Iraq suspends 1200 police for ties to abductions, murders

October 6, 2006

IRAQI authorities have suspended an entire brigade of about 1200 police officers for suspected connections to a mass kidnapping and murder.

The Interior Ministry said it would recall and retrain the national police's Eighth Brigade, based in Baghdad, after witnesses reported that men wearing police uniforms were behind the kidnapping last Sunday of 26 workers at a south Baghdad meat processing plant.

Six of the workers were later found dead. One, who had been shot and left for dead, crawled to a military checkpoint, authorities said.

The US military said yesterday that the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq was still very much alive, denying reports by some Iraqi politicians and Arabic media that he had been tracked down and killed.

"We believe he is still alive," a US military spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Barry Johnson, said, dismissing claims by several Iraqi politicians that Abu Ayyub al-Masri and several associates were killed in a US air strike this week.

Masri, an Egyptian who is also known as Abu Hamza al- Muhajir, assumed the leadership of al-Qaeda in Iraq after the Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a US air strike in June.

"There was a raid recently where we thought he may have been among those killed, but now we think it is highly unlikely," Colonel Johnson said.

"We are going to rule out the possibility altogether by doing DNA tests."

Earlier, Hasan al-Senaid, an MP close to the Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, and a second source in the Prime Minister's office said Masri had been killed in a US assault on a safe house in Haditha, western Iraq.

The speculation came as there were more deaths among US occupying forces. Thirteen US soldiers have been killed in Baghdad since Monday, the highest three-day death toll since the start of the war.

The number of planted bombs was at an all-time high, said a military spokesman, Major-General William Caldwell.

"This has been a hard week for US forces," General Caldwell said. "Unfortunately, as expected, attacks have steadily increased in Baghdad during these past weeks."

US military officials said the surge in violence could be partly attributed to the increased exposure of US forces as they patrolled the streets of Baghdad to try to quell reprisal killings between Shiites and Sunnis. The number of troops in the capital has doubled since June to support the Government's new security plans.

The decommissioning of the police brigade comes after street protests erupted at one of the police unit's checkpoints.

General Caldwell said: "There is clear evidence that there was some complicity in allowing death squad elements to move freely, when in fact they were supposed to be impeding their movement, that perhaps they did not respond as rapidly when reports were made."

The Government had "lost trust and confidence in the division's ability to serve the public due to their poor performance and alleged criminal wrongdoings", he said.

Ministry of Health statistics published on Wednesday show 2667 civilians died violently last month, and 2994 were injured.

Many of them fell victim to death squads that pull passers-by off footpaths, seize them from their homes, or drag them out of their cars, then take them to unknown locations. Their bodies are usually found with gunshot wounds and signs of torture.

Authorities said they had documented a near-record number of bomb attacks. Since June 1700 officers have been sacked for possible corruption, abuse of authority or other violations.

Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post