Iraqi Death Squads Engage in Dirty War

BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 10, 2006 — -- Gunmen came to Yassir Mohsen's home in western Baghdad last month, he recalled, crying. Despite the ensuing violence, he did not call the police.

He said the ones who harmed his family are the police.

"While we were sleeping, Iraqi National Guard troops and police commandos stormed into our house," Mohsen said. "They killed my uncle."

Sunni political leaders accuse the Interior Ministry, which is controlled by Shiite Muslims, of playing a role in death squads. Shiite gunmen dressed in police uniforms allegedly have been raiding the homes of Sunnis, handcuffing them, executing them, and attacking Sunni mosques, such as the al-Noor mosque, which was raided this week.

"The gunmen drove police cars and wore police uniforms," said Shakir Mahmoud, the imam at the al-Noor mosque.

In its annual report on human rights this week, the U.S. State Department reported that in Iraq, "Members of sectarian militias dominated police units ... there were a number of deaths either at police hands or at the hands of militia members and criminals wearing police uniforms."

Dirty War or Politics?

Some Sunnis call it a dirty war. While many Americans may be under the impression that most violence here is from car bombs and improvised explosive devices, experts say most murders are executions. John Pace, the former director of the United Nations' human rights office in Baghdad, said up to 2,000 are being executed a month -- handcuffed, shot in the head. Six more were discovered in Baghdad this morning.

"Certainly, the Ministry of Interior is well-known to be responsible for this kind of summary execution and torture," Pace said, "and also the militias."

Militias, such as the Badr Brigades, work within the Interior Ministry.

The U.S. ambassador to Iraq has pushed the Shiites in power here to end the violence, but Bayan Jabr, a former commander in the Badr Brigades militia, is minister of the interior -- and he denies there is a problem.

"About the death group, it's a big, big lie," Jabr told ABC News. "Big lie. A really big lie."

Jabr said charges against the police force were just attempts to smear him.

"Our force is doing very well fighting the terrorists," he said. "The rule of law is our main goal, human rights. But you know, it is a political issue."

It's political in the sense that many Sunni and Kurd political leaders are angry at Shiite Prime Minister Ibrhaim al-Jaafari for either not doing enough to stop these death squads, or for actually permitting them.

But it's a very complicated issue. One thing this destabilized, crime-ridden country surely needs is a police force. But many American officials are increasingly concerned the United States is funding a training a police force that could become a Shiite army in a pending civil war.

Zoe Magee and David Kerley contributed to this report.