Bloody Violence Marks Last 24 Hours in Iraq
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RAY SUAREZ: Ellen Knickmeyer, welcome. Have the last two days in Iraq been particularly lethal?
ELLEN KNICKMEYER, Baghdad Bureau Chief, “Washington Post”: Today has been an extraordinary chain of bodies being found around Baghdad. The most marked was 27 bodies found in a mass grave on the eastern edge of Baghdad.
It was 27 men who had been killed from what police said was maybe two days to 10 days ago, and lots of their hands were bound. They were apparently found by children playing soccer in the field.
In all over Baghdad today, there were discoveries of large numbers of bodies. There were two mini-buses that were found; they had a total of 18 bodies. And the killers had shot or strangled all of them. And in one of the mini-buses, they had tied their hands and handcuffed everyone before they killed them.
There were more bodies just all over Baghdad. And lots of it was Sunni neighborhoods, but lots of them were mixed neighborhoods, too, Sunni and Shia.
RAY SUAREZ: What’s the best guess as to what’s caused this sudden uptick in these kinds of killings?
ELLEN KNICKMEYER: The killings like this have been very markedly on the rise since the February 22nd bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra. That was seen as like an attempt to provoke lots of sectarian violence. And sectarian violence, in fact, did follow in large scale, with like hundreds of hundreds being killed.
On Sunday, there was an attack on Sadr City, which is the Baghdad heart of Shiite clerics and militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, and that killed 58 people. And there had been fears that that would set off a new cycle of sectarian killing.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, when you talk about a new cycle, are there patterns to these killings, where they’re happening, who the victims are, how they’re being carried out?
ELLEN KNICKMEYER: You know, one thing is that this number of killings is new. Since the middle of last year, there’s been a surge in execution-style killings, but now it’s really climbing, especially after the mosque bombing.
The first wave of violence after the mosque bombing, all the families of the victims who I talked to and who I knew of were Sunni families who had had Sunni men taken away by what they said were black-clad men with guns. And Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army, typically wears, you know, black uniforms, although Sadr denies any involvement in these killings.
RAY SUAREZ: Are there leaders, people who have the ear of unemployed or underemployed young men, who have the ear of armed gangs or even in the targeted communities who are keeping a lid on this or making it worse?
ELLEN KNICKMEYER: Leaders involved would deny that they’re making it worse, but especially in the Shia parts of Iraq and Baghdad, Muqtada al-Sadr and other Shiite religious parties have thousands of very loyal and armed followers. And I saw them the afternoon of the mosque bombing when there were hundreds of men on foot just reporting to Sadr’s headquarters to get any orders that he was going to give out; I mean, he can command a very disciplined force of gunmen.
RAY SUAREZ: Are there signs that the security forces, both the police, other national Iraqi militia, have been infiltrated by people who are carrying out these killings?
ELLEN KNICKMEYER: They deny that, but both the police and the army are overwhelmingly Shiite. And there’s accusations that Shiite militia fighters with links to these Shiite religious parties are involved in death squads within the interior ministry.
RAY SUAREZ: Is there a form of ethnic cleansing going on now, either voluntarily or just out of fear?
ELLEN KNICKMEYER: I’ve started to hear some international officials start to say that, but privately, that it’s at least small-scale ethnic cleansing. And, yes, I think fear is a big part of this in Iraq, because every side has guns.
And when there’s so much lawlessness to a certain extent it becomes a fight to the death; each wave of killing on one side sets off killings on the other side.
RAY SUAREZ: Who controls the streets day-to-day? And is there any attempt to cut down on these killings by just locking neighborhoods down?
ELLEN KNICKMEYER: Who controls the streets is a good question. There’s so many armed guys in pickups who go through the city. And sometimes they’re government security figures, and sometimes you don’t know who they are. I guess there’s more or less a government because people want to retain law and order as much as they can.
RAY SUAREZ: Ellen Knickmeyer of the Washington Post, thanks for joining us.
ELLEN KNICKMEYER: You’re welcome.