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Iraqi Police Investigated for Possible Ties to Mass Kidnapping

October 4, 2006 at 6:10 PM EDT

GWEN IFILL: Now, two looks at the violence in Iraq. In
addition to the sectarian killings of Iraqi civilians, the past five days have
been especially bloody for U.S.
troops. For an on-the-ground look at these and other developments, I spoke
earlier today with Richard Oppel of the New York Times in Baghdad.

Rich Oppel, welcome. We’re hearing from at least one senior
commander in Iraq
that this has been a very hard week. By my count, eight U.S. soldiers killed in the last
24-hour period, 15 since Saturday, 74 in the month of September. Is there any
concern being expressed about why these numbers seem to be spiking?

RICHARD OPPEL, New York Times: Well, that’s right, Gwen. In
fact, we just received word that there were an additional four deaths north of Baghdad today, all
American soldiers. Earlier today, the top American spokesman in Iraq,
General William Caldwell, said there had been 18 deaths in 96 hours, plus now
there’s four more that have just been reported.

I think the perspective here is that, with this operation
that the Americans started about six or seven weeks ago, or nearly two months
ago, to go through and try to clean out some of the worst Baghdad
neighborhoods, that that has exposed troops more and that there’s a direct
linkage to this increase in deaths that we’ve seen.

GWEN IFILL: Is this increase limited to Baghdad, or is it also in other areas, like
Ramadi and other areas throughout the country?

RICHARD OPPEL: Well, certainly, Ramadi and all of Anbar Province
have continued to see a high number of deaths. I think the number of Marines in
Anbar just in the last few days has been at least five, so that’s been the case
there for some time. Anbar remains, as much of Iraq is, a phenomenally dangerous

But I think — I’m not sure of the precise numbers — but I
think certainly in Baghdad
there’s been a spike. I mean, the death count Monday in Baghdad
of eight, that was the highest single-day total for Baghdad in about 13 months.

GWEN IFILL: Is there any thought being given to part of this
being because Americans are being targeted as part of some new strategy?

RICHARD OPPEL: Well, al-Qaida, in their statements over the
Internet, they’ve called on their fighters to increase the targeting of
Americans. But, you know, the American strategy has been to slowly attempt to
get Iraqi troops more in fore, more on the frontlines.

But certainly with this operation in Baghdad that’s been under way since August
7th, that’s called for more American exposure and more American troops doing
frontline fighting here in the capital. And that’s certainly part of the reason
that we’ve seen this spike.

Ties with death squads

GWEN IFILL: Now, you talk about American exposure. There'salso been much discussion about getting Iraqi forces ready to take over some ofthese security duties, yet we read today that at least one major Iraqi unit, ofthe Iraqi police, have been pulled off the streets?

RICHARD OPPEL: That's right, Gwen. As we understand it, it'sabout 700 members were pulled off. The Americans describe it as that theybelieve that there's possible complicity with death squads.

They haven't given many other details; however, Iraqiofficials are saying that some of this may be related to the kidnapping acouple days ago of 26 food processing workers in Amal, a predominantly Sunniarea of western Baghdad.A few hours after that kidnapping occurred, either seven or 10 -- we've heardtwo different reports on it -- of the victims were turned up dead in southern Baghdad, and most of therest remain unaccounted for.

GWEN IFILL: When you say "possible complicity,"does that mean that there are people who have infiltrated the ranks of thesepolice trainees or that they just haven't been trained properly?

RICHARD OPPEL: As I understand it, it's much more of atraining issue. It's more an issue of allowing death squads free passagethrough their area or even greater complicity than that.

Returning security to Baghdad

GWEN IFILL: So is there any talk about what the U.S. can doabout this, whether it's withholding U.S. money for training, whether it's somehowsitting down with partners and trying to get this done right?

RICHARD OPPEL: Well, there are a couple different thingsgoing on, on that front. You know, the situation has gotten worse and worsehere. People in Baghdad, residents here, talk more and more about howendangered they feel, just because they're either Shiite or Sunni, and manytimes people are being killed simply because they're either Shiite or Sunni andthey run into the wrong militia or the wrong checkpoint.

Senior military officials in the last week or two haveincreasingly voiced concern about this and about the inability of thegovernment to do anything about militias. They've said that something needs tobe done in a much more forceful manner by the Iraqi government.

On one specific case, a case of where we had clear evidenceof torture and abuse at a prison run by national police, a prison called Site 4just last week, the American ambassador here, Zalmay Khalilzad, informed seniorIraqi officials that there's a federal law in the United States that prohibitsaid from going to foreign security forces that are complicit in human rightsviolations and who are not brought to justice. And he raised that issue withthem, and it's something that could lead to a cut-off if something is not donein that case.

Also, the prime minister announced a fairly ill-definedproposal two nights ago to create local neighborhood committees that would tryto arbitrate some sectarian disputes and bring civilians and citizens in closertouch with the Iraqi security forces.

GWEN IFILL: So we're still waiting to hear the details ofthat plan?

RICHARD OPPEL: That's right. The plan didn't specificallyoutline how they would deal with militias and what the strategy was beyondthat, so we're still waiting to hear more details of that.

GWEN IFILL: All right, Rich Oppel, thank you very much forjoining us.

RICHARD OPPEL: Thanks very much, Gwen. It's good to be here.