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‘Driller killers’ spread a new horror in Iraq

By Hala Jaber

03/05/06 "
The Times" -- -- THERE was no sign of danger as Mohammed Sammarai arrived at his brother Mustafa’s home for lunch last week, no hint that this would be their last meal together.

It was not until after they had been joined by their old friend Ali Ahmad that they heard a commotion outside and realised something was wrong. Even then, the three men — all government employees, all Sunnis — had no inkling of the terrifying events that were about to overwhelm them.

First two police vehicles pulled up outside their house in the Hay al-Jihad district of Baghdad’s sprawling southern suburbs. Then came a convoy of up to 10 black BMWs and Opels — the favoured cars of the Shi’ite militias. Suddenly masked men brandishing Kalashnikov automatic rifles were storming inside.

Ahmad was arrested. Mustafa protested. Mohammed fled upstairs. There was no escape, however, as Ahmad recalled.

“One of the men grabbed Mustafa’s one-year-old son and put him between his legs and threatened to kill him unless Mohammed came downstairs,” he said.

“Another man grabbed the boy’s mother and placed a machinegun on her chest and threatened to shoot her.” Then he banged her head against a chair, loudly cursing her.

Realising that trying to run away was futile, Mohammed, 30, came downstairs. He begged the intruders to leave 32-year-old Mustafa and his family alone but was arrested for his pains.

“Who are you?” the family demanded to know.

“We are from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq,” one of the men is said to have shouted.

They beat the brothers, dragged them and Ahmad, 40, outside and thrust each man into the boot of a different car, firing their Kalashnikovs into the air to deter anyone tempted to intervene.

The convoy stopped and started and it seemed to Ahmad that several others had been detained by the time the cars finally halted and the boots were opened.

To their horror, the captives found themselves in Sadr City, a Shi’ite stronghold in Baghdad. “A crowd gathered to watch what was going on,” Ahmad said.

“The armed men told them we were terrorists and the crowd began to curse us.”

The Sunni brothers and their friend were bundled back into the car boots and driven off again. The next person they saw was an imam, but he was not there to save them.

“I saw an imam peer into the boot with a policeman,” Ahmad said. According to his account, the imam condemned Mustafa and Mohammed with the chilling words: “Kill any identified suspect immediately.”

Ahmad was freed on the imam’s orders, apparently because he had merely been a guest of the brothers and had not been suitably identified.

“I walked home barefoot in a terrible state,” he said. “I could not call any official to report this. How could I when they were involved?” Two days later he found his friends’ bodies in the city’s Teb al-Adli mortuary. Mustafa’s right eye had been gouged out and his right leg broken. Other parts of his body appeared to have been penetrated by an electric drill, an increasingly common tool of torture in Iraq.

Mohammed’s body bore similar injuries. Both men had been shot in the head.

Their widows have now moved in with relatives and Mustafa’s empty home has already been vandalised.

The killings have left Ahmad bewildered; he says he knows of no reason why his friends should have been targeted by a militia. But the remarks of a United Nations official last week suggest their murders fit a pattern emerging in the sectarian violence that has claimed at least 500 lives since an attack on February 22 on the golden-domed Askari shrine, a Shi’ite mosque in Samarra.

John Pace, the outgoing head of the UN human rights office in Baghdad, said the vast majority of the bodies arriving at the mortuary showed signs of summary execution and many had their hands tied behind their backs. “Some showed evidence of torture, with arms and leg joints broken by electric drills,” said Pace, a Maltese official.

He claimed that militias were integrated with the police and were wearing police uniforms. One in particular was singled out: the Badr organisation that used to be the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the political party mentioned by one of the men in the Sammarais’ home.

“The Badr brigade are in the police and are mainly the ones doing the killing,” Pace was quoted as saying. “They’re the most notorious.”

The Badr organisation, as it is known today, was founded in Iran in the 1980s with the aim of overthrowing Saddam Hussein and is thought to number 20,000 men. It was once led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, who now heads SCIRI, one of the main parties in the Shi’ite alliance that won last December’s election. The interior minister, Bayan Jabr, was also a member.

The Badr organisation has denied that it is operating death squads. Its leader, Hadi al-Amery, a member of parliament, said only 5% of the militia had been integrated into the Iraqi security forces. “We say to our members who go to the armed forces that your relationship with us will be severed,” he added. “No one is above the law.”

Thousands of Shi’ites have been killed by Sunni insurgents in the past two years, including 19 labourers murdered last Friday when gunmen ran amok in the small town of Nahrawan, near Baghdad.

Yesterday Baghdad was hit by a series of bombings and seven people died in an explosion at a market in the south of the capital. The spiral of violence has raised questions about the prospects for a reduction in the number of coalition troops this year.

President Jalal Talabani said he had been assured by the chief of US Central Command, General John Abizaid, that American forces would remain for as long as they were needed. The president called for a government of national unity to help calm sectarian tensions.

According to Pace, the cases of torture and extrajudicial executions now exceed those under Saddam’s rule.

“Under Saddam, if you agreed to forgo your basic right to freedom of expression and thought, you were physically more or less okay,” he said. “Now you have a primitive, chaotic situation where anybody can do anything they want to anyone.”

Copyright 2006 Times Newspapers Ltd.

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