- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 2, 2006

BAGHDAD — For police in Baghdad’s Al Adil neighborhood, the 14 corpses looked like the products of just another night’s work in Iraq’s sectarian war. All were young Sunni men, all had been killed with a bullet to the head, and all were found tossed into a garbage dump.

Only when they noticed their identity cards — carefully placed on the victims’ chests — did officers realize what else they had in common. All shared the same first name: Omar. The victims’ only crime, it seemed, was to be namesakes of Imam Omar, a prominent historical figure in the Sunni religious tradition.

The discovery of the bodies a week ago came as the Iraqi government disclosed that more than 30,000 people had fled their homes to escape Sunni-Shi’ite violence after February’s bombing of the Golden Shrine, a Shi’ite holy site in the city of Samarra. Morgue officials estimate that up to 1,500 have been killed since then, prompting an exodus of people from mixed Sunni-Shi’ite areas.

The men found on the rubbish dump fitted the pattern exactly — they were all Sunni residents of two predominantly Shi’ite neighborhoods in the capital, Al Shaab and New Baghdad, said Capt. Hussam al Bayaati, of Al Adil police station.

“We think they were kidnapped from these two neighborhoods and then killed,” he said. “When we discovered them on the rubbish dump, they all had their IDs placed on their chests.

“They seem to have been targeted because they were called Omar. Some of them had already received messages delivered to their homes telling them to change their names.”

The fact that the men were driven across town to be dumped in Al Adil seems to have been no coincidence. The neighborhood is known across Baghdad as one of the staunchest strongholds of the Sunni insurgency. It was from here that the American reporter, Jill Carroll, was abducted three months ago before being freed last week and near here that a passing busload of 20 Shi’ite pilgrims was killed last month.

Capt. al Bayaati said the garbage dump was close to where the bus was attacked, suggesting that whoever put the bodies there wanted to deliver a warning.

“It looks like some kind of revenge attack, although I am not saying that the Shia people did it.”

The theory that the killings were the work of Shi’ite hit men is bolstered by the fact that Imam Omar has long been seen as an enemy of the Shi’ite faith. He is said to have quarreled with the Shi’ite idol, Imam Ali, over who should assume the leadership of the Muslim community, a dispute that led to his being blamed for the death of Ali’s wife, Fatima, about 1,500 years ago.

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