THE HANDSTAND

SEPTEMBER 2007


IRAQ GAZETTE DU GOLFE ET DES BANLIEUES


LES ESCADRONS DE LA MORT, REPORTAGE BAGHDAD
BAYAN JABR LE TIGRE SANGLANT DE BAGHDAD

Deborah Davies reports from inside Baghdad



Standing in a large family house in the Hurriya district of Baghdad a little boy, no more
than ten years old, with huge round eyes silently points out the bullet holes in each of the
bedrooms. He goes from room to room, pointing out the marks in the wardrobe door, in the bedframe, in the wall - he knows where they all are. It's the kind of knowledge no child should be
burdened with.

Downstairs, six almost identical figures in black robes, sit in a row holding large pictures of
their murdered men-folk, with a clutter of children on their laps. These six women - all of them members of the same family, all of them recently widowed - have not been back into their bedrooms since last November, when a convoy of police cars drew up outside their home in the early hours and dozens of uniformed men burst in.

Another of the children, Hanin, was asleep in her parents' bed. She's almost matter of fact
as she describes what happened next. 'I heard a gunshot so I cuddled my Dad. They came into
our room and I told them not to kill my Daddy but the man threatened to shoot me. They shot
Daddy and then they shot my Uncle.'

Five men were shot dead that night - a sixth had been killed in the street three weeks
earlier. Their crime? The head of the family, Sheik Khadem Sarheed, was leader of a well-known
Sunni tribe. Now he's dead, along with four of his adult sons and one son-in-law. One of the sons
was a policeman and recognised the killers. 'He told them he was a policemen like them', says his
widow, 'But they shot him in the neck and in the stomach'.


Neighbours saw the police cars parked outside the house and recognised the uniforms of
the notorious police commandos. They're highly trained, heavily armed officers, more like soldiers
than ordinary policemen. And they report directly to the Ministry of the Interior. Over the last
eighteen months these commandos - who are almost exclusively Shia Muslims - have been
implicated in rounding up and killing thousands of ordinary Sunni civilians.

A hundred dead bodies a day

Up to a hundred bodies a day are found dumped on waste ground and rubbish tips around
Baghdad. They've usually been dreadfully tortured. Acid and electric drills are the favourite
methods and many of the bodies are still wearing police handcuffs.

As we discovered, there is even compelling evidence that the secret prisons of Saddam's
day are back - stinking hell-holes where hundreds of victims are herded together to be raped,
tortured and maimed for no crime other than belonging to the wrong sect.

And it's all happening under the eyes of US commanders, who seem unwilling or unable to
intervene. These are the chilling findings of a special investigation, filmed for a Channel 4
documentary, The Death Squads that reveals how one of the most senior ministers in Iraq's new
administration stands accused of presiding over a campaign to torture, maim and execute his
enemies. And this is the dossier that utterly explodes the myth that peace and a liberal
democracy are blossoming in the new 'liberated' Iraq.

In the bloody mayhem of Baghdad it's very difficult to untangle exactly who's who amongst
the various death squads who now rule the streets. There are organised criminal gangs,
kidnapping and killing for ransom money, and there are private militia groups loyal to particular
clerics or clan leaders. But there is no question that among the most efficient of the death squads
are the police commandos.

As part of our investigation, we traced how these commando units have been deliberately
infiltrated and taken over by one of the most militant Islamic groups, the Badr Brigade. They're
the military wing of an Iraqi political party, The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in
Iraq. SCIRI was set up in the early 80's in exile in Iran and its aim was always to overthrow
Saddam and his Sunni government and replace them with a Shia government. Now, very
helpfully, the Americans have done that for them.

Return of the Badr Brigade

Immediately after Saddam was toppled in the Spring of 2003 thousands of Badr Brigade
militiamen flooded back across the border from Iran, along with their political leaders who'd spent
years waiting for this moment. They wanted the new Iraq to become a pro-Iranian, Islamic
country where the Shia, who are 60% of Iraq's population, would also be the dominant political
force.

They soon discovered that the best way to achieve this has been to inflitrate Iraq's new
police force - right under the eyes the American administration.

From the early days of the US occupation of Iraq, the warning signs were there. One of the
most senior British police officers sent to Baghdad was the former Deputy Chief Constable of
South Yorkshire, Douglas Brand. His brief was very simple - to rebuild the Iraqi police. He wanted
to create a professional force dedicated to law and order. But the Americans were so keen to
build up the numbers they turned a blind eye to who was enlisting. 'They wanted to have the
graduation parades, to have them in new uniforms', Douglas Brand told us. 'Nobody was too
interested in what happened when they actually went out on the streets'.

Douglas Brand says he voiced his concerns, 'Probably ten times a day to whoever would
listen, usually two star Generals and above.' He even spoke directly to the US Defence Secretary,
Donald Rumsfeld, 'But I sensed the subtleties were not understood and if there were
consequences down the road, that's something the Iraqis were going to have to handle
themselves'.

Those consequences became clear very quickly. In June 2004 an American soldier, Kevin
Maries, was looking through his sights of his sniper rifle from his usual position on the top floor of
the Ministry of the Interior building when he saw Iraqi police commandos bring hundreds of
prisoners into a Ministry compound directly below him.

He took a series of astonishing photographs through his rifle sight showing what happened.
'They were forced onto their knees, beaten with rubber hoses,' he remembers, 'The beatings got
more severe, a metal bar was used and they were beating the soles of their feet'. When he
thought some of the prisoners might die, Kevin alerted his unit and American troops turned up to
stop the torture. But an hour later US Headquarters ordered them to withdraw and leave the
prisoners to the mercy of their captors. As far as Kevin knows, most of the prisoners were later
moved to an official prison but only after they were beaten again.

US reluctance to intervene

From the start the US authorities have been reluctant to interfere and that became even
more marked when a controversial appointment was made to the Iraqi government. In May 2005,
a man named Bayan Jabr was made Minister of the Interior - and thus the man in charge of the
police. He was one of SCIRI's most senior figures.

Suddenly huge numbers of his own exclusively Shia militiamen from the Badr Brigade were
recruited into the police. Gerry Burke witnessed that first hand. A senior Massachusetts
policeman, seconded as a police adviser to Baghdad, Burke saw a memo from the new Minister
authorising the recruitment of one group of 1,300 men into the Commandos without any obvious
qualifications for the job. 'These were men without any police training, without any background
checks', Gerry Burke told us, 'It was just changing uniforms from the Badr Brigade to the police'.
A few months later, when groups of Sunni men began to be kidnapped, murdered and their
bodies dumped in the same spots every day, Gerry Burke tried to organise a surveillance
operation to catch the killers. But the ordinary Iraqi police officers he was working with were too
terrified to co-operate. 'They believed the perpetrators were members of the police who would
have killed them in retaliation for investigating it'.

But that is by no means the only evidence that Iraq's Minsiter for the Interior is involved in
a covert campaign of terror. One Iraqi MP, accuses Mr Jabr of being behind a network of secret
prisons were Sunnis were held without charge and tortured. Of course, in a land where sectarian
rivalries often involve wild allegations, we should treat any such claims with caution. But even
with that in mind, the evidence provided to us by a Sunni MP named Mohammed al Dini is
profoundly disturbing.

Torture videos

Last summer, Al Dini was among a delegation of MPs who turned up unannounced to check
one of these suspected illegal sites. He showed us the video his staff took of the inspection.
Several hundred men are pictured, crammed into cells. There are chaotic scenes of jubilation as
the prisoners realise outsiders have come to end their ordeal and they all clamour to tell Al Dini
their stories. One man is an Imam at a mosque. 'They forced us to talk by raping us', he tells the
MP. Eventually prisoners sit patiently on the floor while one by one they display their injuries.
Some have been branded with hot metal bars or had their fingernails ripped out. They lift their
shirts to show bruises, scars and burns all over their bodies.

Then Mohammed Al Dini showed us a second video. Three days after he exposed this illegal
prison, a group of his relatives visited him in Baghdad. On their way home their minibus was
stopped by uniformed men. They were dragged out and executed on the street. The video shows
ten bodies, lying on the pavement, in large pools of blood. Yellow leaflets have been scattered
round which say, 'Congratulations to those who killed these Sunni extremists.'

Mohammed Al Dini is in no doubt about who murdered his ten cousins. 'They were
militiamen operating as death squads inside the police', he says, 'And the attack was ordered by
those people I exposed for running the prison.'
We interviewed Al Mohammed Dini in the safety of the Green Zone but he then made an
extraordinary offer - to take us to his office and give us more evidence of police atrocities which
have taken place while Bayan Jabr was the Minister in charge. His office was in a district called
Yarmuk - a short journey but an incredibly dangerous one.

The Green Zone

The general rule for Western journalists in Baghdad is to stay in the Green Zone - if you go
anywhere else you need your own armed guards in armoured cars and you never stay anywhere
for longer than ten minutes. Any foreigner venturing out runs the very real risk of being
kidnapped by Sunni insurgents.

We discussed it as a team and took the advice of our calm and experienced security man,
who's ex-British army. We decided to trust Mohammed Al Dini. We all climbed into his 4 x 4, with
two of his own armed guards. As we drove through last checkpoint in the Green Zone and out
into Baghdad's wild beyond a dozen more vehicles, four armed guards in each, were waiting.
They swung in to surround us. We were now in a huge convoy which included two pick-up
trucks with men stood on the back manning machine guns. We drove past the Jihad district
where last July the police and other armed gunman set up unofficial checkpoints. They inspected
everyone's ID cards and executed more than forty people with Sunni names.

Then we went past Yarmuk hospital, which was surrounded by police cars. Iraqi hospitals
are very dangerous places. We'd spoken to doctors who told us how patients, relatives and
medical staff are regularly kidnapped from the treatment rooms by hospital guards and the
police. Two doctors - too frightened to meet us - sent us emails. One said 'I'm writing to you
crying with tears, they've gone on a wild rampage killing doctors'.

Religious fanatics killing the educated

The second email, from a woman doctor, said 'These religious fanatics are killing the
educated people so the country will be easier to be controlled.' A third doctor, who agreed to be
in interviewed anonymously, described how an elderly woman was rushed in very ill. When the
hospital guards realised she was the wife of a well known Sunni man they shot her.
There was more to come. When we reached Mohammed Al Dini's office, he handed over
several CD's full of horrific images of corpses - victims, he claimed, of the death squads. 'Bullet
holes?' I asked pointing to a picture of two round wounds. Mohammed Al Dini corrected me. 'No -
electric drill holes'.

Then he fished out a five page document from his briefcase. It was a top secret report from
Military Intelligence describing how they had caught eighteen policemen in the act of kidnapping
two Sunni civilians. The police had confessed that they'd been ordered to pick up the men by
their own senior officers who were members of the Badr Brigade. They were paid for each captive
they handed over and they knew of at least nine men who'd later been found dead.
Mohammed Al Dini told me this all started when Bayan Jabr became Interior Minister - he
was later promoted to Finance Minister, a role he continues to hold. 'There's a great deal of
evidence against him, he's been involved in many human rights breaches in Iraq', he says.
Could it be true? Could one of the most senior figures in Iraq's new administration be
presiding over a regime of terror every bit as savage as that under Saddam? We wrote to Bayan
Jabr to ask for his response to all these allegations - but so far he hasn't replied.
One thing is for sure: life in 'liberated' modern day Iraq is every bits as terrifying as it was
under Saddam - perhaps even more so. The videos that Mohammed Al Dini gave us were only
part of a huge collection we built up during our time in Baghdad. Human rights organisations
gave us hours and hours of material. One mass funeral after another, lines of coffins, crowds of
wailing relatives.

But among the most heartbreaking tapes are ones the women in the 'House Of Six Widows'
gave us. One shows the immediate aftermath of the killings - the Sheik and his sons covered in
blood stained blankets. Another video is of the funeral.

But the third is quite different. The final video is from 2002, a year before the war began,
and it shows the joyful scenes at a huge wedding of one of the sons - now murdered. The house
where the Sunni family still live is in a mixed area and among the hundreds of friends and
neighbours pictured dancing in the street with teh wedding party many were Shia. But since the
coming of the death squads, many Sunni families have fled the area altogether. It's a pattern of
ethnic cleansing being repeated across Baghdad as the city descends into ever deeper sectarian
chaos.

It's impossible to work in Baghdad and leave with any ideas about simple solutions. Beware
of anyone who offers them. The only certain thing is that tonight and every night for the
foreseeable future, the death squads will be roaming the streets. And many of them will be socalled
policemen.


photo of Minister Jabr
Channel 4
http://www.channel4.com/news/dispatches/article.jsp?id=301