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NEAL CONAN, host:

Earlier this month, we heard news from Iraq about a secret detention facility in southern Baghdad run by Iraq's Ministry of the Interior with ties to a Shiite militia group. Many of the prisoners were abused, most appeared to be Sunnis. A report in today's Los Angeles Times connects that story to a much larger pattern of Shiite-led violence against Iraq's Sunni population. Joining us now from Los Angeles is LA Times reporter Solomon Moore.

Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. SOLOMON MOORE (Los Angeles Times): You're welcome.

CONAN: And what you seem to have been documenting in your story today is a pattern of Shia militiamen joining the Iraqi police force and then forming what can only be called death squads.

Mr. MOORE: That's right. We have been seeing a large number of these militiamen getting into the security forces, and now we're hearing that they're responsible for a large number of killings in Iraq.

CONAN: Large number. Any idea of how many?

Mr. MOORE: It's really difficult to say. I mean, what we have seen are bodies showing up at the Baghdad morgue in larger numbers than we've seen before, thousands, but it's difficult to say with all of the other kinds of violence that we see in Iraq exactly, you know, who is responsible for what. But more and more, officials both in--on the US side and on the Iraqi side are laying blame on these militia groups which are working within the security forces.

CONAN: You quote a high-ranking US military officer as saying, "The Mahdi Army has got the Iraqi police." He's referring to the group led by Muqtada al-Sadr, and the Badr Brigade, with some Iranian connections, has got the commandos. He says everybody's got their own death squads.

Mr. MOORE: Yeah, that's right. I mean, what you see in Iraq is political power backed up with armed groups. I mean, that's what's happening. And often we see them being put to political use, but also to sectarian violent aims.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And at the same time it should be pointed out that what they're doing at least in part is exacting vengeance for what they see as Sunni-inspired attacks on Shias.

Mr. MOORE: Yeah, that is part of what's happening. You know, and many of these cases you don't see, you know, real investigations into these killings, so it's hard to know, but among the various reasons that people are getting killed in Iraq is because of sectarian revenge killings by police.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. We just have a few seconds with you left, but this appears to figure into what a lot of people are talking about, this simmering civil war in Iraq, which many fear will erupt into much greater civil war.

Mr. MOORE: That is a great concern, especially when you have actors within the state, within the government, carrying out these kinds of killings.

CONAN: Thanks very much for being with us today. We appreciate it.

Mr. MOORE: You're welcome.

CONAN: Solomon Moore's story on the death squads in Iraq is in today's editions of the Los Angeles Times, and he was kind enough to join us today from the studio at the Los Angeles Times.

In Washington, I'm Neal Conan, NPR News.

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