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'The cheapest thing in Iraq is a human life'

Anthony Loyd, Ali Hamdani, and Ali al Khafaji

Baghdad, February 25, 2006

"WILL all those from the Sha’ab district come forward?" a policeman shouted from the doorway of the mortuary.

A group of Sunni men detached themselves from the crowd in the yard and shuffled towards him over the blood-stained ground. The hopeless among them wept and cursed. Others, clinging to the belief that their missing relatives were somehow still alive, stood in ashen-faced silence.

Sporadically a spasm of rage ran through the crowd and accusations were yelled at the gate of the yard, where a checkpoint of police commandos stared dispassionately at the crowd, blaring Shia "latmia" music through the loudspeakers on their vehicles as if in triumph.

Atta Dulaimi, 57, was one of those from the Sha’ab district of Baghdad, a mixed area in the northeast of the capital, who moved towards the mortuary door.

The Sunni teacher’s son, Walid, had returned home to Iraq on Wednesday after nine months working in Syria. Hours after his return, as he sat talking with his family at his father’s house, gunfire and explosions erupted outside. A Shia militia unit was attacking the neighbourhood’s Sunni mosque, blasting it with rocketfire and bullets.

Seconds later gunmen dressed in black burst into Mr Dulaimi’s house. They dragged Walid out to the street where two pick-up trucks were waiting. His father stumbled out into the street after them. "It was no use. I couldn’t do anything. They were so aggressive. They took my son away and dragged away a neighbour’s son too," Mr Dulaimi told The Times yesterday.

A balding, bespectacled man dressed in a shirt and jersey, he had no idea whether his son was one of the 127 corpses taken to the mortuary by midday yesterday after the night of killing by Shia death squads that followed the destruction of Samarra’s al-Askariya shrine.

Mr Dulaimi’s story was repeated time and time again by those in the waiting Sunni crowd: men dressed in black, armed and enraged, attacking mosques, dragging away Sunni men.

From Dora in southern Baghdad, to Sha’ab in the city’s north, teams of Shia killers had moved apparently unchallenged through the city, attacking Sunni mosques, rounding up and killing Sunni men, sometimes cheered on by soldiers at Iraqi army checkpoints.

The conduct of those soldiers should give pause to those in Britain and America who believe that the new Iraqi Army will be an impartial force capable of keeping order in the country so that coalition troops can withdraw.

Wednesday night’s murder spree showed them to be partisan at best, complicit at worse.

At dawn yesterday the fate of Baghdad’s missing Sunni males became clear.

They lay sprawled on rubbish dumps, beside railtracks, in abandoned factory yards and ditches.

Their hands had been bound, and they had bullets through their heads.

Many were found at the edge of Sadr city, the Shia ghetto in the north of the city where the al-Mahdi army militia holds sway. The al-Mahdi army is loyal to the radical cleric Moqtadr al-Sadr, who on Wednesday demanded revenge for the bombing of Samarra’s al-Askariya shrine.

"They brought three Sunnis they had captured at Baladiyat mosque to Sadr city last night," a senior Shia official in the ghetto told The Times yesterday. "The Sadrists had lost two men attacking the mosque so as revenge they executed the three publicly in the streets at 11pm. They have at least 50 or 60 others prisoner; Sunnis captured from different neighbourhoods."

At the city’s main mortuary yesterday corpses were piled in the corridors according to the districts where they had been discovered. Periodically a policeman would shout the name of a district to the crowd outside and take families to see if they could find their missing men.

There were no stretchers, sheets or shrouds. The bodies were simply identified, pulled from the piles, dumped into cheap coffins and removed from the building by any available transport. Some were simply tied to the roofs of taxis.

"Don’t cry," one man told his daughter. "We’ve got to get used to this by now. The cheapest thing in Iraq is a human."

Finally it was Mr Dulaimi’s turn. He walked slowly into the mortuary with his brother and a nephew, looking down at the long line of corpses. He stopped abruptly. Though he had feared the worst, nothing had prepared him for the sight of his dead son’s face. "Tortured!" he cried as he turned to his weeping cousin. "How can one imagine? They have pulled out his eye and teeth."


"This senseless crime is an affront to people of faith throughout the world."

George W. Bush, US President

"The perpetrators of this act had one motive and one alone. They want to cause strife and violence between Sunni and Shia to derail democracy currently taking hold in Iraq."

Tony Blair, British Prime Minister

"This new ugly crime comes as a warning that there is a conspiracy against the Iraqi people to spark a war among brothers . . . We must co-operate and work together against this danger, the danger of civil war."

Jalal Talabani (an ethnic Kurd), President of Iraq  

"I hope our heroic people will take more care on this occasion to bolster Islamic unity and protect Islamic brotherhood and Iraqi national brotherhood."

Ibrahim al-Jaafari (a Shia), Prime Minister of Iraq

"[The party] strongly condemns this sinful act and calls for a wide-reaching and objective investigation to catch those behind this crime that aims to harm the Iraqi people by provoking . . . sectarian strife."

Iraqi Islamic Party

:: Article nr. 21006 sent on 26-feb-2006 03:03 ECT


Link: www.timesonline.co.uk/printFriendly/0,,1-6047-2056167-6047,00.html

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