Judicial Probe Accuses Iraqi VP of Running Death Squads

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — An Iraqi judicial panel has found that Sunni Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi and his employess ran death squads that killed both security officials and Shi’ite pilgrims.  The findings, the first independent assessment of accusations against the vice president, are likely to increase sectarian tensions in the already politically divisive case.

Vice-President Hashimi (Photo Courtesy of Livingston Daily).

Al-Hashemi has denied the charges, and the accusations themselves have angered many Sunnis who see them as part of a campaign by the Shi’ite prime minister to push them out of Iraqi politics.

The announcement comes at the end of a two-month investigation where the nine-judge panel found at least 150 cases of either al-Hashemi, his bodyguards, or his other employees with links to violent attacks such as roadside bombs and the assassination of security agents and Shi’ite pilgrims.

A statement from Judicial Council spokesman Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar did not offer any evidence to support the panel’s conclusions.

Decisions from the panel are not legally binding.

The Interior Ministry, which is run by Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki, issued an arrest warrant for al-Hashemi in December.

The case originates in part from television footage that aired on state-run television in December, showing supposed confessions by men said to be al-Hashemi’s bodyguards.  The men said that they killed officials working in Iraq’s health and foreign ministries, and Baghdad police officers, receiving $3,000 from al-Hashemi for each attack.

Al-Hashemi has taken refuge from arrest in the autonomous Kurdish government in Northern Iraq.  He has refused to return to Baghdad where he does not feel safe and has expressed concerns about no receiving a fair trial.  There is a belief amongst al-Hashemi and other Sunni officials that the judiciary is not independent of al-Malaki’s government.

“We are an independent body that is not linked to any executive body,” Saad al-Lami, one of the nine judges, said after the findings were announced. He said al-Maliki’s office has “nothing to do with these investigations.”

The Judiciary Council’s findings will be turned over to the Iraqi criminal courts.  This will allow the relatives of those killed to file lawsuits against al-Hashemi.

The political divisiveness of this case has tapped into underlying resentments between the Sunni and Shi’ites in the Iraqi government.  The minority Sunnis fear they are being politically sidelined by the Shi’ite majority as payback for the years of persecution under Saddam Hussein, who had favored the Sunnis.

Likewise the Shi’ites fear connections between the Sunnis and the near daily attacks by al-Qaeda and other insurgents.

Some Iraqis greet the judiciary’s findings with weariness and skepticism after years of endless government infighting.

“This is political immaturity when the government officials are ignoring the devastated country and people and direct all of their attention to settle old scores with political opponents,” said Hassan Hamid, a Shi’ite trader from eastern Baghdad.

For more information, please see:

Al Arabiya — Iraqi VP Hashimi denies any involvement in 150 terrorist operations — 17 Feb. 2012

ABC — Judicial Probe Says Iraqi VP Behind Death Squads — 16 Feb. 2012

AP — Judicial Probe Says Iraqi VP Behind Death Squads — 16 Feb. 2012

BBC — Iraqi’s Sunni Vice-President Hashemi ‘ran death squads’ — 16 Feb. 2012



Sadr Orders Militia to Stand Down

By Ahmad Shihadah
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr ordered his followers to cease hostilities, ending six days of violence in Iraq.  Sadr directed his Mahdi Army to cooperate with the Iraqi government’s efforts to maintain security, but did not tell them to give up their weapons.  In exchange for an end to the violence, Sadr demanded that his followers be released and given amnesty.  Sadr also used the statement as a rallying cry against the US forces in Iraq, calling them the “armies of darkness.”

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki targeted Sadr’s followers in an offensive launched last week aimed at improving security in the country.  The Maliki government hoped to weaken Sadr’s influence, both politically and militarily, but the plan appears to have backfired.  The offensive has been widely seen as a failure.  It is now Maliki, not Sadr, who appears to be politically and militarily weak.

The cease-fire itself shows Sadr’s strength.  Before he launched the offensive, Maliki claimed that there would be no negotiations.  After Sadr offered the ceasefire, a Maliki spokesman described Sadr’s statement as a “positive step.”  Instead of weakening Sadr’s influence, the recent violence has allowed him to solidify his base, both politically and militarily.

For more information, please see:

Time – How Moqtada al-Sadr Won in Basra – 1 April 2008

Reuters – Baghdad Green Zone Hit by Mortars – 31 March 2008

Washington Post – Sadr Tells His Militia To Cease Hostilities – 31 March 2008

Violence Increases in Iraq Following Troop Withdrawal

By Nykoel Dinardo
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq – U.S. and British troops withdrew from the fortified Green Zone surrounding Baghdad with the turning of the new year after the expiration of the U.N. mandate.  Iraqi forces are now responsible for ensuring the safety of the region.  Although the Iraqi defense minister pledged that Iraqi armed forces could handle the security profile, there has been a surge of violence in the area since January 1st.

On January 2, a suicide bomber acted just outside Baghdad, killing 23 and injuring approximately 110 people.  The attack was aimed at a group of Sunni tribal leaders.  The bomber entered the home of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah Salih and proceeded to set off the explosives.  The meeting of the leaders was being held in a marquee on the grounds of the Sheikh. 

The meeting was held at the request of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki.  Those in attendance included the leaders of Sunni and Shiite groups in the region known as the Triangle of Death, due to the violence, in hopes of convening reconciliation. 

On January 1, attacks killed three Iraqi police force members and two others in Mosul, a city about 250 miles north of Baghdad.  The UN has condemned violence in Mosul following the assassination of Mowaffaq al-Hamdani, a candidate for provincial council.  The UN said that campaign violence must not be allowed to intimidate candidates.   According to the UN secretary general’s special representative for Iraq, violence of this kind interferes with the right of every Iraqi to exercise their vote.  Al-Hamdani is the second candidate to be assassinated. 

U.S. troops have agreed to stay on in the area in order to assist with the transition; however they are to follow Iraqi orders.  Iraqi forces are officially in charge of the region and U.S. troops have agreed to leave if asked.  Iraqi generals have expressed their opinion that the Americans are not there to follow, but to supervise.  However, they believe that it is still a good first step.

For more information, please see:

Washington Post – Peacemaking Event is Attacked in Iraq – 3 January 2009

BBC – Suicide Bomb Kills Many in Iraq – 2 January 2009

Reuters – Election Friction Flares in Iraq’s Violent North – 2 January 2009

Washington Post – Green Zone Handed Off With Little Fanfare – 2 January 2009

BBC – Iraq Takes Control of Green Zone – 1 January 2009

New York Times – Attacks Occur As Iraq Takes Control of Key Sites – 1 January 2009

Iraqi Shoe Thrower Beaten by Iraqi Security Forces

By Lauren Mellinger
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq – On December 14, Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi, a correspondent for the Cairo based Al-Baghdadiya satellite channel, threw his shoes at US President George W. Bush during a press conference.  President Bush and Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki had met to discuss the Status of Forces Agreement signed in recent weeks between the US and Iraq.

It is unclear whether the injuries al-Zaidi sustained occurred immediately after he threw his shoes at President Bush or subsequently during his detention.  Security guards who travel with Prime Minister al-Maliki were seen beating al-Zaidi immediately after the incident occurred, and witnesses reported hearing al-Zaidi screaming in pain.

Immediately after the incident at the press conference, al-Zaidi was detained by Iraqi authorities, on the orders of Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffeq al-Rubaie.  Al-Rubaie issued a statement claiming that al-Zaidi will be tried under Iraqi law.  According to his brother Dargham, Al-Zaidi has a broken hand and ribs, and is suffering from internal bleeding and from an eye injury he sustained after being hit with the butt of a rifle.  In addition, Dargham claims that his brother has not had access to legal counsel since his arrest.

The head of the Iraqi journalists’ union Mouyyad al-Lami, asked the Iraqi government for clemency towards al-Zaidi, who currently remains in custody.

Al-Zaidi reportedly threw his shoes at US President Bush to insult him.  Al-Zaidi holds President Bush responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iraqis since the US-led invasion in March 2003.  Demonstrations in both Sunni and Shia areas of Iraq and throughout the Arab world have urged the Iraqi government to release al-Zaidi from custody.  He has been regarded as a hero for standing up to the Bush administration.

According to a spokesman for the US State Department, the US does not know whether al-Zaidi was beaten when he was taken into custody.  However the spokesman maintains that the US government will not condone any unnecessary use of force against al-Zaidi.

Al-Zaidi is facing a possible two year jail sentence for insulting the head of a foreign state as well as the Iraqi Prime Minister, who was standing with President Bush at the time of the incident.  However, prosecutors may charge him for violating a law passed by the Baath Party in 1969, which calls for a seven year prison sentence for anyone who “insults the president or his representative.”

For more information, please see:

The Independent – Iraqi Shoe Thrower ‘Beaten in Custody’ – 17 December 2008

Al Jazeera – Iraqi Reporter al-Zaidi’s Arms, Ribs Broken – 16 December 2008

BBC – Shoe Thrower ‘Beaten in Custody’ – 16 December 2008

Guardian – Iraqi Shoe Thrower Badly Beaten in Custody, Claims Brother  – 16 December 200

Voice of America – Iraqi Shoe-Thrower in Judicial Hands – 16 December 2008