BAGHDAD, Iraq – Sunni Arab clerics raised new allegations Wednesday of human rights abuses by Iraq’s mostly Shiite security forces, an issue complicating American efforts to reach out to a disaffected community whose members fill insurgency ranks.
Bodies of 11 Sunni men were found Wednesday, hours after Iraqi security forces apparently rounded them up in early morning raids, said two major Sunni groups – the Association of Muslim Scholars and the government’s Shiite Endowments.
The dead included Sunni cleric Dia Mohammed al-Janabi, an association member. He and others were taken to a house in a Shiite neighborhood “where they were tortured before being executed,” said a colleague, Sheik Hassan Sabri Salman.
The Sunnis were taken away by armed men “in military uniform,” said Dr. Adnan al-Dulaimi, head of the state-run Sunni Endowment which takes care of Sunni mosques in Iraq. He stopped short of blaming state security forces.
“The government and the American forces that are responsible for the security of the Iraqi people should investigate this matter,” he told Al-Jazeera television.
Mainstream Sunni parties and organizations were already in an uproar over the deaths of at least nine Sunni men in police custody. The men were rounded up following a gunbattle Sunday in Baghdad and police delivered their bodies to a hospital the following day.
The Interior Ministry says it has launched an inquiry into their deaths. It appears the Sunnis suffocated after they were locked in a police van whose air conditioning failed in the 115 degree heat, said Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamel.
The bodies showed evidence of abuse, according to a doctor who spoke on condition on anonymity out of concern for his own safety.
Kamel said if the probe finds evidence of criminal conduct by police, the case will be referred to the courts.
The country’s largest mainstream Sunni political group, the Iraqi Islamic Party, denounced “this savage crime” which shows the “barbaric way citizens are being treated.”
Iraq’s new security forces lack training and experience, acknowledged presidential adviser Wafiq al-Samarie, a Sunni and a former intelligence chief under Saddam Hussein.
Sunni clerics are right to speak out against alleged atrocities committed against their community, but equally “they should denounce strongly and clearly the terror” committed by insurgents “so as not to accuse one side of all the crimes,” al-Samarie said.
Sunni allegations follow a statement this month by Britain’s Defense Ministry and Foreign Office that they were “deeply concerned” by reports of the abuse of suspected terrorists in Iraqi police custody.
Neither ministry would detail the allegations, but The Observer newspaper of London said this month it had photographic evidence of the torture of terror suspects by Iraqi security units.
The newspaper did not publish those photographs, but said the allegations included burning, strangulation, sexual abuse, hanging by the arms, the breaking of limbs and, in one case, the use of an electric drill for a knee-capping.
Many allegations have centered on elite Iraqi units largely made up of Shiite Muslims. That threatens to worsen sectarian tensions at a time when Washington is encouraging the Shiite-dominated government to involve the Sunnis in the political process.
Al-Dulaimi has been at the forefront of efforts by moderate Sunnis to convince members of the community to take part in the political process despite threats by the insurgents.
So far those efforts have brought only limited success – which is now threatened by reports of abuse.