Iraq Chief Says a Mass Killing, Under Dispute, Did Take Place
By RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr. and ROBERT F. WORTH
Published: April 21, 2005
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BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 20 - The new Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, said
Wednesday that more than 50 bodies had been discovered in the Tigris River
and suggested that they were victims of a mass kidnapping south of Baghdad
that other Iraqi officials had insisted was a hoax just three days before.
Mr. Talabani, who made the assertion after a meeting with Shiite leaders
about dividing up top jobs in the new government, offered no details about
the crime, including when or precisely where the bodies were found.
It was the latest bizarre development in a succession of claims about
whether any kidnappings had occurred. The president's report supported a
version of events favored by Shiite politicians who are about to take office
in the new government and ran contrary to denials by the departing prime
minister, Ayad Allawi.
While Mr. Talabani said hostages had been killed and their bodies thrown
into the Tigris, he offered no documentation that could help independently
verify his statement, like a list of victims, photographs of the bodies or
the names of witnesses.
But he said the government knew the names of victims and had such
photographs, and several news agencies reported that the local police and
other authorities in Suwaira - just downriver from Madaen, where the mass
abduction was originally reported to have occurred - said they had recently
recovered some 50 bodies from the river.
An American military spokesman in Baghdad said he had no information about
The announcement was made on a day in which violence in Iraq continued to
mount. Twenty Iraqi troops were taken from their trucks near the western
city of Haditha, dragged to a soccer stadium and lined up against the wall
and shot, according to an official in the Interior Ministry.
Nineteen of the soldiers died and one was taken to a hospital, the official
said. American military officials said they had no information about these
Dr. Allawi escaped a car-bomb assassination attempt that killed two
policemen and wounded one, according to the Interior Ministry.
Regardless of whether Mr. Talabani's report is later verified, the surge of
renewed insurgent attacks - which also included eight deaths and three other
suicide car bombings on Wednesday in Baghdad - underscored the challenges
facing the new government that is expected to take power in the coming days.
Violence has left dozens dead in Baghdad alone in the last week, calling
into question suggestions that the tide in the war is clearly turning.
Mr. Talabani's comments are likely to have a significant political impact.
If true, they will inflame Shiites who are already furious at attacks
carried out by Sunni Arab insurgents. If they prove wrong, they are sure to
enrage Sunni Arabs who feel shut out of the new government and do not trust
the new leaders.
Political leaders continued negotiations late into the night over
appointments to the cabinet, and several top political aides said a
principal sticking point was demands made by Dr. Allawi's party for four
cabinet-level jobs, including deputy prime minister.
Shiite leaders had hoped to announce a new cabinet on Thursday, a religious
holiday, but that appeared unlikely late Wednesday because of continuing
Shiite disagreement with Dr. Allawi, the two aides said.
Last weekend the kidnapping dispute threw the nation into turmoil as Shiite
leaders asserted that Sunni terrorists had staged a large-scale abduction of
Shiite men, women and children in the town of Madaen.
But on Sunday, after surrounding and searching the town, Iraqi troops found
no bodies or hostages and suggested that the accusations had been
fabricated. Dr. Allawi confirmed that no hostages had been found and said
lurid accusations about violence there appeared to be false.
Yet some Shiite leaders remained angry that their assertions of a mass
kidnapping were discredited.
Shiite leaders, who hold a majority of parliamentary seats, are negotiating
with other factions, including Kurdish officials led by Mr. Talabani, over
how many cabinet posts each side will get.
Political leaders of the dominant Shiite alliance talked well into the night
with Dr. Allawi's party, which according to political aides continued to
seek the jobs of deputy prime minister, either interior minister or defense
minister, at least one economy-focused minister, like oil or finance, and
one service minister. But Shiites believe that is too much, the aides said.
A meeting between Dr. Allawi's party and Shiite leaders continued late
Wednesday at the home of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a major Shiite leader, said
Ali al-Dabagh, a senior aide in the Shiite alliance. Mr. Dabagh said Sunni
officials - who are to get a comparatively small number of top government
jobs - had complicated the negotiations by putting forward conflicting lists
of Sunnis as candidates for the positions allocated to them.
"They don't have one side we can deal with," Mr. Dabagh complained. He
added, "We see the demands of Dr. Allawi as too high."
In an interview on Wednesday evening, an aide to Mr. Talabani elaborated on
the president's comments about the kidnapping, saying the government had
names and pictures of the victims and names of the killers. "There were
hostages who were killed and thrown into the Tigris, and we found 50 dead
bodies," the aide said. He said details would be released soon.
In the continuing violence in Baghdad, two Iraqis, one of them a child, died
after insurgents tried to attack an American military convoy in the restive
western Baghdad neighborhood of Amiriya with a car bomb, according to Iraqi
Two car bombs exploded in the Dora neighborhood of Baghdad, one aimed at a
police car rushing to the scene of the other car bombing, according to an
Interior Ministry official. Together, the bombs destroyed 15 police vehicles
and wounded three people, he said.
Before the attempt on Dr. Allawi's life, a Health Ministry official said a
total of 6 Iraqis were killed and 20 wounded by terrorist activities in
Baghdad on Wednesday. Three civilians were also killed in the northern city
of Mosul, he said.
Layla Istifan, Abdul Razzaq al-Saeidy and Khalid al-Ansary contributed
reporting for this article.