BAQUBA - A military operation said to target al-Qaeda has ended up targeting
Sunni Muslims instead, creating new sectarian tensions.
A U.S.-backed security operation launched last month has only targeted cities
with majority Sunni populations such as Buhriz, Tahreer, Qatoon, Mafraq, and
Hay in Diyala province, north of Baghdad. The operation has drawn more than
50,000 Iraqi soldiers.
The deputy governor of Diyala, Awf Rahoomi, has demanded in a public speech
in Baquba that "the new security plan should also include Shia cities
like Hwaider, Khirnabat, and Abara."
These Shia districts are strongholds of the Mahdi militia of Shia cleric Moqtada
al-Sadr and of the Badr organization (the militia of the ruling Shia party,
the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.)
"The forces of the new security plan took all our weapons to the extent
that we cannot fight al-Qaeda any more; we are impotent," Mullah Shihab
al-Safi, commander of the Popular Committees Fighters (the Sunni leadership
of the U.S.-backed Awakening Group militias), said at a meeting of the Commitment
Council established by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Safi said four members of the council who are leaders of the Awakening Group
were among those arrested by government security forces.
Leaders of Awakening Councils from Qatoon district spoke of a similar crackdown
by Iraqi forces. The Awakening groups are totally a 90,000 strong mostly Sunni
militia whose members each receive $300 a month from the U.S. military.
Soldiers from Battalion 36 of the Iraqi army, an elite counter-terrorism unit
that is known by detractors as the "dirty squad," stormed the Diyala
provincial government building in Baquba at 1:30 a.m. Aug. 19.
Witnesses told IPS that more than 50 soldiers stormed the compound and hauled
council members from their beds. The governor's secretary, Abbas Ali Hamood,
was shot dead.
The special forces group entered with the permission of Capt. Mohammed Sami
al-Tamini, commander of the protection group for the building, but then handcuffed
Tamini and the guards at the gate and beat up deputy governor Awf Rahoomi before
After this the special forces entered another building and arrested the head
of the security committee in the ruling council and Sunni lawmaker of the Iraqi
Islamic Party, Dr. Hussein al-Zubaidi. Other members of the ruling council
in the building were beaten up and insulted, according to witnesses who spoke
with IPS on condition of anonymity.
After the group left the building, fighting broke out between them and local
security forces. One vehicle was destroyed and three local soldiers were wounded.
Fighting continued through the night.
"These special forces work with the Americans," Iraq's Ministry
of Defense spokesman Mohammed Askari told reporters the day of the raid. "They
have goals, and they didn't inform anyone else."
The U.S. military denied involvement in the operation.
An Iraqi special forces unit also raided the home of the dean of Diyala University,
Nazar Jabbar Khafaji, and detained him. Ismael Ibrahim, his driver, told reporters
the troops took computers, two guns, and $5,000.
The Islamic Party has demanded an explanation from the prime minister about
such assaults on Sunni Muslims. So far 684 people have been arrested. All of
them are Sunni Muslims.
Sunni residents of Baquba, capital city of Diyala, say the new security plan
is clearly sectarian. "No Shia VIP or layman has been arrested since the
launch of the security plan," local trader Qasim Abdullah told IPS.
Others blamed Shia militias, backed by the government in Baghdad. "We
all know that Shia militias in Baquba are a source of instability," Yasin
Hamza, a teacher, told IPS. "Influential Shia members in the provincial
office or in the ruling council were behind the bad security situation in this
province. It cannot be that all of them are innocent."