Iraq's Death Squads

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Sunday, December 4, 2005

OF ALL THE bloodshed in Iraq, none may be more disturbing than the campaign of torture and murder being conducted by U.S.-trained government police forces. Reports last week in the Los Angeles Times and New York Times chronicled how Iraqi Interior Ministry commando and police units have been infiltrated by two Shiite militias, which have been conducting ethnic cleansing and rounding up Sunnis suspected of supporting the insurgency. Hundreds of bodies have been appearing along roadsides and in garbage dumps, some with acid burns or with holes drilled in them. According to the searing account by Solomon Moore of the Los Angeles Times, "the Baghdad morgue reports that dozens of bodies arrive at the same time on a weekly basis, including scores of corpses with wrists bound by police handcuffs." The reports followed a raid two weeks ago by U.S. troops on a clandestine Baghdad prison run by the Interior Ministry, where some 170 men, most of them Sunni and most of them starved or tortured, were found.

The danger this development poses to Iraq, and to the prospects of a successful end to the U.S. mission there, ought to be obvious. A dirty war conducted by the Iraqi government against one ethnic group will make civil war inevitable. It will render impossible a political accord among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, while increasing the likelihood that Iraq will splinter. U.S. commanders will be unable to hand responsibility off to Iraqi forces without inviting a bloodbath, and the training mission that President Bush described at length in his speech on Wednesday will be utterly discredited. If there is to be any chance of achieving Mr. Bush's goals of a united and democratic Iraq that protects the rights of its minorities, the state-sponsored death squads and torture chambers must be dismantled.

Once again, however, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is ignoring a critical threat. Just as he dismissed the insurgency

in its formative months as a few "deadenders" and minimized the systematic breakdown of U.S. discipline in the handling of foreign prisoners as isolated freelancing, Mr. Rumsfeld now pretends not even to know about the government death squads. In a press conference last week, he called the reports "unverified comments." This despite the facts that U.S. troops uncovered the clandestine prison and that officials from the Army, FBI, Justice Department and U.S. Embassy are participating in an investigation.

Worse, Mr. Rumsfeld maintained that "the United States does not have a responsibility" to do anything about the crimes of the police forces it established and trained, other than "report it." Even the man he selected to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, could not support such an irresponsible position. Standing alongside Mr. Rumsfeld, he asserted that "it is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene to stop it."

If Mr. Rumsfeld's view prevails, Mr. Bush's latest "strategy for victory" in Iraq will be fatally undermined. Many of the death squads are run by the Badr Organization, which is the military wing of the leading party in Iraq's Shiite-led government, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Its leader, Abdul Aziz Hakim, not only refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing in an interview last month with the Post's Ellen Knickmeyer, but asserted that U.S. forces were tying Iraqi hands and should get out of the way so that even tougher tactics could be adopted. Should that happen, any hope for peace in Iraq will be lost.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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