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Iraq: Tens Of Bodies Discovered In Tigris As Violence Continues

  • Valentinas Mite

http://gdb.rferl.org/A0538564-3D06-4721-B70C-0C591EADAE56_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/A0538564-3D06-4721-B70C-0C591EADAE56_mw800_mh600.jpg The bodies of more than 50 people have been reported found in the Tigris River south of Baghdad. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, announcing the discovery, said the victims are believed to be Shi'ite Muslim hostages executed by Sunni militants in the city of Madain. Reports earlier this week (16-17 April) said the militants had taken tens of Shi'ite civilians hostage and had threatened to kill them unless all of Madain's Shi'ite residents left the city. But Sunni authorities denied the claim, and the Iraqi Army failed to find any hostages after entering Madain.

Prague, 21 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Talabani's announcement is deepening the intrigue surrounding the alleged massacre and kidnapping, which was officially dismissed as rumor earlier this week.

Talabani said yesterday pictures would soon be released of the bodies found in the river. He added that the government knows all of the key details surrounding the crime.

"They (insurgents) threw the bodies in the Tigris and more than 50 bodies have been brought out of the Tigris. And we have the full names of those who were killed and the criminals who committed these crimes. And Mr. Prime Minister, Dr. [Iyad] Allawi, is going to deal with it," Talabani said.
It is still not clear the bodies found in the Tigris are those of the people said to have been taken hostage in Madain. Police in the area say the bodies have been gradually recovered over the past several weeks, not only since the hostage crisis.


An American military spokesman in Baghdad said he had no information about the finding.

It is still not clear the bodies found in the Tigris are those of the people said to have been taken hostage in Madain. Police in the area say the bodies have been gradually recovered over the past several weeks, not only since the hostage crisis. Some bodies were said to be badly decomposed.

But even if only some of the bodies are determined to be those of the hostages, it will bring Shi'a-Sunni tensions to a dangerous new level.

Yahia Said, an Iraq researcher at the London School of Economics, says the incident underscores the potential for sectarian violence in the country. But he says many questions remain about the Madain hostage story, and it is too soon to tell what actually happened.

"I've heard millions of rumors and explanations, from the fact that it was actually a tribal feud that ended acrimoniously, to the fact that these are old bodies (eds: bodies that have been dead for a long time) that were dumped into the river. It’s a very murky story. We will never get to the bottom of it, given the lack of intelligence and information we have in Iraq," says Said.

David Hartwell, a Middle East expert with the publication "Jane's Sentinel Security Assessments," says the incident clearly shows the government is not in control of some parts of the country -- particularly Sunni regions.

But he, too, says it is difficult to determine what may have actually happened to the more than 50 victims:

"My sort of instinctive feeling is that probably theses bodies are the bodies of the hostages. It is difficult to understand, to figure what is fact and what is fiction," Hartwell says.

More than two years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, no one seems to be safe in the country -- even top government officials.

Allawi, the interim prime minister, was targeted yesterday evening by a suicide bomber. His convoy was attacked as he was traveling home after government talks. He survived, but the bombing was only one of at least five in Baghdad that day.

Militants loyal to Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the attempt on Allawi's life.

News agencies are also reporting that 19 Iraqi National Guards were killed yesterday in a football stadium in Hadith, northwest of Baghdad, after they were taken hostage. More than 400 Iraqi police and soldiers have died in the past two months, many ambushed while off duty.

Today, a roadside bomb hit a convoy carrying foreign security contractors on the road to the Baghdad airport, killing at least two people. Three foreign contractors were killed on the same stretch of road yesterday. Two U.S. soldiers were killed in the same area the day before.

Even as the violence rises in Iraq, the country's government has filed to mobilize quickly. Iraq's new prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari had been expected to announce the country's new cabinet today. But reports say continued disagreements will probably prevent this from happening.
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