Iraqi Insurgents Massacre 49 Iraq Recruits
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JIM LEHRER: The Iraq massacre. We have a report from Edward Wong of the New York Times in Baghdad. Ray Suarez talked to him earlier this evening.
RAY SUAREZ: Edward Wong, welcome to the program. What’s the latest that anyone has been able to establish about how this attack was staged?
EDWARD WONG: Well, a lot of the Iraqi officials are speculating right now that there was some sort of inside information provided to the insurgents, primarily because the three vans were ambushed in a fairly remote road on a day after the recruits had already finished training, and they were going southbound to the city to visit friends and family.
So the guess on the Iraqi government’s part or on certain officials in the government is that there must have been some sort of leak of the schedule of these soldiers.
RAY SUAREZ: Are soldiers, whether freshly trained or experienced veterans, normally transported without heavy armor, without an escort?
EDWARD WONG: Right. It’s I think partly the transportation thing. It was on a fairly remote road and maybe they felt safe going that way without having armored protection.
The more interesting question is why they didn’t have arms, given the fact that basically so many adult males in Iraq have at least an AK-47, if not even heavier weapons.
It’s legal for them all to own one. And given the fact that they were soldiers, it’s sort of surprising that we’re not… that we’re seeing that they didn’t have any arms at all.
And questions have been asked of both American officials training them as well as the Iraqi government why they didn’t have weapons, but so far no official has stepped forward to give a good response to that.
RAY SUAREZ: Is there any evidence that there was any resistance at all on the part of, what was, after all, a large group of men?
EDWARD WONG: No, the policemen who found these men and the Iraqi national guardsmen who helped carry their bodies away didn’t indicate at all that there was any sign of resistance.
Some policemen have said that at least some of the men had their hands tied behind their backs and they all looked to be lying down in the same position, which shows that they either willingly laid down on the ground or they were forced into that position without too much of a struggle.
There is some evidence that one group of men might have tried to run away, but they were quickly gunned down apparently.
RAY SUAREZ: Does this add more evidence to those who allege that there’s a high degree of infiltration into the newly trained Iraqi security forces from outside?
EDWARD WONG: Certainly it’s one of the more prominent incidents recently that lends evidence to that. I think if you ask any of the western reporters who have been here in Iraq for a long time, including myself, they’ll say that a lot of the members of the Iraqi security forces that they meet here are rather actually hostile to the occupation or that they have very little sympathy for the American occupiers.
And in fact, I’ve spoken with several either policemen of national guardsmen myself who have said that they’d be perfectly willing to take up arms against the American soldiers here and against the Iraqi government.
RAY SUAREZ: Earlier today there was a claim of responsibility by a group linked by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the terrorist. Is that a credible claim?
EDWARD WONG: It’s hard to tell, Ray, because the fact is that on almost any high profile attack these days, you do get a claim from Zarqawi’s group. He recently changed the name of his group, according to an Internet posting, to al-Qaida Mesopotamia.
It’s more commonly known as “one god in jihad.” And basically in almost every single large attack that we’ve seen in Iraq, there’s an Internet posting from his group saying they were responsible. But right now it’s unclear exactly who is putting the postings up and whether his group actually did carry this out and how tightly organized this group is.
There could be fairly loose affiliate organizations who are acting in the spirit of his group and thus call themselves part of his group, when in fact they’re not really core members. It’s sort of like al-Qaida isn’t really a core organization. It’s now made up of a lot of loosely affiliated groups.
RAY SUAREZ: Has the government of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi had anything to say about the massacre?
EDWARD WONG: Well, Prime Minister Allawi’s office today said they wanted to open an investigation into whether or not there was inside information provided for this ambush, and that goes in line with what the defense ministry has been saying and what other Iraqi officials have been saying along with the speculation that there was someone who was helping out from the inside on this attack.
RAY SUAREZ: This attack on Iraqi soldiers follows a mortar assault on the Iraqi national guard last week, in which four were killed, 80 were injured.
Does this represent an escalation in the ferocity of the attacks against those who are joining up with the new Iraqi government?
EDWARD WONG: I wouldn’t say that this is necessarily represents a new thing. The whole idea of attacking Iraqi security forces has been going on for a long time here now. We’ve seen many car bomb that have killed almost as many people as this ambush did out in east Iraq.
The thing that is new is the tactic that was used here. Before we haven’t seen bus loads of either recruits or soldiers ambushed in this way. And this is a new thing for the insurgency and it shows a high level of organization.
It also shows a certain amount of ruthlessness on their part, the fact that these men were shot execution style. And it just shows the escalation in tactics.
RAY SUAREZ: Edward Wong in Baghdad, thanks for being with us.
EDWARD WONG: Thanks a lot, Ray.