Monday, December 04, 2006

Shi'ite army division accused of abuses

Members of Iraq's 5th Division

BAGHDAD, Iraq - The overwhelmingly Shiite Muslim military force at the forefront of U.S. and Iraqi plans to secure one of the nation's most fractious provinces is accused of arresting hundreds of Sunni men on little or no evidence, threatening to rape a suspect's wife to coerce a confession, and intimidating its commander's critics, according to interviews with Iraqi and U.S. officials.

Backed by U.S. troops, the Iraqi Army's 5th Division on Saturday launched a new offensive to rout suspected al-Qaida-allied terrorists from Baquba, the capital of a province infested with Sunni insurgents, Shiite militias, warring tribes and criminal gangs.

While a U.S. military statement said the weekend operation shows the "commitment of Iraqi army officers and soldiers to protect and secure the people," local residents and Sunni leaders point to the Iraqi division's track record as one of the chief problems plaguing the restive Diyala province north of Baghdad.

Brig. Gen. Shakir Hulayl al-Kaabi, commander of the division, oversees a mostly Shiite force in an area where at least half the population is Sunni. The American officers who previously worked with him have been reported as saying they tried to have him removed for refusing orders and acting on a sectarian agenda. Sunni leaders say his men are waging a campaign of collective punishment because of vicious Sunni insurgent attacks against Shiites and U.S.-led forces.

Despite the laundry list of accusations against al-Kaabi, the Shiite-led government in Baghdad keeps promoting him. With U.S. forces planning to hand over full military control of Diyala and other provinces this spring, the experience of the 5th Division is viewed by many as a harbinger of deep troubles to come as American troops gradually move on.

In the past week, the 5th Division took on supervision of even the local police force, which repeatedly has come under attack and suffers from logistical and leadership problems.

Read the rest at Real Cities News