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CNN: SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT
Aired March 17, 2007 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): By now, you've probably seen this: the grainy images, the taunts, Saddam Hussein hanged at dawn. But you probably have not seen these images, limbs broken, men pushed off buildings blown up with explosives. A gruesome horror show played for hours on Iraqi TV before the execution, detailing Saddam's years of brutality against Iraq's Shia Muslims.
Though hard to watch, this important footage does so much to explain the rage that's exploded across Iraq and caught thousands of Americans in the crossfire. You see, Saddam was a Sunni Muslim. When the Americans invaded and got rid of his regime, the Shia Muslims he had so brutally oppressed took control of the government and soon began taking their own bloody revenge.
(on camera): The news reports are numbing, the reality worse. Now a rare view of what it looks like on the ground, a startling investigation into the brutality of Shiite death squads, their connections to the police and possibly top government officials from a team of journalists. British journalist Deborah Davies, an Iraqi journalist working anonymously; and me, John Roberts.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We uncover stories never heard, images never seen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...tough streets of Baghdad.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...on thin ice.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Gang members driving down this street.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They walked out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...a deadly risk.
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You can hear and see the choppers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Now, John Roberts, "Death Squads."
ROBERTS (voice-over): Four years after the American invasions and the fall of Saddam, Iraq is more fractured, more complex, and more violent than ever. There are the Sunnis, both Saddam loyalists who make up part of the insurgency and al Qaeda members led by this man, Abu-Ayyub al-Masri. Almost every day, their bombers kill innocent Shias in market places, in homes, or in mosques. Thousands have died. A frequent target, men lining up to become Iraqi police.
And there are the Shia. Today, for the first time in decades, the Shia majority runs Iraq's government and their powerful militias run many of the streets. This hour focuses on rogue forces working deep within the government, Shia death squads that have penetrated Iraqi security forces and who execute their own: brutal justice. Their mission: not governance or unity, but control and revenge.
The story of Iraq's death squads began in 2003. The American invasion left the country in ruins. Bayan Jabr, a Shia, was appointed minister of housing and construction. Mike Karem was his senior American advisor.
MIKE KAREM, SENIOR AMERICAN ADVISOR TO BAYAN JABR: He was articulate. He was well-groomed, well-dressed, and -- meticulously dressed, spoke English when he wanted to. And he was surrounded by this group of men that were his own private bodyguards. And there were hundreds of them. They were dressed in black, all black shirt, black pants, shoes, but they were all armed.
Jabr immediately made his presence felt.
KAREM: He went in there, into the cleansing, and the people who had been Sunnis, people of other religions, they pushed him out. And they -- and we noticed this movement of bringing Shia into the main positions within the ministry. Everybody did.
ROBERTS: During Saddam Hussein's reign, Bayan Jabr spent years in exile in Iran, a major supporter of his Shia political party and its military wing, the Badr Brigade. The common goal -- to overthrow Saddam and his Sunni government. But the American military took care of that.
Rick Clay was another advisor to Jabr.
RICK CLAY, AMERICAN ADVISOR TO BAYAN JABR: This is a very powerful position to have. Roads, bridges, hospitals, palaces, mosques, everything is designed and built -- and military bases are all built out of the Ministry of Housing Construction.
ROBERTS: But corruption was a huge problem in the new Iraq. During the rebuilding of the grand mosque, millions of dollars worth of construction equipment were stolen and illegally sold while ministry guards turned a blind eye.
KAREM: And it wasn't at nighttime, it was in broad daytime. And it wasn't mom and pop with a screwdriver and a pair of pliers, this was very well organized. Everything was documented about the corruption, about the theft of equipment, about our suspicions that he was taking the Ministry of Housing and turning it into a Shia operation with these Badr forces. ROBERTS: Karem and Clay put together a damning report about Jabr's ministry and submitted it to their bosses at CPI, the Coalition Provisional Authority headed by American ambassador Paul Bremer. The report described Jabr as authoritarian and corrupt, charging him with religious discrimination and creating a climate of fear and retribution. Karen and Clay wanted Bayan Jabr replaced.
For Ambassador Paul Bremer, the report was neither memorable nor unique.
AMBASSADOR PAUL BREMER, HEAD, COALITION PROVISIONAL AUTHORITY: There were reports periodically about various ministries making misuse of funds and so forth and in some cases of pressure from the Shia on the Sunnis. If I fired everybody against whom there were allegations, I would have had to fire pretty much everybody because there was a lot of score settling going on as there still is.
ROBERTS: Instead, Karem and Clay were fired.
CLAY: They decided that Mike and I needed to be replaced, that they saw us as being ineffective with dealing with the minister. They decided they were going to keep him. And it was probably more politically expedient to ship us out at that particular time.
ROBERTS: Paul Bremer says he does not recall these events.
BREMER: I can't help you.
ROBERTS: For two years, Karen and Clay didn't talk about their experience. But after Bayan Jabr was promoted to interior minister in 2005 and reports grew about death squads, they became too angry to keep quiet.
CLAY: Every time I see him on TV, it just malls at my very soul. You know I have talked to so many people in the Department of State and DOD, the intelligence communities that have dealt with this man, and they feel the same way. This man should not be there.
KAREM: They may not have liked what I said, they might not have liked me, but how in the hell do you keep him and you let him continue to now we're at the point of a civil war?
BREMER: Look, our political objective as the occupying power was to give as much responsibility as quickly as possible to the Iraqi people and to the Iraqi ministers, and to let the ministers do as much as possible to run their government.
ROBERTS: In June of 2004, Ambassador Bremer left Iraq. The Coalition Provisional Authority was dissolved. And with U.S. support, Iraqis assumed control. Power was now in the hands of the new government of Iraq.
ROBERTS (voice-over): This is the MOI, Iraq's Ministry of Interior, a place so widely feared, local cameramen would not film it in the open. These images of the ministry were taken from a Baghdad hotel room.
In June of 2004, Kevin Morris was a U.S. sniper based at the Ministry of Interior.
KEVIN MORRIS, U.S. SNIPER: The MOI was an 11-story building, kind of rectangular in shape. We had observation posts on the east and west side in the upper floors.
ROBERTS: Morris took pictures through his rifle sight as police brought prisoners into the ministry compound below.
MORRIS: Well, they were forced onto their knees. Their shirts were stripped off their back. And at first they were just beaten with rubber hoses. There were sometimes as many as two or three individuals that were beating the one bound and blindfolded prisoner.
As time progressed and they worked their way through people, the beatings got more severe. At one point, a metal bar was used. They were tying their feet and elevating them and then beating the soles of their feet.
ROBERTS: Morris alerted his superiors. And U.S. troops soon arrived to put a stop to the torture. But after an hour, they were ordered to withdraw. The prisoners were later transferred to proper jails but not before, Morris says they were beaten again.
MORRIS: When we returned to the patrol base, there was a general order, a generalized order, not to speak of the incident.
ROBERTS: The Ministry of Interior is in charge of Iraq's internal security. When Bayan Jabr took over as minister, he was responsible for training police troops.
JERRY BURKE, SENIOR ADVISOR TO BAYAN JABR: You know we really didn't know what to expect.
ROBERTS: Jerry Burke, a former top U.S. police officer, was a senior advisor to Jabr for most of 2005.
BURKE: An order of the Ministry would sign; he was authorizing the hiring of 1,300 people directly into a commando unit so -- and without any police training, without any background checks. It was just wholesale recruitment and we suspected it was just one of the units within the Badr organization being put on the payroll of the Ministry of Interior. ROBERTS: Zalmay Khalizad became the American ambassador to Iraq in June of 2005. He admits the U.S. made mistakes early on.
ZALMAY KHALIZAD, FORMER AMERICAN AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: Maybe enough attention was not paid to the issue of the composition or the infiltration of the -- some of the security forces by the militia. But I have to say at the same time that while this is a problem, a significant problem, that a lot of Iraqi forces are behaving in a national manner that they don't behave in sectarian manner.
ROBERTS: In January, Bayan Jabr gave CNN a rare interview. He admits there was some infiltration, but lays the blame squarely on U.S. mismanagement.
BAYAN JABR, FORMER IRAQI MINISTER OF INTERIOR (through translator): Infiltration happened because Bremer dissolved the army and police. Then when the insurgency worsened, they rushed to build up the forces in a very indiscriminate way. It was a free for all.
ROBERTS: As more Shia militiamen were recruited by the ministry, more bodies began turning up often shackled in police hand cuffs, these victims. Because they were dumped in the same places every day, Jerry Burke wanted to set up a surveillance operation to catch the killers.
BURKE: When we talked to Iraqi police, particularly the Major Crimes Unit, which would have had the unit to investigate murders or internal affairs if there was a suspicion that they were special police organizations, and both of these organizations were very reluctant, and in fact, refused to investigate these sites. They believed that the suspects, the perpetrators, were members of the special police and were more heavily armed and would have killed members of Major Crimes Unit or internal affairs in retaliation for investigating it.
ROBERTS: If the police commandos were to blame, it would be politically explosive because they were under the direct control of Minister Jabr.
BURKE: Bayan Jabr's job should have been to prevent or investigate. And there was no evidence that he did either of that. He was at least passively improving what was going on, at least.
ROBERTS: Jabr denies either condoning or controlling these death squads. In fact, he denies that they existed in any organized way.
JABR (through translator): It's one of two things. Either it is an act on the part of individual officers or soldiers and we know nothing about it, or it's civilians dressed who dress in police uniforms and carry out these vigilante acts.
ROBERTS: Next, one family, six widows, tell the story of Iraq today.
ROBERTS (voice-over): It's not safe for anyone to travel around Baghdad these days, let alone western journalists. Our Iraqi colleague, a journalist we'll call Abdullah, to protect his identity, is traveling to the Hariah district of Baghdad to meet with a prominent Sunni family that knows first hand the violence of the Shia death squads.
ABDULLAH, IRAQI JOURNALIST: Touring in the Sunnis' district, you'll find most of the roads are closed by the people to protect themselves.
ROBERTS: March 2002, a video of Sunni Sheik Kadim Sareed (ph) in happier times, one of his five sons is getting married. And this is the Sheik's home today after dozens of uniformed men burst in. It is now a house of six widows, the children without fathers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The oldest is 6 years old. Why has this happened to us?
ROBERTS: It happened in November 2005. Anid (ph) was asleep in her parent's bed.
ANID (through translator): I was asleep and got up. I heard a gunshot, so I cuddled up to my dad. Then they came into our room and they shot Daddy. I told them not to kill my father but the man told me to shut up and threatened to hit me. Then he went and shot my uncle.
ROBERTS: In all, five men were executed that night. The groom had been killed three weeks earlier.
After a year, the six widows still will not go into their bedrooms, so a child takes Abdullah. The boy knows every bullet hole in every bedroom.
A neighbor took this footage hours after the massacre. One of the widows says her husband, a policeman, recognized the gunmen as fellow officers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): He grabbed one of them by the hand. He told them that he was a policeman like them. He said, "I am with you, I am with you," but they shot him in the stomach.
ROBERTS: The massacre of this prominent family sent shockwaves through this predominantly Sunni neighborhood. Witnesses insist the killers were in uniform and arrived in 10 official vehicles.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They came to these innocents at night. They were wearing Commando uniforms and they killed them. They tried, they tried to arrest them and couldn't, so they murdered them.
ROBERTS: It is security units, like the one believed responsible for this massacre that are heavily infiltrated by Shia militia groups. Jabr insists these men are not police, rather criminals or terrorists in police uniforms. We asked him why untrained Shia militia members were allowed to infiltrate the police.
JABR (through translator): These people were properly trained. They were trained about human rights and the rule of law.
ROBERTS: And we asked why he did so little to investigate the kidnapping, killing and torturing of Iraqi civilians. JABR (through translator): These are vicious lies. These are vindictive accusations based on political and sectarian motives. I used to get four hours of sleep a day because I was personally confronting terror. It was a vicious onslaught.
ROBERTS: Next, torture, detention, a secret prison, uncovered.
ROBERTS (voice-over): The Ministry of Interior runs many prisons in Iraq, some of them illegally, according to U.S. reports. Allegations of torture and mistreatment are frequent. In June, 2006, an Iraqi government delegation made an unannounced visit to a prison in Diala Province, once used by Saddam and his security apparatus. There were allegations that it was illegally run by a Shia police commando unit believed to be torturing and killing Sunnis.
Mohammad al-Danni, Sunni member of Parliament, normally a hostile of the west, wants us to see the images from his visit to Diala prison. This is tape, now seen for the first time in the U.S. Al-Danni says they found several hundred men, all Sunnis, locked up in a handful of dark, overcrowded rooms. Almost none of them, he says, had been charged with any crime.
MOHAMMAD AL-DANNI, SUNNI IRAQI PARLIAMENT MEMBER (through translator): I believe most of the prisoners have been jailed on false and groundless accusations. They told me 70 inmates had been sexually abused.
ROBERTS: One man is desperate to speak to al-Danni. He says he's an imman at a local mosque. He tells al-Danni he confessed to murder, a murder he knew nothing about it.
AL-DANNI (through translator): They brought his family in front of him. They told him to choose between confessing to killing a man or seeing his family raped. Despite the fact that he confessed, he says he was still raped twice.
ROBERTS: Prisoners showed him how they had been tortured: fingernails ripped out, burns, beatings. The police commandos running this prison had been under the control of Bayan Jabr. Jabr ran the Ministry until May of 2006, a month before this footage was recorded.
AL-DANNI (through translator): This started when Bayan Jabr was a minister of the Interior. He's been involved in many crimes in Iraq. There's a great deal of evidence against him. And he should be handed over to the international court as a war criminal.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They beat me up. They insulted my honor, my mother, and my sister. Aren't we Muslims? Aren't we brothers?
ROBERTS: Jabr says al-Danni never came to him with the problem.
JABR (through translator): This is the first time I hear about this. I have 18 provinces. Where do I start?
ROBERTS: Jabr insists only one secret prison has ever been discovered, that he punished those responsible, and that the reports of abuse are exaggerated. But U.S. government reports say differently. Several secret prisons, some run by the Interior Ministry, had been exposed in the last two years. The reports of torture verified by international experts.
Three days after he exposed the Diala prison, 10 of Mohammed al- Danni's relatives paid him a visit.
AL-DANNI (through translator): They led us down through an area under the control of the Iraqi security forces. They were kidnapped from their bus and driven away by armed men in military and police uniforms.
ROBERTS: The next time al-Danni saw them; all 10 had been murdered, shot and dumped on a Baghdad street. This film was shot by one of his relatives. Leaflets scattered around the bodies congratulate the killers of these -- quote -- "non-believers."
AL-DANNI (through translator): I discovered that my cousin's killers were militiamen, part of a death squad within the police and the army. The attack has been ordered by those whom are implicated in the Diala prison case.
ROBERT: The massacre hasn't silenced al-Danni, just the opposite. He escorts British journalist Deborah Davies to his office, a dangerous trip even with an armed convoy. He wants to show us what he says is more evidence of crimes against humanity, committed by police commandos working under Bayan Jabr. Even the photographs are hard to look at.
DEBORAH DAVIES, BRITISH JOURNALIST: There's a bullet hole. Drill -- these are electric drill holes.
ROBERTS: Al-Danni says these men were tortured and killed by police at the Diala prison. Then new evidence al-Danni says relates to dozens of murders and kidnappings by the police. Al-Danni insists it proves Shia death squads operated during Jabr's time in interior.
This is a highly sensitive Iraqi military intelligence report. It describes how, in February, 2006, 18 police commandos were caught during a kidnapping operation. In the report, the police commander says he's been part of seven other kidnapping operations. Each time, he says, senior police officers provided the names of people they wanted to pick up. Many were later found dead.
DAVIES: And this is their confession or is this the report of the investigation?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the report of the investigation.
ROBERTS: The commander says his superiors claim to belong to a Shia militia group, the Badr Brigade, the military wing of Bayan Jabr's political party.
In 2005, Ada Usaran was a deputy human rights minister in the Iraqi government. Usaran, who calls herself secular, lived in exile in Britain for more than 20 years, after Saddam murdered her son. She told Deborah Davies that she personally investigated reports of torture within the Ministry of Interior building itself.
ADA USARAN, DEPUTY HUMAN RIGHTS MINISTER OF IRAQI GOVERNMENT: So I wouldn't believe them because it's a ministry that belongs to the government. And the interior minister has to know about it. So not the second time, the third time, I said can I come with you.
ROBERTS: Usaran says that inside the Ministry of Interior building she found dozens of people being abused. One woman's story horrified her above all others.
USARAN: She told me that she was raped three times in the same building. And the people whom she said were raping her, who were they? They were the policemen and the security people who were in the Interior Ministry.
ROBERTS: Usaran confronted Bayan Jabr about the alleged torture in his ministry.
DAVIES: There is a suggestion that he was saying I admit this is happening but it's just a few bad people in the ministry. USARAN: No, he didn't mention that word, that "I admit" that this is happening. You know he apologized for what happened. And he said I don't know about it. I heard from your -- I read your report and I will look after what's happening.
DAVIES: So he said he didn't know what was happening...
USARAN: Yes, that's what he said.
DAVIES: ...on that floor of his own ministry.
USARAN: Of course. Of course, yes.
DAVIES: Did you believe that?
USARAN: No, no.
ROBERTS: Jabr says he investigated, that Usaran was misinformed, and that the floor in the Ministry was, in fact, the accounting department.
Bayan Jabr left the Ministry of Interior in May of 2006 to become Iraq's finance minister. But by then, the Shia death squads were firmly entrenched, the cycle of violence escalating.
(END VIDEOTAPE) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
ROBERTS (voice-over): Early morning, February 22, 2006, Sunni insurgents detonate two bombs inside the Golden Mosque, one of the holiest of Shia shrines, destroying the golden dome and igniting a wave of violence that continues today. Baghdad is being ripped apart by civil war. Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda terrorists continue to attack and kill Americans and Shias. Shia militia groups operating inside and outside of the government abduct, torture and murder Sunnis. The ongoing violence often leaves American forces caught in the middle.
The ongoing violence often leaves American forces caught in the middle. On this day, I head off on a mission with a group of U.S. Army Strykers. Colonel Michael Shields says they're trying to put down all sectarian violence.
COL. MICHAEL SHIELDS, U.S. ARMY STRYKER: We're going after anybody that threatens the security of the people. I don't care what color they wear. We'll hunt them 24 hours a day, night and night. We'll go anywhere in the city.
ROBERTS: Suddenly, news of a bomb blast. This is the immediate aftermath of an attack by an IED, an improvised explosive device.
(on camera): It was an American patrol coming up this on-ramp, a group of Humvees, about five or six of them. The improvised explosive device, the roadside bomb, went off and literally blew the turret off of one of the Humvees. You can see it down there in the area between the two ramps. It looks like it's pretty serious.
(voice-over): The wounded and the dying are evacuated. The site secured. Nearby houses searched. The American soldiers killed and wounded in this attack were here to train Iraqi police in an effort to combat sectarian violence.
Bayan Jabr's successor, Jawad al-Bolani, also a Shiite, took over as Minister of Interior in May of 2006. Since then, one national police unit suspected of infiltration by death squads was taken off the streets for retraining. In addition, all national police brigades were ordered to be retrained in anti-militia and anti-sectarian operations. A ministry spokesman tells CNN that Bolani has fired 10,000 police and other employees with the promise to fire thousands more.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We are not talking here about death squads. We are talking here about individuals. And if those individuals violate the law, they will be punished. It's a kind of rebirth of the ministry.
ROBERTS: U.S. Ambassador Khalizad insists that changes have been made at the top levels of the Iraqi government.
KHALIZAD: Last year, when the government was informed, it spoke very clearly that we did not want anyone to be minister of interior or defense who had militia ties, that would be dependant.
ROBERTS: Recently, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki talked with CNN's Michael Ware about these rogue forces.
NURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I will apply the law to everyone, as I said, to militias, political parties, to participants in the political process. The law rules. And who is on my side and respecting the law and the government, we be an ally and a partner. Who bends against the law and the governments will be at fault.
ROBERTS: In early 2007, the Iraqis and Americans launched a new offensive, cracking down on the militias. While the violence seems to have decreased, many fear the results are only temporary. Still, bodies are turning up daily in the streets, the victims of a bloody civil war that the United Nations says claimed more than 34,000 civilians, Shias and Sunnis, in 2006.
Many of the victims of Iraq's civil war are brought here to the Baghdad morgue, a government facility controlled by another Shia militia, the Mahdi Army. We're told only Shia men come here looking for their dead. Sunni men stay clear for fear of being kidnapped or killed.
The Mahdi Army controls large sections of Baghdad; its leader, Muqtada al Sadr. Nearly everyone is affected by the militia and many need protection from it. So they come here to the association of Muslim Scholars, a Sunni religious and civic group, because they do not trust the police or security forces. Hamad is a Sunni living in a mixed neighborhood. The Mahdi Army, he says, has given his family two days to leave their home or be killed.
SHEIKH YUNIS AL AGAIDI, ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM SCHOLARS (through translator): We attack people, burn houses and threaten the citizens, all of it under the nose of the government, the Army and the police. That's why I say these violations take place with the blessing and participation of the government.
ROBERTS: A Sunni woman calls for help. She asks if the association would notify the Americans that her family has been attacked by the Mahdi Army.
AL AGAIDI (through translator): No, we won't approach the Americans. We'll handle it using other means that don't involve them. The Americans are the cause of all our problems.
ROBERTS: The sheik has dozens of videos, like this one showing 36 Sunnis who he says were tortured and killed by the police for no reason other than living in an ethnically mixed neighborhood.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): In a week since it happened, Hamid's brother, the people who took him away at dawn wore the uniforms of police commanders.
ROBERTS: The Shiek says this video shows what happened to 14 Sunni farmers arrested, reportedly as revenge for a car bomb that killed many Shia.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is Jabar Mutiaq, one of the victims. Bruises on his face. His teeth have been pulled out. Bruises all over his body. His skull has been smashed. His eyes gouged out, his ear torn apart.
ROBERTS: The violence is an everyday occurrence for American forces.
(on camera): The commander of this company tells me that they find dead bodies in this neighborhood every day. So what they're going to do is spend about the next six hours here going building to building, house to house, in a clearing operation, searching through the buildings. They might find caches of weapons. They might find explosives. They might even find a few militia members who they suspect might be behind some of these sectarian killings.
(voice-over): Instead, the soldiers find Iraqi citizens desperate for help.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Basically, a month ago your son was kidnapped. Have they asked for a ransom?
ROBERTS: This woman has a similar story.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They came up to his car. They held a gun to his head and then walked off with him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you haven't gotten a ransom for your son?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, there's been nothing, nothing since then.
ROBERTS: Captain Thomas Babbot says this happens here often. Sometimes those who are kidnapped are later released, sometimes they're not.
CAPTAIN THOMAS BABBOT, U.S. ARMY: One of the major body dumping grounds is right down at the end of the street.
ROBERTS: Kidnapping, bodies dumped in the streets, IEDs, suicide bombers; Baghdad is gripped in a cycle of sectarian killing. A bomb has exploded in Sadr City section of Baghdad, home to 2 1/2 million Shia. A local cameraman gave us this footage: people waiting for cooking oil and then a terror attack. Forty dead, targeted simply because they were Shia. The killers, most likely Sunni insurgents and that means that the Shia death squads will soon take their revenge.
ROBERTS (voice-over): This is Sadr City in Baghdad; crowded, poor, and the center of the Shia community. This is the Mahdi Army's heartland. Muqtada al Sadr is omnipresent in this part of the city. Members of the al Sadr family were brutally murdered by Saddam's Sunni regime. To many Shias, al Sadr is their defender, his organization a provider of social services.
In the new Iraq, the Shia, representing 60 percent of the population, are tasting power for the first time.
This is the Health Ministry. It is under the control of al Sadr's followers. This video shows what allegedly happened to 10 Sunnis who visited a relative in the hospital. The police locked them in a freight container. This man, the sole survivor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Everyone was begging everyone else, "Please don't breathe a lot." Then we all began to lose consciousness and I blacked out. I only woke up that night when someone splashed water on my face. We were all rushed to a remote hospital. They were all dead. I was still alive, thanks God.
ROBERTS: Most doctors here would not talk with us, fearing that they will wind up like many of their colleagues, kidnapped or killed. But this man, too frightened to be identified, wants to tell his story. He describes how the followers of Shia cleric Muqtada al Sadr ran his hospital.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If an ill or wounded person comes into the hospital from a given region, they are kidnapped and taken away, and later their body is found dumped somewhere. Once there was an older ill woman. She was sick. She had either high blood pressure or diabetes. She was rushed into the hospital, which was well known for treating these things. In the E.R., once it became known she was someone's wife, a sheik who headed a tribe of a specific sect, a member of the hospital guards murdered her in the emergency room. In another incident, a man walked called Amar (ph) walked into the hospital; then his brother Mahmoud. They were both killed in the E.R. This incident made not just Sunni but also Shia doctors.
ROBERTS: In the fall of 2006, Deborah Davies interviewed Baha al Araji, a spokesman for Muqtada al Sadr. Al Sadr seldom speaks to western journalists and has not appeared in public in Iraq for months. Davies and al Araji spoke about the Mahdi Army, in Arabic known as the Jaish al Mahdi. DAVIES: We are hearing that Sunni families are being told by the Jaish al Mandi you must leave your homes. And unless you do so, you will be killed. Why is that happening?
BAHA AL ARAJI, MUQTADA AL SADR SPOKESMAN (through translator): Many gangs and groups are working for foreign intelligence agencies in Iraq and they claim to operate in the name of the Mahdi Army, which is false and has no basis.
DAVIES: But the stories are absolutely consistent. Every single day we hear it is the Jaish al Mandi. They kidnap people. They torture people. They kill people. They say to people -- they tell people who they are. They turn up in uniforms and with their guns.
AL ARAJI (through translator): First of all, these black clothes can be found anywhere. The fact that they're wearing uniforms doesn't mean they're the Mahdi Army. And it's universally known that criminals don't reveal their true identity. ROBERTS: For now in Iraq, murder and retaliation are the norm. Consider this, December, 2006 was the deadliest month of the year for the American military. Total casualties since the war began, well over 3,000. And the numbers are even more devastating for the Iraqis. The United Nations calculates that nearly 100 civilians were killed each day in 2006.
But now the political landscape in the United States is changing drastically. One of the war's main architects, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is out. And the new Democratic Congress is putting increasing pressure on President Bush to get the troops out.
But many Iraqis believe a quick U.S. withdrawal would leave the future of their country in the hands of some who'd put religious division above national unity. As Sunni insurgents and Shia death squads and militias continue their bloody civil war.
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