An Iraqi Village's Deadly Nightmare
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
BAGHDAD, July 17 -- They arrived early Tuesday morning in a straight line of official-looking vehicles, about 125 men dressed in Iraqi army fatigues and carrying standard-issue weapons. Aziza Abdul Jabbar and her relatives ran out of her home, believing the military had arrived to protect their tiny village in Diyala province.
Then the men opened fire in the darkness, shooting indiscriminately. Abdul Jabbar, 65, told a relative that she watched as they killed her son, daughter and 7-year-old grandson. The men cursed at her to go indoors, which she did, cowering in her mud-walled home as the shots continued. She thought the men might not ever stop shooting.
By the time the sun rose over the village, 30 of its people -- including four children -- were dead.
The attack in Duwailiya, a village of several hundred people, served as a reminder of how volatile Diyala remains despite a massive U.S. military presence. The massacre occurred just a few hours before Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters during a visit to Iraq that he is optimistic about U.S. and Iraqi efforts to stem violence in Baghdad and other parts of the country.
Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, the top U.S. military commander in northern Iraq, said at a news conference last week that the situation in Diyala had improved. "Now that the surge has reached its full strength, we are seeing definitive progress" in Diyala, he said, referring to President Bush's decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq this year.
Police said violence seemed to be decreasing in the rural area that includes Duwailiya. Villagers hardly thought of themselves as Sunnis or Shiites, said resident Muhsin Abdullah al-Tamimi, 55, who spoke to a Washington Post special correspondent by telephone.
"We are all prisoners here -- Sunni and Shiite doesn't matter," said Tamimi, a Shiite and a relative of Abdul Jabbar. He relayed her account to The Post.
"We don't blame our Sunni brothers for what happened. They're suffering just like us," Tamimi said.
Brig. Gen. Raziq Abdul Radhi, an Iraqi military spokesman in Diyala, said insurgents perceived the villagers as hostile and had threatened them. He said he did not know how the attackers obtained what appeared be brand-new police vehicles but conceded that they could have been members of security forces. The attack was first reported in the New York Times.
Pace said he was particularly pleased with the security situation in Baghdad and Anbar province, the vast region west of the capital.
"What I'm hearing now is a sea change that is taking place in many places here," Pace said, according to the Associated Press. "It's no longer a matter of pushing al-Qaeda out of Ramadi, for example, but rather -- now that they have been pushed out -- helping the local police and the local army have a chance to get their feet on the ground and set up their systems," he added, referring to the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Pace said his largely favorable impression of security in the region would influence what he tells Bush about the results of the troop increase. Pace said Monday that he was considering various recommendations to the president, including removing troops or sending more.