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Death squads found inside Iraqi government

By Matthew Schofield
Knight Ridder Newspapers

03/12/06 "
Knight Ridder" -- -- BAGHDAD - Senior Iraqi officials on Sunday confirmed for the first time that death squads composed of government employees had operated illegally from inside two government ministries.

"The death squads that we have captured are in the Defense and Interior ministries," Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said during a joint news conference with the minister of Defense. "There are people who have infiltrated the army and the interior."

Jabr said that investigations into death squads were ongoing in the Defense Ministry. He said the Interior Ministry had arrested 22 people, and subsequently released 18 as innocent after interrogation, detaining four for further questioning.

"Now we have sent them (the four) to the court because it hasn't been proven that all four were involved," Jabr said. "Although I did not have clear signs (of their guilt) I sent them to the Justice Ministry so that the law could be carried out."

Although Jabr appeared to confirm the existence of death squads, the scale of the operation uncovered would appear to be far smaller than critics had alleged.

Sunni Muslims have long complained about Shiite death squads that arrived wearing official uniforms and rode in official-looking vehicles to haul away victims.

Knight Ridder first reported the accusation of death squads in February 2005, and in June documented cases in which victims were taken away allegedly by men wearing Interior Ministry commando uniforms were later found handcuffed and killed execution-style.

The government had long denied the existence of such death squads. Sunnis had accused the Badr Organization, a Shiite militia supported by Iran, of being behind the killings, inside or outside of government ministries. Jabr is a senior leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a leading Shiite political party, and has close ties to the Badr Organization.

The investigation that led to Sunday's confirmation of government death squads came after American forces stopped a group of men who were passing through a checkpoint in late January.

The men wore official uniforms and said they were preparing to kill a Sunni man in their custody.

Copyright 2006, azcentral.com. All rights reserved.

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