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003. A Sunni-led insurgency has carried out a campaign of bombings and assassinations against the government.

Over the last two years, Shiite militias within Iraq's security forces have been accused of staging reprisals for the Sunni attacks. Leading Sunni figures have blamed the reprisals on Jabr. Sunni political parties have made his removal from office a key issue in negotiations over whether they will take part in Iraq's Shiite-led government.


U.S. personnel who have been training Iraqi police officers said they long had suspected the highway patrol of conducting illegal raids and killings but had little oversight of the force.

The black-garbed highway patrol officers rarely attend U.S.-financed police academies aimed at improving professionalism and sensitivity to human rights within Iraq's security forces, police trainers said, and have refused to share information about their activities.

U.S. police advisors said the highway patrol was almost entirely Shiite and included a core of 400 to 800 Badr militia members who make up the patrol's 4th Company, which was created last year.

"The 4th Company is filled by people with unconventional militia ties," said the U.S. military officer who advises the Interior Ministry. "Minister Jabr is very supportive of them. The general in charge [of the highway patrol] is very supportive of them."

After the suspected death squad was stopped last month, U.S. police advisors said, four members of the squad confessed to several sectarian killings.

The highway patrol officers were asked, " 'Who are you doing this for?' " said a third U.S. military officer who is involved in training Iraqi troops and has knowledge of the interrogations of the suspected death squad. "And they're telling us, 'Jabr.' " The rest of the squad, said the advisor, has been released.

Sunni Arab leaders complain that an earlier investigation into alleged police abuse has yet to show results.

In November, a U.S. Army unit discovered a secret detention and torture facility run by police officers affiliated with the Badr militia. In all, 169 people had been detained at the secret prison, and photos showed that some inmates had been severely beaten and malnourished.

Jabr pledged to investigate the origin of the detention facility and the possible existence of other secret prisons, even as he downplayed the abuse that had taken place there.

"OK, there were signs of torture … but there were no killings and no beheadings, as some have said," Jabr told reporters in November.

But inmates at the bunker compiled a list of 18 detainees who they said had been tortured to death.

Two U.S. Embassy officials said Monday that Iraqi authorities were conducting visits of Interior Ministry jails and prisons, but declined to release details about the facilities.
My all-time favorite line from any recent story about the Iraqi reconstruction/democracy effort:

"OK, there were signs of torture...but there were no killings or beheadings, as some have said," the Interior Minister told reporters.

Boy, that line sure is funny.

Especially since it comes from the Iraqi official who is apparently running the very death squads he's supposed to be investigating and jailing for criminal activity.

It's so heart-warming to see how the new Iraq is so vastly different from the old Saddam-led Iraq.

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