BAQUBA — Militia from the Shia organisation Badr have taken over the police force in Diyala province north of Baghdad, residents say.
The government led by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is believed to have backed such infiltration, and this has reportedly led to clashes with U.S. military leaders.
The Daily Telegraph in London has reported that Maliki and General David Petraeus, U.S. commander of the multi-national force in Iraq, have clashed over moves by the U.S. general to arm some Sunni groups. Sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims has grown amidst Iraqi government policies seen as supportive of Shias. Maliki is from the Dawa Party backed by Shia Iran.
In Baquba, 50km northeast of the capital, and capital of Diyala, residents say the Shia Badr Organisation, the armed wing of the politically dominant Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), has been dominant in the province since the early months of the occupation.
The Badr Organisation managed to fill leadership positions in city and province, while Sunni Iraqis remained largely unrepresented.
In this set-up, many sectarian killings have been carried out by the Badr Organisation, often under cover of the local police, residents told IPS.
The SIIC and the Dawa Party of the Prime Minister are politically affiliated. Maliki is secretary-general of the Dawa Party, and spent time in exile in Iran after leading insurgent groups against former president Saddam Hussein.
Maliki came to be Prime Minister after political pressure from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former British foreign secretary Jack Straw forced former Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, also from the al-Dawa Party, to resign.
Residents of this violence-plagued city told IPS that it is common for Iraqi police and army forces, most of whom are militiamen with the Badr Organisation, to raid homes of Sunnis during the night, and take away men who are later found dead in the street.
As a result, groups have begun to set up blocks to prevent police patrols from entering their districts at night. There have been several clashes in these districts between residents and people wearing police uniforms attempting to enter.
“All the attacks on the Iraqi police and army have been a reaction to the sectarian orientation of the police and Iraqi army,” Ali Juma’a, a retired Iraqi army officer told IPS. “They (Badr Organisation affiliated Iraqi police) targeted the officers of the previous Iraq army, military pilots who took part in the Iraq-Iran war, members of the Ba’ath party (of Saddam Hussein) and others.”
“Police vehicles are often accompanied by civilian cars,” a resident said, declining to give his name. “These cars are driven by civilians who are new to the city, we never saw them here in the past.” Many residents say they have seen such cars at the police headquarters in Diyala.
The IPS correspondent saw one such car near an Iraqi Army checkpoint – the car like others that residents describe, was a 1993-94 Toyota super saloon. In the back seat were two blindfolded civilians with their hands tied behind their backs.
Day after day, trust in the Iraqi government and its security forces diminishes. This is in the face of increasing popular support for the Iraqi resistance. Local support for the resistance, particularly in Sunni areas, has risen as resistance groups began to protect residents from Badr Organisation death squads.
The death squads are notorious for using checkpoints to look at identity cards of drivers, who are then disappeared if they are of the ‘wrong’ sect.
The chief commander of police is from Khirnabat village whose residents are all Shia. The commander was nominated by the SIIC.
“Coalition forces received complaints about the checkpoint at Jamhoriya Bridge (in the centre of Baquba, 100 metres from the police headquarters), and later they found a prison in the villages Khirnabat and Huwaider (also a Shia village) and freed all the Sunni prisoners,” local resident Hadi Hassan told IPS.
IPS spoke with a Sunni man named Ammar al-Samaraee who had been arrested at the checkpoint and sent to Huwaider village. His father is a well-known figure in the community and managed to have Ammar released after paying 15,000 dollars in ransom. Ammar suffered a broken shoulder and bruises up and down his body.
A Sunni man held prisoner inside the central prison for Diyala province spoke with IPS on condition of anonymity. “There were more than 250 prisoners with me in the prison and all of them were Sunni except one man named Hussein, who was Shia, and was charged with killing his nephew.”
Shia men who were imprisoned would often be freed by a Shia clerk at the prison, he said.
“The entire Iraqi police department for Diyala province is run and controlled by the SIIC and not by the government,” the former prisoner added. “And 95 percent of the staff are Shia.”
(*Ahmed, our correspondent in Iraq’s Diyala province, works in close collaboration with Dahr Jamail, our U.S.-based specialist writer on Iraq who travels extensively in the region.)