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Police gang stopped by Iraqi investigators

Rick Jervis, USA TODAY

March 14, 2006

BAGHDAD Ś Iraqi investigators broke up a ring of police officers who were kidnapping people, extorting ransoms and often killing their victims, a top U.S. military officer said Tuesday.

The allegations are among the most serious charges of police abuse to surface and come amid rising concerns that police and paramilitary forces are breeding grounds for Shiite Muslim death squads and militias.

The gang operated in northern Baghdad and was allegedly commanded by an Iraqi police major general, one of the highest-ranking officers implicated to date in an Iraqi-led investigation into allegations of death squads and sectarian militias functioning within police and paramilitary units, U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Peterson. said in an interview.

"These guys are a kidnapping ring, extorting money for personal profit and gain," said Peterson, the U.S. commander in charge of training Iraqi police. "But they were also killing people."

The police major general, whose name and title were not provided, and 17 other police officers were arrested last month. The high-ranking officer was questioned but later released by an Iraqi judge and remains under investigation, Peterson said.

The other 17 remain in Iraqi custody. "We believe (they) are not politically motivated," Peterson said.

Bodies of Iraqis who appear to have been executed have turned up with regularity around the country. Sunni Arab leaders and others have alleged that many are victims of Shiite death squads or militias operating within Iraq's Interior Ministry.

Tuesday, police and Iraqi government officials said the bodies of at least 87 people who had been shot execution-style had been found around Baghdad in the previous 24 hours, the Associated Press reported.

The killings may have been sectarian reprisals for weekend attacks that killed 58 people in Sadr City, a Shiite slum of Baghdad. There has been no evidence linking those deaths to police officers or militias, but the news of the alleged kidnapping ring raises questions about the depth of police corruption.

The police ring was discovered as part of the investigation into the kidnapping of Jill Carroll, an American journalist who was abducted from western Baghdad in January, Peterson said.

The officers are not believed to be involved in Carroll's disappearance.

Since December, the Interior Ministry's internal affairs department has been investigating allegations of kidnappings, militia infiltration and death squads within police ranks.

"The security forces are perceived by many Iraqis as being under the influence of these militias," said Adnan Pachachi, a former foreign minister and leading Sunni politician. "There seems to be empirical evidence that especially the Interior Ministry have been infiltrated by these forces, no doubt."

A death squad made up of 22 highway patrolmen was arrested in January, allegedly on their way to kill a captive, Peterson said.

Four of those 22 remain in custody; the others will not be charged because they said they were following orders, Peterson said.


:: Article nr. 21560 sent on 15-mar-2006 05:02 ECT

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Link: www.usatoday.com/news/world/iraq/2006-03-14-iraqi-police-gang_x.htm?POE=NEWISVA



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