A United Nations (UN) report has revealed that the carnage tearing Iraq apart is being fuelled by the US, Britain and their allies.
A “shadow war” is taking place in which US-backed militias are targeting Sunni and Shia Muslims opposed to the occupation, fanning the flames of sectarian and ethnic strife.
This war can be measured in the number of bodies found in rubbish dumps, by the side of roads, or floating in the river Tigris.
The victims are often bound, tortured and then shot in the head and chest.
According to the UN assistance mission in Iraq, police from the interior ministry, part of the US-backed regime, have been sweeping through areas kidnapping and murdering opponents.
The UN team reported that in one incident “the bodies of 36 men, blindfolded, handcuffed, bearing signs of torture and summary execution, were found on 25 August near Badhra [a town east of Baghdad].
“Families of the victims reported to the human rights office that the men had been detained on 24 August in the al-Hurriya district of Baghdad, following an operation carried out by forces linked to the ministry of the interior.”
This ministry is run by Bayan Jabr, a senior member of the pro-occupation Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri). Sciri’s 10,000-strong militia, the Badr Brigades, dominate the ministry.
US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld admitted this week that after two and a half years of occupation the US has only been able to field about 1,000 Iraqi troops capable of fighting without US support.
This failure means the US military is relying heavily on Kurdish and Shia militias to bolster their forces. Shia Muslims opposed to the occupation are also being targeted. US troops backed by their Iraqi allies have been trying to silence radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Clashes between those opposed to the occupation and the Badr Brigades have become a daily feature of Shia areas, while senior members of Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army have been assassinated.
A bomb exploded near Sadr’s home in Najaf on Wednesday of last week killing six of his bodyguards.
The revelations about the shadow war in Iraq have raised new questions about the role of the two SAS men arrested in Basra and then snatched back by British forces. They were accused of being part of a 24-strong team taking part in a “secret war” in southern Iraq.
According to the Sunday Times, the two men were on a mission “to identify routes used by insurgents and either capture or kill them”. These revelations confirm the report carried by Socialist Worker (24 September) of a campaign against Muqtada al-Sadr’s supporters in the south.
The Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni organisation that took part in the governing coalition, and the Association of Muslim Scholars, which opposes the occupation, have also accused the police of targeting Sunni Muslims in a deliberate policy to ferment sectarian strife.
These attempts to stir sectarian tensions follow a pattern established in the attacks on Turkmen — ethnic Turks — in the north of Iraq.
The US military, backed by the Badr Brigades and Kurdish peshmerga militias, assaulted the Turkmen city of Tel Afar last month. The operation against the city of 200,000 was conducted under a blanket of silence after journalists were banned from the area.
A journalist from Iraq’s Azzaman daily, who managed to sneak into the city, reported that locals were living in fear of the militias. A local reporter, 25 year old Salim al-Jabburi, was killed by the Badr Brigade when they found him sheltering in his family home.
His family claims he was found dead in his bedroom with bullet wounds in his chest, neck and head.
Reports from inside Tel Afar claim that after the assault all Turkmen policemen, including the chief of police, were dismissed and replaced by members of the Badr Brigades.
The Turkmen of Tel Afar, who are mainly Sunni Muslims, joined the uprising against the occupation in April 2004 and have faced two major assaults by the US military.
But the attack last month was the first to use militias from different Iraqi ethnic and religious groups.
The UN team that compiled cases of abuse carried out between 1 July and 31 August 2005 also noted a disturbing rise in disappearances and torture. The UN received reports of “ill-treatment of detainees and inadequacies in judicial procedures”.
It adds: “Furthermore, first and second hand accounts from Baghdad, Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk and the Kurdish governorates, as well as corroborating information from other credible sources, consistently point to the systematic use of torture during interrogations at police stations and within other premises belonging to the ministry of the interior.”
The UN report confirms warnings issued by the International Committee of the Red Cross that the US military is continuing to sanction torture even after the revelations from Abu Ghraib prison in April 2004.
Now three US soldiers have broken the silence and told Human Rights Watch about systematic abuse carried out in their base near Fallujah.
The soldiers said, “Detainees were forced to hold five-gallon jugs of water with their arms outstretched and perform other acts until they passed out.
“Soldiers also applied chemical substances to detainees’ skin and eyes, and subjected detainees to forced stress positions, sleep deprivation, and extremes of hot and cold. Detainees were also stacked into human pyramids and denied food and water.”
One officer stationed near Fallujah described how soldiers regularly broke the limbs of their captives with baseball bats.
According to an unnamed source from Ramadi hospital, the main hospital in the al-Anbar province that includes Fallujah, there have been 20 cases recently of Iraqis who claim that their arms and legs were deliberately broken by US troops.
They said that they were beaten because there was not enough space in the camp to hold any more suspects.