- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 2, 2005

BAGHDAD — Al Qaeda’s arm in Iraq released a video yesterday showing its terrorists executing five captured Iraqi security officers, the latest move in a campaign to intimidate Iraqis and target those who work with U.S.-led forces.

Also yesterday, a U.S. soldier belonging to the Task Force Baghdad was killed and another was wounded in a roadside explosion north of the capital, the military said. No other details were given.

In a surprise visit to northern Iraq, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage met Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani to discuss this month’s crucial elections, Kurdish officials said. State Department officials said Mr. Armitage arrived in Baghdad Friday and met with embassy personnel and with U.S. commander Gen. George Casey before traveling to the Kurdish area.

Ethnic Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of Iraq’s 26 million people, are eager to take part in the Jan. 30 vote for a national assembly so that they can play a large role in the drafting of a new constitution and carve out broad autonomy in the future Iraq.

Washington does not want the Kurds pushing for independence — something that Turkey and Iraq’s other neighbors with large Kurdish minorities would reject.

A statement posted on an Islamic Web site along with the video denounced the five slain security officers as “American dogs” and warned other Iraqis they would meet the same fate if they join the security forces. In the video, the five men are seen lined up, their hands bound behind their backs, before being shot from behind on a street in front of passers-by.

Police found two beheaded bodies on a main street in Baghdad’s western neighborhood of Adl yesterday, witnesses said. A note with the corpses said they were truck drivers killed for working with the U.S. military.

Insurgents have carried out a string of attacks focusing on Iraqi armed forces in recent weeks, aiming to wreck security ahead of the elections.

The U.S. military and the interim government in Baghdad want the Iraqi police and national guard to provide security for the election, and mass desertions from those forces could scuttle such plans.

The video and statement — issued by Al Qaeda in Iraq, the group led by Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi — did not say where the executions took place, but separate photos of the executions indicated they occurred in the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, on Dec. 26.

In the footage, one of the prisoners identified himself as Lt. Bashar Latif Jassim and said his mission was to “prevent terrorists from entering Iraq.”

When asked by one his captors — who did not appear on camera — who the terrorists are, Lt. Jassim said, “Those who sabotage the country.”

The five prisoners, wearing civilian clothes, were shown sitting on the ground with five masked gunmen behind them, one reading a statement. A banner emblazoned “Al Qaeda in Iraq” hung in the background.

“Here is another bunch of apostates in the land of Iraq, another group of the doomed soldiers who came to the blessed jihad land of Ramadi to support the apostate Allawi government and help the unjust American enemy,” said the man reading the statement.

The video then showed the execution. After the men fell to the ground, the gunmen kicked them to see who was still alive, then pumped more bullets into the bodies.

People and cars are visible in the video, passing by during the shooting, and some even stop to watch.

In a separate statement posted on the Web yesterday, Zarqawi’s group also claimed responsibility for a number of attacks targeting security forces around Iraq earlier in the week. In one of the bloodiest days in recent months, militants killed some 20 policemen Tuesday in attacks in various Iraqi provinces.

In the southern province of Najaf, security forces captured 11 persons who were suspected of crossing illegally into the country from Saudi Arabia, police Lt. Bahaa al-Jazaeri said. The men, three of whom were Saudi citizens, were carrying explosives and advanced telecommunications equipment, he said.

Meanwhile, in Baqouba, 30 miles northeast of Baghdad, gunmen killed the head of the city council, Nawfal Abdul-Hussein al-Shammari, said Abdullah al-Jbouri, governor of Diyala province, of which Baqouba is the capital.

Elsewhere, a roadside bomb struck an Iraqi national guard patrol south of Mahmoudiya, a town about 25 miles south of Baghdad, killing a guardsman and wounding six others.

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