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Iraqi Forces Kidnapped, Killed Security Employees

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

NPR has learned that Iraqi forces loyal to the Shiite-led government were responsible for the recent kidnapping of about 50 employees of an Iraqi security company. NPR has also learned that almost 20 of those abducted have been killed. Iraq's Sunni political leaders have repeatedly accused the Shiite-led Ministry of the Interior of kidnapping and killing Sunni Arabs. The government has repeatedly denied those charges. NPR's Anne Garrels has more.

ANNE GARRELS reporting:

It was mid-afternoon last Wednesday, broad daylight, when white pickup trucks, the kind used by the Shiite-led Interior Ministry police, pulled up outside a security company in the middleclass neighborhood of Zayuna. Armed men dressed in the uniforms of the police commandos, rounded up about 50 employees and took them away without a fight. On the record, officials of the Interior Ministry denied any involvement. They said it was yet another incident of "terrorists dressing themselves up as policemen."

On background, however, Iraqi ministry officials insisted such an operation had to have had some kind of official backing. How else could so many vehicles travel heavily patrolled city streets? Why else, they said, would guards at the security company not fight back? The head of the Internal Affairs Division of the Interior Ministry, which investigates police abuse, acknowledged he was investigating the case.

The police commando units in particular are largely made up of members of Shiite militias, loyal to the most prominent Shiite political parties. The security company which was raided was run by Sunni Arabs, many of whom had worked in the intelligence divisions of Saddam Hussein. Three low-level employees of the security company have since been released. According to family members, they were tortured and have since fled to Syria.

Family members say they were held by members of the Badr Brigade, a militia linked to the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the leading Shiite political party. The interior minister, Bayan Jabr, is a member of that party. A relative of one of those still being held tells NPR he's been informed his father is alive and in the hands of the Badr militia. He's among the lucky ones.

Nineteen members of the security company have now been found dead. The government hasn't acknowledged this. But sources at the morgue have identified the men. Four were tortured. With hands and legs tied, they were blindfolded and shot in the head. Fifteen were found in a pickup truck. All those had been tortured and strangled. All this comes against the background of escalating sectarian violence and an inability to form a new government.

Three months after elections, Iraq's new parliament was finally sworn in today, but with political parties still deadlocked, he first session was little more than a formality. As the oldest member of parliament, Adnan Pachachi opened the session. He described a country in crisis, saying the danger of civil war is still looming. The head of the Shiite Alliance tried to stop him, but Pachachi continued. Today's parliament session was over after less than half an hour, with no indication when it will meet again. There is no agreement among the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds on the key posts of speaker, president and prime minister.

Anne Garrels, NPR News, Baghdad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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