BAGHDAD, Iraq – Al Qaeda’s arm in Iraq released a video Saturday showing its militants lining up five captured Iraqi security officers and executing them in the street, the latest move in a campaign to intimidate Iraqis and target those who collaborate with U.S.-led forces.
Also Saturday, a U.S. soldier belonging to Task Force Baghdad was killed and another was wounded in a roadside explosion north of the capital, the military said. No other details were given.
In a surprise visit to northern Iraq, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage met Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani to discuss this month’s crucial elections, Kurdish officials said.
Ethnic Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of Iraq’s 26 million people, are eager to take part in the Jan. 30 vote for a national assembly so that they can play a large role in the drafting of a new constitution and carve out broad autonomy in the future Iraq. The United States has sought a unified Iraq and does not want the Kurds pushing for independence – something that Iraq’s neighbor Turkey, with a large Kurdish population of its own – would reject.
A statement posted on an Islamist Web site along with the video denounced the five security officers as “American dogs” and warns other Iraqis they would meet the same fate if they join the security forces. In the video, the five men are seen lined up, their hands bound behind their backs, and shot in the back on a street in front of passers-by.
Insurgents have carried out a string of attacks focusing on Iraqi armed forces in recent weeks, aiming to wreck security ahead of the elections.
Guerrillas have proven increasingly adept at managing the Internet as part of their propaganda campaign against the United States and its ally, the government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, posting technically proficient footage of attacks on convoys and military bases, as well as executions of members of the Iraqi security forces or government officials.
The U.S. military and the interim government in Baghdad want the Iraqi police and National Guards to provide security for the election, and mass desertions from those forces could scuttle such plans.
The video and statement – issued by al Qaeda in Iraq, the group led by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi – did not say where the executions took place, but separate photos of the executions indicated they occurred in the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, on Dec. 26.
In the footage, one of the prisoners identified himself as Lt. Bashar Latif Jassim and said his mission was to “prevent terrorists from entering Iraq.”
When asked by one his captors – who did not appear on camera – who the terrorists are, Jassim said: “Those who sabotage the country.”
The five prisoners, wearing civilian clothes, were shown sitting on the ground with five masked gunmen behind them, one reading a statement. A banner emblazoned “al Qaeda in Iraq” hung in the background.
“Here is another bunch of apostates in the land of Iraq, another group of the doomed soldiers who came to the blessed jihad land of Ramadi to support the apostate Allawi government and help the unjust American enemy,” said the man reading the statement.
“As usual, jihadists have no mercy when it comes to such infidel souls,” he said.
The video then showed the execution. After the men fell to the ground, the gunmen kicked them to see who was still alive, then pumped more bullets into the bodies.
People and cars are visible in the video, passing by during the shooting, and some even stop to watch. One of the masked shooters left a paper, apparently a statement, on the back of one of the bodies.
In a separate statement posted on the Web on Saturday, al-Zarqawi’s group also claimed responsibility for a number of attacks targeting security forces around Iraq earlier in the week. In one of the bloodiest days in recent months, militants killed some 20 policemen on Tuesday in attacks in various Iraqi provinces.
The group also said it was behind an attack on an American post in Samarra the same day. The U.S. military had said three militants were killed in that operation, but al Qaeda claimed that two were only injured. The statement said al Qaeda in Iraq was behind the attacks, which it said were part of a larger operation called “Killing the Mercenary Dogs.”
In the southern province of Najaf, security forces captured 11 people who had allegedly crossed illegally into the country from Saudi Arabia, police Lt. Bahaa al-Jazaeri said. The men, three of whom were Saudi citizens, were carrying explosives and advanced telecommunications equipment, he said.
Meanwhile in Baqouba, 30 miles northeast of Baghdad, gunmen killed the head of the city council, Nawfal Abdul-Hussein al-Shammari, said Abdullah al-Jbouri, governor of Diyala province, of which Baqoubah is the capital.
Elsewhere, a roadside bomb struck an Iraqi National Guard patrol south of Mahmoudiya, a town about 25 miles south of Baghdad, killing a guardsman and wounding six others.
In Baghdad’s western neighborhood of Adl, police found two beheaded bodies on a main street Saturday, witnesses said. Police said they couldn’t identify the victims.