By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, February 9, 2006
BAGHDAD, Feb. 8 -- The leader of Iraq's most powerful Shiite political party called Wednesday for greater respect for human rights by the country's security forces, whose violent raids and arbitrary detentions have provoked anger among the Sunni Arab minority.
Abdul Aziz Hakim, who heads the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, made a rare acknowledgment of Sunni leaders' demands that the Shiite-dominated government rein in the police and army. Sunnis contend that the Supreme Council's militia, the Badr Organization, has used its close links to the security forces to carry out abductions and assassinations.
"We call upon our faithful security forces . . . to continue strongly confronting terrorists but with more consideration to human rights," Hakim said in a televised address delivered on the eve of Ashura, a Shiite holiday that has been marred by deadly attacks in recent years.
Hakim's message veered sharply from his often inflammatory rhetoric, such as the assertion in a recent interview that U.S. forces were undermining the effectiveness of Iraqi troops by discouraging heavy-handed tactics.
The speech appeared timed to discourage a repeat of the annual onslaught of insurgent attacks during Ashura, which commemorates the slaying in A.D. 680 of Hussein, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein's government, which barred Shiite religious celebrations, hundreds of Shiite pilgrims have been killed and wounded during the holiday in bombings and other attacks.
As in the previous two years, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims are expected to descend Thursday on the southern city of Karbala, where Muhammad's grandson Hussein is said to have been killed during a conflict sparked by the historic schism between Sunnis and Shiites.
Observation of the holiday was already underway Wednesday night in the Baghdad neighborhood of Khadimiyah, where hundreds of black-clad Shiites mourned Hussein's death by marching through the streets, ritualistically beating their chests with their fists and slashing at their skin with blades.
Several roads and bridges were closed as part of a nationwide security lockdown for Ashura. The U.S. military reported that a drone aircraft, assisting with security preparation, crashed in the northern Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City. Residents returned it to the Iraqi army, a statement said.
Also Wednesday, the U.S. military announced the deaths of two Marines and a soldier in Anbar province. One of the Marines died when a roadside bomb struck his vehicle in the town of Baghdadi, while the other was killed in a vehicle crash near the town of Qaim, on the Syrian border. The soldier died in a roadside bomb attack, but the military did not say where in Anbar it occurred.
Sami Mudhafer, Iraq's higher education minister, survived an apparent assassination attempt in Baghdad on Wednesday when a car bomb detonated near his vehicle, killing one of his bodyguards and wounding three other people.