- The Washington Times - Friday, May 21, 2004

KARBALA, Iraq — American AC-130 gunships and tanks battled militiamen near shrines in this Shi’ite holy city yesterday, and fighting was heavy in two other towns south of Baghdad. The military said 18 fighters loyal to rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr were killed.

The military said four persons were detained in Baghdad in connection with the killing of Nicholas Berg, the 26-year-old American whose videotaped beheading was shown on the Internet. Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said two of them, arrested Wednesday, were released after questioning.

An Iraqi security official also said four persons were arrested in the case, but he appeared to be referring to a different group of detainees that he said was led by a relative of Saddam Hussein.

American officials have previously said they believe Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian wanted for purportedly organizing attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq on behalf of al Qaeda, personally carried out Mr. Berg’s decapitation. Footage of the killing was posted on an al Qaeda-linked Web site.

The Iraqi security official said Iraqi police on May 14 arrested four suspects — all former members of Saddam’s Fedayeen paramilitary organization — in a raid in Salaheddin province, north of Baghdad. The group was led by Yasser al-Sabawi, a Saddam nephew who was not among those captured, the official said on the condition of anonymity.

Another Iraqi official, who also declined to be named, confirmed the arrests.

Gen. Kimmitt said the military was unaware of a Saddam connection to the killing.

“I don’t know their prior affiliations or prior organizations,” he said. “We have some intelligence that would suggest they have knowledge, perhaps some culpability.”

Mr. Berg, of West Chester, Pa., was in Iraq seeking business for his communications company. His body was found May 8 near a highway overpass in Baghdad. He was last seen April 10 when he left his Baghdad hotel.

In Karbala, the U.S. military said it killed 18 fighters loyal to Sheik al-Sadr, who launched an uprising against the American-led coalition in early April and is wanted in the slaying of a rival moderate cleric last year. Hospital officials reported 12 deaths, including two Iranian pilgrims. A driver for the Arab television network Al Jazeera was also killed.

Much of the fighting in Karbala was near the city’s Imam Hussein and Imam Abbas shrines, which U.S. forces say are being used by militiamen as firing positions or protective cover.

At least six persons were killed and 56 were injured in fighting in Najaf and neighboring Kufa, where Sheik al-Sadr delivered a defiant sermon to 15,000 worshippers in which he urged his supporters to resist the coalition.

At a checkpoint in Kufa, American forces shot at a car carrying a close aide of Sheik al-Sadr, Mohammed al-Tabtabaei, injuring him and killing his driver, Sheik al-Sadr’s office in Najaf said. Mr. al-Tabtabaei was taken into custody.

In the northern city of Kirkuk, U.S. and Iraqi forces stormed Sheik al-Sadr’s offices and detained 15 persons suspected of a bomb attack there, Reuters news agency reported.

Maj. William Southard told reporters weapons including hand grenades and guns were seized in the raid, which he said aimed to capture Abdulfatah al-Mousawi, Sheik al-Sadr’s Kirkuk representative. Mr. al-Mousawi was not in the building.

Meanwhile 454 prisoners were released yesterday from the Abu Ghraib prison on the western outskirts of Baghdad. Between 3,000 and 4,000 people are still believed held at the prison. The military is still sending detainees considered security risks to Abu Ghraib.

A convoy of at least six buses, accompanied by U.S. troops in armored vehicles and jeeps, took detainees to several areas, including Tikrit and Baqouba, north of the capital.

The release came as new photographs and shots from a video of reputed abuse and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners were published in The Washington Post yesterday. The newspaper reported that some prisoners at Abu Ghraib were ridden like animals, fondled by female soldiers, forced to curse their religion and required to retrieve their food from toilets.

Some of those who freed yesterday told of beatings and psychological abuse. They kissed the ground and kneeled to pray after walking out of the police compound in Baqouba.

Abdul Salam Hussain Jassim, 18, said he was held for three months after an explosion.

“Don’t even talk about torture. They destroyed me,” he said.

The military periodically frees prisoners from Abu Ghraib, which was also notorious as the site of executions and torture during Saddam’s regime.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide