BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq’s interior minister, whose forces are accused of complicity in sectarian death squad killings, strenuously defended his agency in an interview with U.S. reporters Friday and said he had the backing of the prime minister and the parliament to remove corrupt and incompetent commanders from the streets.
But Jawad Bolani, a political independent who took over as interior minister in June after weeks of infighting over the post, also downplayed the problems at the ministry, seen by many as a source of sectarian tension and violence throughout the country.
He said that more than two-thirds of the victims of sectarian killings show up in areas of Baghdad under the control of the Ministry of Defense, which oversees the Iraqi army, suggesting the intense U.S. and Iraqi focus on the alleged abuses of his forces is exaggerated.
“Baghdad is not only the Ministry of Interior,” Bolani said in his Baghdad offices. “It is divided in responsibility.”
Iraq’s Shiite-dominated Ministry of Interior has been accused by Sunni Arab politicians of harboring or tolerating Shiite militias that have been linked to a torrent of targeted murders of Sunni Arab civilians. Dozens of corpses bearing signs of torture show up daily in the Tigris River or dumped in abandoned lots. At least 18 such bodies were discovered Friday in Baghdad.
North of the capital, near the Tigris River town of Dhululiya, police discovered the beheaded bodies of 14 Shiite laborers who were among 17 abducted by unknown gunmen believed to be Sunni Arab insurgents on Thursday. The victims were found handcuffed and their corpses bore signs of torture.
South of the capital, insurgents killed an Iraqi SWAT team commander, Salam Trad, while he was at work Friday by smuggling a bomb deep inside a fortified Ministry of Interior compound in an attack that also killed a deputy and injured two others, officials said. One U.S. soldier was reported as having been killed in combat near Tikrit on Thursday when a homemade bomb struck his vehicle. A U.S. news release said two Western security contractors guarding a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers convoy were killed by a roadside bomb Wednesday.
Bolani sidestepped questions about whether he saw any militia influence in his government ministry. But he drew a distinction between militias that existed prior to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and others such as radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s al-Mahdi Army that emerged afterward. Under Iraqi law, those that existed before the invasion and fought former President Saddam Hussein have a right to be incorporated into security forces, while the others are outside of the law, he said.
Few sectarian gang members who have been arrested were employees of the ministry, Bolani said. Often they worked for a separate Iraqi security force that guards government buildings, or are security guards at other ministries or for politicians.