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Iraq: Army Massacre Being Investigated

  • Valentinas Mite --> The aftermath of the execution (file photo) Prague, 27 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The 23 October massacre by insurgents of 49 newly trained Iraqi National Guard recruits continues to reverberate within Iraq. Authorities have now launched an investigation into the killings. The investigators will be probing whether insurgents infiltrated military ranks to obtain information about troop movements.

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi says he blames the U.S.-led coalition for what he calls the "major neglect" of security duties.

Allawi yesterday told the Iraqi National Assembly, a government oversight body, that "there was an ugly crime in which a large group of national guards were martyred. We believe this was the result of major neglect by some parts of the multinational [forces] and it reflected a determination to harm Iraq and the Iraqi people."

He did not say why he believed the coalition had failed. He added that he expected the attacks ahead of general elections scheduled for January.

The details are still emerging of the massacre, in which the 49 troops were killed execution-style as they were returning home from a training camp north of Baghdad. Islamic militant Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's group later claimed responsibility for the attack.

Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan al-Khuza'i, in an interview with Al-Arabiyah television, blamed the recruits themselves for the massacre. He said the buses in which the troops were traveling had taken an unauthorized route. They had no armed escort and the soldiers were not carrying weapons.

U.S. military in a statement released yesterday defended themselves and said only "terrorists" should be "held fully accountable for these heinous acts."
Iraq's defense minister blamed the recruits themselves for the massacre.

Allawi's comments marked the first time the Iraqi interim prime minister had openly criticized the U.S.-led coalition.

Julian Lindley-French, an analyst at the Geneva Center for Security Policy, said that Allawi may be trying to show the Iraqi people that he is not a U.S. puppet.

"In the run-up to the election it's in the interest of the interim government to blame [the] failings as much as possible on the coalition," Lindley-French said. "I noticed that the interim prime minister was very careful not to say the Americans. He made it the failure of multinational forces because he still needs to work closely with the Americans. But at the same time, he needs politically to create a distance between him and the multinational coalition for political reasons in Iraq."

Meanwhile, the militants have put another Western hostage on death row. In a video made available on an Islamic militant website, al-Zarqawi's group threatened to execute 24-year-old Japanese hostage Shosei Koda within 48 hours unless Japan withdraws its troops from Iraq. The video shows Shosei Koda kneeling in front of three masked men and pleading for his life.

"They want the Japanese government and [Prime Minister Junichiro] Koizumi, the prime minister -- they want you to withdraw the Japanese troops from Iraq or they will cut [off] my head," Koda said.

Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi flatly rejected the demands. "We should not forgive or give in to terrorists," Koizumi said.

Lindley-French said that, in his opinion, making Iraq secure is more difficult than merely being tough with terrorists. He said the number of coalition troops in the country needs to be increased.

"Clearly, the coalition simply hasn't got enough troops [to cover] the whole of Iraq," Lindley-French said. "I mean this has been a problem throughout the operation -- that there roughly 100,000 [soldiers] short to do a full-scale peace-making, peacekeeping operation."

He said that, by comparison, if one looks at the number of peacekeepers in another potential hotspot -- Northern Ireland -- one finds that the troops should make 1 percent of the population it functions in. Lindley-French said that means that a country like Iraq would need about 250,000 troops - instead of the around 150,000 that are there now.

He said to win the war in Iraq the U.S. administration first will have to win a war in Washington and get approval for bigger U.S. military presence in Iraq.

[For the latest news on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".]