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Suspect's Death Evokes Hussein Era

Brutal Beating Reminiscent of Methods of Ex-President's Enforcers, Relatives Say

By Salih Saif Aldin and John Ward Anderson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, April 9, 2005; Page A18

TIKRIT, Iraq -- After the arrival of the Americans and the fall of Saddam Hussein, Hameed Rasheed Sultan and his family thought they had seen the last of the techniques favored by Iraq's old justice system: torture, disappearances and death-in-custody.

But in January Hameed's younger brother, Zawba, was arrested by Iraqi police officers at the family's home, and two days later he turned up dead at a local hospital. Pictures show he had been brutally beaten.


Hameed Rasheed Sultan displays photos of his younger brother, Zawba. The photo below shows Zawba before his arrest. The photo above shows his badly beaten body after he turned up dead at a hospital in Tikrit. (Salih Saif Aldin For The Washington Post)

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A senior Tikrit police official, Col. Jasim Hussein Jbara, said in an interview that Zawba died of low blood pressure shortly after he confessed to blowing up a car outside a shopping mall. There will be no investigation of his death, Jbara said.

The American military initially showed interest in the case and collected evidence, but dropped the matter after a few weeks. An Army spokesman said the U.S. military had no jurisdiction and referred all inquiries about Zawba to the Iraqi police -- the people his brother accuses of killing him.

Hameed said he saw no evidence that anything had changed with the fall of Hussein. "They are using the same methods as the former regime," he said. "If the Americans don't solve this case, there will be no solution at all, because the Iraqi side is a gang that hangs together, and they will never reveal their secrets."

In a recent human rights report on Iraq, the State Department catalogued reports of such practices as "arbitrary deprivation of life, torture, impunity, poor prison conditions -- particularly in pretrial detention facilities -- and arbitrary arrest and detention."

"The police often continued to use the methods employed by the previous regime," the report stated. "Reportedly, coerced confessions and interrogation continued to be the favored method of investigation by police. According to one government official, hundreds of cases were pending at year's end alleging torture."

Many Iraqis see the U.S. military as the country's supreme authority, but U.S. forces technically defer to Iraqi sovereignty and do not want to be seen as dictating the country's path toward democracy and the rule of law.

An Iraqi army official who works with the U.S. military and has detailed knowledge of the case, but who refused to be quoted by name because of its sensitivity, said the Americans apparently dropped their investigation because of concern that it would infringe on Iraqi sovereignty.

"The people want the Americans to arrest the Iraqis" who were behind the killing, and who are well known, the officer said. "But when we talk to the Americans about this, they say it's a matter of Iraqi sovereignty" and refuse to get involved.

In an e-mail response to questions about Zawba's death, Maj. Richard Goldenberg, a spokesman for the U.S. Army in Tikrit, said: "We recognize and respect the Iraqi Police Services and law enforcement personnel to conduct their own operations and internal investigations as needed. This is a case for Iraqi law enforcement."

Jbara, the Tikriti police colonel, runs the unit that was interrogating Zawba just before he died. Jbara said Zawba, 37, confessed to detonating a car bomb at a mall on Jan. 26 and to being a member of a terrorist group responsible for killing and wounding more than 50 people.

Two other people arrested with him -- his cousin, Bashar Subhi Sultan, 27, and a young neighbor, Safaa Ismail Douri, 15 -- also confessed to being involved in the car bombing, Jbara said, and are being held for trial. Relatives said the suspects, who were arrested early on Jan. 27, denied involvement in the bombing. Zawba, a father of two who taught construction at a local trade school, and Bashar, who studied at that school, were near the mall the day of the bombing only because they were waiting at a bus stop for a relative returning from a trip to Mecca, their brothers said in interviews.

Safaa's father, Ibrahim Ismail Douri, said his son was at the mall because he had just returned from an out-of-town bus trip. He said he last saw his son on Jan. 29 and that it was clear he had been beaten.


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