Battle for Baghdad Hindered by Iraqi Government

U.S. troops continue operations in Baghdad aimed at stabilizing some of the capital's most violent districts. But American commanders are frustrated by a lack of cooperation from the Iraqi government. Attacks by sectarian death squads are down only marginally from their high point in July.

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In Baghdad, U.S. troops are continuing operations aimed at stabilizing and reviving essential services in some of that city's most violent districts. But American commanders are speaking openly about their frustration with what they see as the Iraqi government's failure to back up these efforts. Sectarian violence continues to wrack the city. Attacks by sectarian death squads are down only marginally from their high point in July.

NPR's Anne Garrels has this report:

ANNE GARRELS: The stepped-up security operations in Baghdad are supposed to be a joint U.S.-Iraqi effort, but only a quarter of the Iraqi army forces assigned to work with Americans has arrived. This is a sign of continuing problems with the Iraqi government's ability to command and move its troops.

In what has been a common theme of late, from U.S. officials, U.S. Army General James Thurman expressed frustration over the weekend - with the Iraqi government.

General JAMES THURMAN (United States Army): Get the professionalism restored in the force. Talk about, you know, the things that are required to in a non- sectarian way to try to break that mindset. Allegiance to Iraq, not to self. There's too much self-interest in Iraq over here right now.

GARRELS: Thurman, who is in charge of military forces in Baghdad, said recent operations have detained 215 and killed 25 of those tied to death squads. Thurman describes one incident, where a man was seen dumping bodies into the Tigress River.

Gen. THURMAN: A guy is out in Camp Cropper, right now - had his 12-year-boy out there helping him. Now what motivates somebody to do that? Okay? So we went after that cell, got it.

GARRELS: A senior U.S. military officer briefing reporters said there are at least 23 different militias in Baghdad carrying out sectarian killings. Contradicting other officials, this senior military officer said some militias seem to have links with Iraqi government officials and ministries, especially the Ministry of The Interior. He acknowledged leaks from the Army, police, and the government have hurt the U.S. military efforts to arrest killers.

While the Mahdi army, under radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, is one group carrying out sectarian killings, the senior military officer said others are also very active. He cited the Badr organization by name: a militia attached to the supreme council of the Islamic revolution in Iraq, one of the leading Shiite parties in the government.

Last week, a former army officer was kidnapped and tortured by men he identified as belonging to the Badr Brigade. Family members confirm his story, but they're too frightened to speak on tape. A friend relates the details.

Unidentified Man (Friend of Kidnapped Iraqi): (Through translator) He was kidnapped by men in white Land Cruisers, the kind of vehicles used by government officials. They took him to a house. The kidnappers were in civilian clothes except for one, who was dressed in the uniform of the National Police.

GARRELS: The kidnappers tortured him to elicit names of devout Sunnis in his neighborhood, men who regularly go to the mosque.

Unidentified Man: (Through translator) They wanted names and addresses. He told them he wasn't religious and he didn't know these people.

GARRELS: He told the kidnappers he was, in fact, a Shiite. The kidnappers had mistaken him for a Sunni. The kidnappers called his family on a cell phone to see if that was true, and that may have saved his life. But not before they broke his arm and a leg.

It turns out the victim's brother is an official with the Shiite-led government. His brother was able to negotiate his release. Before that, the victim saw about 14 other men, all Sunnis, held with him in the same room.

Unidentified Man: (Through translator) From what he heard, all 14 were killed. They took them out in small groups and said that they were to be executed.

GARRELS: They probably joined the thousands whose bodies have been dumped around the city - handcuffed, with signs of torture.

The senior U.S. military officer who briefed reporters said he's constrained in who he's permitted to go after. He said there is a do-not-touch list of Iraqi political figures. But in the end, he says, it's up to the Iraqi government and security forces to take action. For now, he said, they're moving, but way too slowly.

Anne Garrels, NPR News, Baghdad.

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