Iraq's Government Accused Of Targeting Sunnis

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In Iraq's Anbar province, Sunni Muslims are increasingly worried about a return to sectarian violence. They say the recent deaths of six Sunnis while in custody in Baghdad show that Sunnis are again being targeted by Iraq's Shiite-led government.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

When violence was at its worst in Iraq, the western province of Anbar became known as the heart of the insurgency. Then it became a symbol of Iraq's turnaround when Sunnis joined Americans in fighting terrorists. Now, as U.S. troops pull back, the province has entered a new phase. NPR's Isra Alubie'i takes us to Anbar, where Sunni Muslims fear the Shiite-led government is targeting them.

ISRA ALUBIE'I: Anbar is angry again.

Sheik ABDUL HAMID DUDUA(ph) (Sunni Cleric): (Foreign language spoken)

ALUBIE'I: For years, this province was one of the main centers of Iraq's Sunni-led insurgency. Its mosques preached the mantra of resistance. At Friday prayers in Fallujah recently, Sheik Abdul Hamid Dudua's sermon is defiant, but his ire is no longer directed at the Americans.

Sheik DUDUA: (Through translator) Today we live under a government that claims it is not sectarian. But the reality is something else. And the reality is really bitter. If Iraq slips down this abyss, there will be catastrophes with consequences only God can know.

ALUBIE'I: Across this Iraqi province, officials, religious leaders and ordinary Iraqis say they are furious over what they say are signs that Iraq's Shiite-led government has been targeting Sunnis.

The most recent incident: At least six Sunni detainees died while in custody in Baghdad. The government's version is that they suffocated while being transferred in a poorly ventilated bus. But the families of the victims say the men were clearly subject to torture and abuse.

At the wake in Fallujah, Valliv Jamabi(ph) clutches the prisoner ID of his son, Mushtak(ph). Valliv says on the very day he was told his son would be released, a second message arrived informing him that his 35-year-old son, a father of two kids, had died in custody. Valliv says marks on his body clearly showed that the government's contention that he died of suffocation was a lie.

Mr. VALLIV JAMABI: (Through translator) It was torture. His nose was broken, his arms dislocated. There were marks of beating with a cable on his back. There were electric burns on his legs.

ALUBIE'I: Many here say this is the latest chapter is a Shiite-led campaign of arrest and killing which has intensified since the March 7th election, when a Sunni-backed coalition won the most seats. Revelations of a secret prison allegedly run by sitting Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's personal security force has only increased anger here.

Abu Mohammed(ph) is a civil engineer who attended the funeral of Mushtak Jamabi(ph).

Mr. ABU MOHAMMED (Civil Engineer): (Through translator) I think this is all connected to the revelation of the secret prisons in which many detainees, especially Sunnis, are held without warrants. They kill them so they won't expose what is happening inside of those prisons.

ALUBIE'I: Prime Minister Maliki has denied the charges and says there are not secret prisons in Iraq. Maliki has ordered an investigation into the incident, although many fear the results will not be revealed to the public.

But that has not calmed the feeling of fear and rage in Anbar. Sadun Shalan is the deputy chairman of Anbar Provincial Council. He says that people's patience is running thin here.

Mr. SADUN SHALAN (Deputy Chairman, Anbar Provincial Council): (Through translator) Fallujah is boiling due to the killing of its sons. We will try to keep the situation calm until the government explains what really happened.

ALUBIE'I: It's been over a month since the deaths were announced, and there has been nothing further from the government.

For NPR News, I'm Isra Alubie'i in Baghdad.

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