Baghdad Erupts in Mob Violence
By KIRK SEMPLE
Published: July 10, 2006
BAGHDAD, July 9 — A mob of gunmen went on a brazen daytime rampage through a
predominantly Sunni Arab district of western Baghdad on Sunday, pulling
people from their cars and homes and killing them in what officials and
residents called a spasm of revenge by Shiite militias for the bombing of a
Shiite mosque on Saturday. Hours later, two car bombs exploded beside a
Shiite mosque in another Baghdad neighborhood in a deadly act of what
appeared to be retaliation.
While Baghdad has been ravaged by Sunni-Shiite bloodletting in recent
months, even by recent standards the violence here on Sunday was
frightening, delivered with impunity by gun-wielding vigilantes on the
street. In the culture of revenge that has seized Iraq, residents all over
the city braced for an escalation in the cycle of retributive mayhem between
the Shiites and Sunnis that has threatened to expand into civil war.
The violence coincided with an announcement by American military officials
that they had formally accused four more American soldiers of rape and
murder, and a fifth soldier of "dereliction of duty" for failing to report
the crimes, in connection with the deaths of a teenage Iraqi girl and three
members of her family.
With movement in Baghdad difficult after a military cordon was established
to suppress the violence, facts were hard to ascertain. The death toll from
the shootings alone ranged from fewer than a dozen, according to the
American military, to more than 40 reported by some news services. The
bombing near the mosque later claimed at least 19 lives and left 59 wounded,
The military's announcement about the soldiers brought to six the number
implicated in the rape-murder, one more than previously disclosed. The case
has enraged Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and led to apologies by the
highest American military and civilian officials in Iraq. A photograph of
the girl's passport distributed by news agencies on Sunday showed that she
Only seven weeks old, Mr. Maliki's government is facing increasingly
difficult obstacles. Worsening violence has undermined his intention to
disarm the country's sectarian militias. At the same time, the growing furor
over criminal accusations against American troops has tested Mr. Maliki's
divided loyalties to his American allies and to an Iraqi public that has
grown weary of the American presence.
The killings on Sunday in the western Baghdad neighborhood of Jihad began in
late morning, near the site of a car bomb explosion in front of a Shiite
mosque on Saturday, residents and officials said. Initial reports said the
bombing had killed three people, but the American military said Sunday that
at least 12 people, including 3 children, had died in the blast, and at
least 18 had been wounded.
According to some residents and Sunni Arab officials interviewed by
telephone, the gunmen, whom they accused of being members of a feared Shiite
militia, the Mahdi Army, set up checkpoints around the neighborhood,
indiscriminately pulled scores of Sunni Arabs from their homes and cars and
killed them on the street. Other bodies were found with their hands bound
behind their backs and gunshots in their heads, residents said.
But as often happens in Iraq, accounts of the violence varied widely.
Residents and some Iraqi officials said in interviews that more than 35
people had been killed in the attacks. The Associated Press quoted Lt.
Maitham Abdul-Razzaq of the Iraqi police as saying that 41 bodies had been
taken to hospitals. And an official at Yarmouk Hospital, the main medical
center in western Baghdad, said in a telephone interview that at least 23
bodies had been delivered from Jihad, and 10 people had arrived wounded from
But American and some Iraqi security officials said the casualty figures
were far lower. Lt. Col. Jonathan B. Withington, spokesman for the Fourth
Infantry Division, which oversees security around Baghdad, said the Iraqi
police had reported finding only 11 bodies. It was unclear whether that toll
included victims delivered to the morgue.
American and Iraqi security officials also said they could not confirm the
accounts of the seemingly arbitrary street killings, and Colonel Withington
said the Iraqi security forces were mobilized immediately after reports of
"sporadic gunfire" in Jihad. By early afternoon, Iraqi and American forces
had sealed off the neighborhood, officials said.
Several prominent Sunni Arab political and religious leaders criticized the
Iraqi and American security forces for their inability to control the
violence. In comments broadcast on Al Jazeera, Salam al-Zubaie, a deputy
prime minister and a Sunni, called the events in Jihad "a real massacre,"
and suggested that the country's Shiite-led security forces were to blame
because they had been infiltrated by militiamen. The government forces, he
said, "coordinate with these filthy terror groups who are roaming the
Mr. Maliki's office, in a statement, tried to distance itself from Mr.
Zubaie's comments, saying "they do not represent the government's point of
view." Mr. Maliki, a Shiite, has vowed to crack down on militias regardless
of sectarian affiliation and to eradicate militia influence from the
government's security forces.
In recent days, American and Iraqi troops have conducted several operations
against the powerful Mahdi Army militia, which is loosely under the control
of the influential Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr, and is regarded by Sunni
Arab leaders as a main force behind many sectarian reprisal killings. Iraqi
and American forces captured two Mahdi Army leaders on Friday and raided a
suspected militia bastion on Saturday.
Some Jihad residents and Sunni Arab leaders accused the Mahdi Army of
committing the killings on Sunday, but officials in Mr. Sadr's organization
denied that. "The Mahdi Army takes care of the national interest," Abdel
Hadi al-Daraji, a spokesman for Mr. Sadr, told Al Jazeera. Mr. Sadr joined
other government leaders in publicly calling for calm, and he requested an
emergency session of Parliament to discuss the crisis and "prevent a sea of
blood," his office said in a statement.
President Jalal Talabani warned Iraqis against falling prey to "acts of
violence that some want to look sectarian."
Militias of all stripes appeared to be bracing for fallout from the
morning's attacks. Mahdi Army fighters interviewed by telephone said they
were preparing for a wider battle. Mahdi militiamen had set up checkpoints
in the city's predominantly Shiite neighborhoods and, according to
residents, were preparing for Sunni reprisals. A Mahdi Army platoon
commander who identified himself only as Sheik Faleh said, "If anything
happens, we will attack."
Later in the day, the deadly double-car bombing next to a Shiite mosque in
Kasra, a mixed neighborhood in northeastern Baghdad, also seemed intended to
stoke sectarian fury.
Seven people were killed and at least eight wounded in various insurgent
attacks around Kirkuk, including a bomb that exploded in a bus, killing one
civilian and wounding seven, the police said. In Samarra, gunmen
assassinated a top official in the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni
organization, and two of his guards, the police said, while in Karbala, a
police captain was killed.
The American command here said an American soldier was killed early on
Sunday in the greater Baghdad area in a "noncombat-related incident," but
did not elaborate.
In the rape-murder case, the American military did not identify the five
newly accused soldiers, who remain on active duty in Iraq. The first to be
implicated was Steven D. Green, a recently discharged private first class
arrested June 30 in North Carolina on suspicion of participating in the
crimes on March 12.
A affidavit filed in the case against Mr. Green implicated five soldiers:
Mr. Green; three soldiers who accompanied him to the farmhouse in the town
of Mahmudiya, 20 miles south of Baghdad, where investigators say the rape
and murders took place; and another soldier who remained at a checkpoint.
But the new accusations, made Saturday and disclosed Sunday, indicate that
another soldier was also inside the farmhouse at the time of the crimes,
according to a military official who requested anonymity because he was not
authorized to publicly discuss such details.
The soldier who has been accused of dereliction of duty is, according to the
military statement on Sunday, "not alleged to have been a direct participant
in the rape and killings," suggesting that it was the soldier who was aware
of the plan but stayed at the checkpoint.
The formal accusations against the five soldiers set in motion the
military's court-martial process. According to military officials, the
soldiers will now face an investigation under Article 32 of the Uniform Code
of Military Justice, a process similar to a grand jury hearing, which will
determine whether enough evidence exists to put the men on trial.
Reporting for this article was contributed by Khalid al-Ansary, Khalid W.
Hassan, Hosham Hussein, Mona Mahmoud, Qais Mizher, Sahar Nageeb, Omar al-Neami
and Iraqi employees of The New York Times in Baghdad, Kirkuk and Tikrit.