- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

BAGHDAD — Suspected Shi’ite militiamen, some dressed as police, broke into a television station and fatally shot 11 Iraqi executives, producers and other staffers yesterday — the deadliest attack on the press and television in this country, where at least 81 journalists have been killed in the past three years.

The station, Shaabiya, was new and had not started full broadcasting. It had aired only test programming of nationalist songs, including ones against the U.S. military presence in Iraq. That may have led Shi’ite militiamen to suspect it of a pro-Sunni ideology.

The brazen morning attack underlined the danger for journalists in a country where causing offense to one side or another can be a death sentence — either by Sunni insurgents or the Shi’ite and Sunni death squads behind sectarian violence.

Meanwhile, the chief of the British army called for a pullout of British troops from Iraq “sometime soon” and said post-invasion planning was “poor, probably based more on optimism than sound planning,” CNN reported.

Gen. Richard Dannatt told London’s Daily Mail newspaper that he had “more optimism” that “we can get it right in Afghanistan.”

Gen. Dannatt said Britain’s continued presence in Iraq had made the country less secure.

In another violent episode in Iraq, Azad Mohammed Hussein, a 29-year-old Kurdish radio reporter kidnapped Oct. 3, was found killed Tuesday. His body was identified yesterday.

At least 51 journalists — mostly Iraqis — have been kidnapped in Iraq, according to Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based watchdog group. The latest was the editor of weekly magazine Nabd al-Shabab, abducted Monday on the way to work.

About two dozen gunmen, some in police uniform, pulled up to the Shaabiya offices at 7 a.m. yesterday in civilian cars, stormed into the building and killed most of those inside, said the station’s executive director, Hassan Kamil, who was not there at the time.

Staff members had been working round-the-clock to get the station ready to begin broadcasting at the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, in mid-October. As a result, many people were in the office, some still sleeping at the time of the attack.

Among the dead were the station’s chairman of the board, Abdul-Raheem Nasrallah, technicians and two guards, Mr. Kamil said.

Mr. Kamil said the station had received no threats. He insisted that the station had no sectarian bent and pointed out that the staff was a mixture of Shi’ites, Sunnis and Kurds. Mr. Nasrallah was a Shi’ite — a former military officer who was jailed during dictator Saddam Hussein’s rule, fled to Norway after his release and returned after Saddam’s fall in 2003.

But there were signs that Shi’ite militiamen were behind the assault. Many abduction-slayings of Sunnis have been carried out by gunmen in police uniforms, and Sunnis have accused the mainly Shi’ite police force of helping the death squads.

There also were rumors that the station was being financed by Libya. Reporters Without Borders said the militiamen may have been seeking to avenge the kidnapping of a revered Lebanese Shi’ite cleric, Imam Musa al-Sadr, 28 years ago, an attack often blamed on Libya. Imam al-Sadr is a distant uncle of Muqtada al-Sadr, head of the Mahdi Army, Iraq’s most feared militia.

Mr. Kamil denied that his station receives Libyan funding, saying it is still struggling to get the money to start up.

Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Abdel-Karim Khalaf blamed the slayings on “a gang of criminals” and said investigations were under way.”

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