Revenge Attacks Plague Baghdad
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
The wave of bombings in Baghdad this week has again propelled the Iraq conflict onto the front pages here, but many Iraqis say neighborhood killings and kidnappings, while less spectacular than the bombings, are far worse. The daily death toll has risen dramatically over the past year in Baghdad, with Sunni and Shiite gunmen engaged in a seemingly endless cycle of revenge attacks that the Iraqi government has so far been unable to halt. NPR's Deborah Amos reports.
Mr. FAWAD AWAD(ph) (Iraqi Sunni): (Foreign language spoken)
DEBORAH AMOS reporting:
He has recounted the details many times, but each time Fawad Awad is overcome as he remembers a night raid last month. Thirty-six Sunni men, including his brothers, were dragged from their beds by men in uniform in the west Baghdad neighborhood of Horia(ph).
Mr. AWAD: (Through Translator) More than 40 cars of the Iraqi security forces attacked us. From 1 AM till 4:20 AM they carried out the arrests.
AMOS: Awad says the men wore the distinctive patches of the Volcano Brigade. The Volcano Brigade is a commando unit with the Ministry of Interior, which Awad insists is a Shiite brigade that targets Sunnis.
Mr. AWAD: (Through Translator) They broke the doors, handcuffed them, beat them, swore at them.
AMOS: Horia is a neighborhood of small shops and rundown houses, a mix of Sunnis and Shiites who once lived together peacefully. But mixed neighborhoods are unraveling in the capital. In Horia, Sunnis say they are moving out after the bodies of the Sunni men--19 from one family--were dumped near the Iranian border.
Mr. AWAD: (Through Translator) They squished the women and dragged them by their hair. The mother begged them to leave her just one son, but they kicked her and cursed her.
AMOS: It is not clear why these men were targeted or why Shiites have also been dragged out of their homes and killed. The attackers often arrive in police uniforms, but uniforms are easily bought in the market. The commander of the Volcano Brigade denies his men were involved, but Basam al-Garawi(ph) knows Sunni leaders accuse his men of murder.
Mr. BASAM AL-GARAWI (Volcano Brigade Commander): (Through Translator) I called for a press conference to reply to the accusations, but I received orders that if I do so I would increase their value and give more importance to the whole.
AMOS: A recent United Nations human rights report singled out the events in Horia as an example of what the report calls `the deterioration of law and order.' The UN report spreads the blame, criticizing Sunni insurgents, but also forces linked to the Ministry of Interior.
At the deputy prime minister's office, Ahmed Chalabi, a Shiite, meets a delegation of Sunni Arabs who want an investigation.
Mr. AHMED CHALABI: That area, on average, six--five to six Shia are getting killed a day. You get a reaction like that. Of course, this is--we condemn all this violence.
Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
AMOS: In low, nervous voices, the Sunni men tell Chalabi the Volcano Brigade is to blame.
Mr. CHALABI: Some of these Sunni communities around Baghdad when they come and complain about being arrested and being tortured, they say it's worse than Saddam. I tell you when you say that, you show your ignorance of the suffering of your compatriots. Do you think a Shia person could go into the office of Saddam's deputy and tell him they were being tortured? They immediately admit that this is not the same.
AMOS: But Adnad Dulani(ph), a Sunni leader, rages against the Shiite-dominated government at a news conference after the bodies were found. He says what many Sunnis believe.
Mr. ADNAD DULANI (Sunni Leader): (Through Translator) What is happening now is gradual civil war hiding behind an official cover.
AMOS: At the Volcano Brigade headquarters, Basam Garawi says his job is to fight terrorists in Baghdad, capturing more than 50 a day.
Mr. AL-GARAWI: (Through Translator) Any person with vengeance can say what he wants. He who loves can talk, and he who hates can also talk.
(Soundbite of Volcano Brigade anthem)
AMOS: The interview is cut short when an aide tells the commander one of his men has been assassinated in a predominantly Sunni neighborhood. As their special anthem plays over loudspeakers, the Volcano commandos, furious, grab their weapons as they prepare to head to the scene.
Deborah Amos, NPR News.