- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 14, 2006

BAGHDAD — Iraq’s Shi’ite-dominated Interior Ministry, whose police forces have been accused of complicity in sectarian attacks, has fired 3,000 employees accused of corruption or rights abuses and will change top commanders, a spokesman said yesterday.

Thousands have died this year in the cycle of killings between Shi’ite and Sunni death squads. At least 22 were killed yesterday, mainly in sectarian attacks.

Authorities also said they discovered the headless bodies of 17 Shi’ite construction workers in an orchard outside Baghdad, kidnapped and decapitated in apparent retaliation for an attack on Sunni Arabs last week. The decapitated corpses were found Friday outside the city of Duluiyah, 45 miles north of Baghdad, along with four other unknown victims, also beheaded.

The workers were killed after the kidnapping Wednesday of three Sunni Arabs in Duluiyah by a Shi’ite militia based in Balad, police said. The three were killed and their bodies burned. After the discovery of their bodies late Friday and early yesterday, Sunni families living near Balad started to flee their homes, fearing Shi’ite retaliation.

With tension growing between Sunni Arabs and Shi’ites, Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah met yesterday with prominent Iraqi clerics from both sects in the Islamic holy city of Mecca and urged them to seek an end to the violence to allow the two sides to reconcile.

“My brothers, we need now patience, calmness and quiet to get to know each other,” the king told them.

Spokesman Abdul-Karim Khalaf said the Interior Ministry shake-up would ensure stronger action to stop the violence.

“We are working on reshuffling the ministry’s vital posts like [the leaders of] police commandos and public order forces, as well as some undersecretaries,” he told the Associated Press, without elaborating.

He said most of the 3,000 employees who had been removed since May were suspected of corruption or human rights violations, but he did not specify whether they were involved in militia activities. Up to 600 of them will face prosecution, he said.

The Shi’ite-led national police force, controlled by the Interior Ministry, is widely accused of infiltration by Shi’ite militias blamed in slayings of Sunni Arabs. Critics said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been reluctant to move against the militias because many are linked to parties in his coalition.

The U.S. embarked on an intensive neighborhood-by-neighborhood sweep of the capital in August in a crackdown on the killings, but Sadr City, the sprawling Shi’ite slum of about 2 million where radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militia draws much of its support, has been left alone. U.S. commanders said they are waiting on the command from Mr. al-Maliki’s government.

When Mr. al-Maliki’s government was formed in May, Interior Minister Jawad Bolani was given the post as top security official largely because he had no militia links, but his lack of militia connections also has given him less leverage to make change.

Earlier this month, an entire brigade of about 700 policemen was suspended from service and taken to barracks because of suspected militia sympathies. The commander of one of the brigade’s battalions faces criminal prosecution, and others are being investigated.

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