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Sunday, March 26, 2006

This is not a Civil War

Mohannad al-Azawi, 27, center, a Sunni, was
dragged from his pet shop on March 12. His
mutilated body, background, was found the next day.

Bound, Blindfolded and Dead: The Face of Revenge in Baghdad

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 25 — Mohannad al-Azawi had just finished sprinkling food in his bird cages at his pet shop in south Baghdad, when three carloads of gunmen pulled up.

In front of a crowd, he was grabbed by his shirt and driven off.

Mr. Azawi was among the few Sunni Arabs on the block, and, according to witnesses, when a Shiite friend tried to intervene, a gunman stuck a pistol to his head and said, "You want us to blow your brains out, too?"

Mr. Azawi's body was found the next morning at a sewage treatment plant. A slight man who raised nightingales, he had been hogtied, drilled with power tools and shot.

In the last month, hundreds of men have been kidnapped, tortured and executed in Baghdad. As Iraqi and American leaders struggle to avert a civil war, the bodies keep piling up. The city's homicide rate has tripled from 11 to 33 a day, military officials said. The period from March 7 to March 21 was typically brutal: at least 191 corpses, many mutilated, surfaced in garbage bins, drainage ditches, minibuses and pickup trucks.

There were the four Duleimi brothers, Khalid, Tarek, Taleb and Salaam, seized from their home in front of their wives. And Achmed Abdulsalam, last seen at a checkpoint in his freshly painted BMW and found dead under a bridge two days later. And Mushtak al-Nidawi, a law student nicknamed Titanic for his Leonardo DiCaprio good looks, whose body was returned to his family with his skull chopped in half.

What frightens Iraqis most about these gangland-style killings is the impunity. According to reports filed by family members and more than a dozen interviews, many men were taken in daylight, in public, with witnesses all around. Few cases, if any, have been investigated.

Part of the reason may be that most victims are Sunnis, and there is growing suspicion that they were killed by Shiite death squads backed by government forces in a cycle of sectarian revenge. This allegation has been circulating in Baghdad for months, and as more Sunnis turn up dead, more people are inclined to believe it.

"This is sectarian cleansing," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of Parliament, who has maintained a degree of neutrality between Shiites and Sunnis.

posted by Steve @ 8:11:00 PM

8:11:00 PM

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