By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
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.
Most of the additional U.S. forces have been concentrated in Baghdad, Anbar and Diyala provinces, traditional insurgent strongholds.
In political developments Tuesday, the bloc loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ended its month-long boycott of the Iraqi parliament and would return to work immediately, a spokesman said.
Sadr's political followers, who hold 30 of the 275 seats in parliament, had suspended their participation to protest last month's bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, about 65 miles north of Baghdad.
Shiites had criticized Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for not doing enough to protect the historic Askariya shrine after its iconic golden dome was destroyed in a February 2006 bombing. The shrine's two minarets were demolished by explosives on June 13.
A spokesman for the bloc said it ended the boycott after the government agreed to rebuild the shrine. The Sadrists have also been upset by Maliki's failure to set a deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and in April pulled their six ministers out of the prime minister's cabinet -- a protest that will continue, a spokesman said.
"The Sadr party has ended its suspension of membership of parliament," said Salah al-Ubaidi, a spokesman for Sadr. "The Iraqi parliament answered to the demands of the Sadrists to apply pressure on Maliki's government to protect the Shiite shrines, particularly the Askariya imams' shrines."
Boycotts by Sadr's group and the primary Sunni political bloc have all but paralyzed parliament, which is scheduled to consider several significant bills in coming days. Several of those bills, including a proposal to regulate the oil industry, are opposed by Sadr's bloc. Problems in approving the so-called hydrocarbon law, along with other key political initiatives, were among the areas that the Bush administration rated as "unsatisfactory" in a report last week to Congress on progress in Iraq.
In Baghdad, two car bombs killed at least 24 people, police said. About noon, a car bomb exploded near an Iraqi army patrol in the eastern and mainly Shiite neighborhood of Zayouna, killing 20 people, according to police.
Samir Alawi Homwod, 55, said the violence in Zayouna began when a gunman walked into the supermarket next to the bakery where he works and killed the two shopkeepers. As passersby rushed to help the victims, the car bomb detonated immediately outside the store, he said.
"People started to shout and many people were gathering around," Homwod said. "The soldiers told people not to gather all in one place, and as they were leaving, the car bomb exploded."
Homwod said he suffered wounds to his head and leg but was released from the hospital after treatment. The civilians killed had been shopping in the grocery, bakery and other stores nearby, he said.
"I saw maybe 12 dead bodies lying in the street," he said. "Every street we took, we saw dead or wounded people lying on the ground."
In central Baghdad, a car bomb exploded in a parking lot across the street from the Iranian Embassy, killing four people and injuring five, police said. The embassy is a few steps from the wall surrounding the Green Zone.
Special correspondents Dalya Hassan and Saad al-Izzi in Baghdad and other Washington Post staff in Iraq contributed to this report.