"RFE/RL Iraq Report" noted last week that Allawi has appointed several former senior Ba'athists to top security-force positions despite the objections of Iraq's de-Ba'athification Commission (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 22 October 2003). Hundreds of lower-level Ba'athists are also working within the security apparatus.
The early-evening attack on the guardsmen appears to have been well coordinated. Militants reportedly disguised as Iraqi policemen set up a makeshift checkpoint and stopped three buses transporting the unarmed guardsmen, who were dressed in civilian clothes, forcing them off the bus. They were lined up in four rows and forced to lie down before being shot execution-style in the back of the head. "All of them were from the southern provinces," Interior Ministry spokesman Colonel Adana Abd al-Rahman said of the victims, washingtonpost.com reported. "Most of them had their hands tied behind their back."
Iraqi Customs and Border Police Captain Ibrahim Aqid Siddiq told "RFE/RL Iraq Report" in a 25 October interview from Jordan that Iraqi trainees have been asking U.S. and Jordanian military trainers at their base in Jordan for one month to arrange their safe transfer back to Iraq once their training ends this week. The military's plan is to fly the trainees from Amman to Baghdad, but Siddiq said that this is not sufficient, as the 240 recruits are largely composed of Kurds and southern Arabs, who would have to pass through volatile areas on their way home.
Military trainers at the base, located some 15 kilometers outside Amman, have said that it is too costly to fly the Kurdish recruits to Irbil. "Because of the money they want to fly the plane full and return back full," he said. Siddiq added that the same response was given to recruits returning to Al-Basrah. "They don't agree with us; they want to send them to Baghdad, and between Baghdad and the south, there is a place called Al-Latifiyah; it's not safe, and most of our people have been killed there."
"All of our people here are very afraid. Believe me, if you are here now, the speech between them -- all of them -- is about the airplane and how they will return back and if they will arrive to their homes or not."
He added that military commanders also objected to a proposal that recruits travel in private taxis alone or in pairs back to Iraq. "They won't let us to return back like that. They [will] take all of us, about a hundred, and put us in a plane and return us to Baghdad. They won't let us go as we like."
Siddiq contended that Iraqi soldiers believe that their military trainers "don't care" about their safety. "When we came here in the beginning they sent us [to Jordan] without any patrol, without any guards. I don't know how we arrived here. It was very, very bad roads."
Asked about the mood of the recruits, Siddiq said: "All of our people here are very afraid. Believe me, if you are here now, the speech between them -- all of them -- is about the airplane and how they will return back and if they will arrive to their homes or not." He added that the recruits were too fearful of losing their jobs to complain. "Today I told [the military trainers] that if you didn't return us back to our area, tomorrow we are not getting out from our rooms, we are not graduating, so I don't know what the answer will be."
Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan vowed this week to capture and punish the perpetrators of the 24 October attack. "Once we identify and arrest the perpetrators, we will take tough measures against them.... When we arrest them, they will receive capital punishment. It will be the first in Iraq's modern history," Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 24 October.
Officials also announced the opening of an investigation into the attack, but Defense Minister al-Sha'lan said in a 26 October interview with Al-Arabiyah television that no party would be held responsible for the attack. "They [Iraqi soldiers] themselves are to blame. They graduated at 1200 hours and could have waited until the next day to enjoy a vacation after the graduation. They, however, were anxious to see their families soon," he said, adding that the soldiers had traveled on a road not normally used by the Iraqi military. "Probably some people tipped off the hostile or criminal sides about these soldiers," al-Sha'lan said. "Neither the Ministry of Defense, the camp, nor any other side, including the multinational troops will be held responsible for this incident."
The militant group Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn claimed responsibility for the attack in a 24 October statement posted on an Islamic website (http://www.tajdeed.net). The group is led by fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, who last week pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.