Official Says Shiite Party Suppressed Body Count
By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 9, 2006; Page A01
BAGHDAD, March 8 -- Days after the bombing of a Shiite shrine unleashed a wave of retaliatory killings of Sunnis, the leading Shiite party in Iraq's governing coalition directed the Health Ministry to stop tabulating execution-style shootings, according to a ministry official familiar with the recording of deaths.
The official, who spoke on the condition that he not be named because he feared for his safety, said a representative of the Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, ordered that government hospitals and morgues catalogue deaths caused by bombings or clashes with insurgents, but not by execution-style shootings.
A statement this week by the U.N. human rights department in Baghdad appeared to support the account of the Health Ministry official. The agency said it had received information about Baghdad's main morgue -- where victims of fatal shootings are taken -- that indicated "the current acting director is under pressure by the Interior Ministry in order not to reveal such information and to minimize the number of casualties."
The U.N. office said it had not confirmed the information about the morgue and had been unable so far to obtain an accounting of the toll from Iraqi authorities.
Spokesmen for the Health Ministry and the Supreme Council -- commonly known by its initials, SCIRI -- denied that any order to alter the tabulation of deaths had been issued.
Abductions and killings of Sunni Arab men, usually by gunshots to the back of the head, have occurred with increasing frequency over the past year and are widely blamed on government-allied Shiite religious militias and death squads alleged to be operating from inside the SCIRI-dominated Interior Ministry. In particular, Shiite militias have been accused of abducting and executing large numbers of Sunni men in the days immediately following the Feb. 22 destruction of the Askariya mosque, a revered Shiite shrine in the northern city of Samarra.
After a lull in recent days, abductions and killings flared again in Baghdad on Wednesday. Police in west Baghdad found a minibus that contained the bodies of 18 bound and strangled men, and 50 employees of an Iraqi security firm were kidnapped on the east side of the city.
The Washington Post reported on Feb. 28 that more than 1,300 shooting victims had been brought to the morgue in the first six days after the Samarra bombing. The figure was provided by a morgue worker who refused to be identified by name.
Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari denied the account, saying Shiite-Sunni violence had claimed 379 lives in the week following the attack on the shrine. Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the U.S. commander in Iraq, called The Post's report exaggerated and inaccurate. An e-mail sent to U.S. military officials this week seeking updated casualty figures went unanswered.
People keep talking about the "Salvador Option" as if that's happening. It isn't. We're past that.
A death squad is usually a small group of people who kill people in a town, certain officials, mostly as an adjunct to the armed forces.
What you have here is high level mob violence. These folks are walking into neighborhoods and killing people. This is more like Lebanon or Liberia than some organized killing. And what is even more scary is the fact that the Army and police are either turning a blind eye or joining in.
Americans have been awfully naive in dealing with the kind of violence in Iraq now exploding. It isn't just the resistance any longer, but the militias we tolerated to help keep order and failed.
None of Saddam's strategic challenges have disappeared, just the means for resolving them.
When the Iranians talk about inflicting pain on the US, people think oil. Well, that may be part of it, but so is a full throated Shia uprising. And that's a lot cheaper to start and hide than slowing oil production. Toss in a few kidnappings and the recipe for anarchy is right there.
The problem for US forces is the day the Iraqi Army goes home and chooses sides, leaving them totally exposed. Saddam's former UN ambassador was on CNN last night. He was chortling at being right and predicted many of the exiles would soon be leaving with the US. But he was right and there is little to say about him being right.
The end game is coming.
posted by Steve @ 12:24:00 AM