Relatives of the slain Iraqis who went to Al-Fallujah to try to negotiate their release say foreign fighters and radical Sunni clerics have the upper hand in the town, and that local Iraqi security forces are doing nothing to stop them.
This spring saw heavy fighting between U.S. troops and insurgents in Al-Fallujah, a center of the anticoalition resistance. The conflict was triggered by the killings and mutilation of four U.S. defense contractors. Some 600 Al-Fallujah residents are believed to have died in the ensuing hostilities, as well as 10 U.S. soldiers. Under an agreement with clerics and elders in Al-Fallujah, no U.S. troops are deployed in the town. Security has been put into the hands of Iraqi police and members of the Iraqi Army.
For more than a month, there has been little information about what is going on in the city. The testimony of those Iraqis who visited Al-Fallujah seeking the release of their relatives offers a glimpse into the situation.
Al-Khaj Khairi is the uncle of Basim Muhammad Tahresh, one of the Shi'a drivers killed in Al-Fallujah. He told RFE/RL that he went to the city seeking to negotiate the release of his nephew and saw Iraqi radicals in control and armed fighters from all over the Arab world. "Some of them are from outside Iraq -- from all Arab countries," he said. "I heard that Omar al-Hadidi, the head of [the radical Islamic movement] Al-Jama'a al-Salafiya al-Mujahida had [the drivers], and he is an Iraqi. All the groups are under his command, and with them are Arab groups. I saw them with my own eyes -- Tunisians, Sudanese, Yemenis. I saw them with my own eyes."
Khair Abas Abid said his son Ylais and his brother Hammad were also killed in Al-Fallujah. He said he and his relatives went many times to Al-Fallujah to negotiate their release and saw what he described as many armed foreigners roaming the town. "We found Syrians, Palestinians, and we found suicide bombers in the houses, and they call themselves Muslims," he said. "And Al-Fallujah is isolated from all Iraq. The police and the army are collaborating with [local Sunni leader] Abdullah Janabi."
Abid said he spoke with Janabi several times and that Janabi explained that the drivers were being interrogated. But Janabi insisted he did not know who was interrogating them. Negotiations to secure the release of the truck drivers dragged on for more than a week until Abid lost his patience.
Several days later, after the talks collapsed, Abid said he was informed that the bodies of his loved ones were in the morgue in the city of Al-Ramadi, some 100 kilometers west of Al-Fallujah. He said his brother had six daughters and two sons. "These people call themselves mujahedin, but can a mujahedin perform this kind of cruelty if he is fighting for a cause of God?" Abid asked. "They are outside of Islam."
Janabi has denied any involvement in the deaths of the truck drivers.
Khairi told RFE/RL that he, too, found the body of his nephew in Al-Ramadi's morgue. He said it was so mutilated that he was almost impossible to recognize. "The bodies were mutilated, tortured, with electricity, maybe by acid, by fire," he said. "Neither a Muslim nor a heathen can do this type of thing."
Khairi and Abid said fighters in Al-Fallujah accused the truck drivers of being U.S. spies. In fact, they said, they were hired by a Syrian company to transport goods to Iraq. The drivers had made one delivery to Al-Basrah and were due to take a cargo of tents to Al-Fallujah.
Abid said he is certain the drivers were killed for more sectarian reasons. "They were killed because they were Shi'a,” he said. “[There was a tattoo] with the name Ali [the first Shi'a imam] on [my son's hand], and it was cut to pieces. My brother was carrying a picture of [Grand Ayatollah Ali al-] Sistani. His body was cut into pieces with a sword. No human in the universe will accept it. The people [who did this] are not humans."
Abid said members of both the local Iraqi police and army were not helpful. He said his younger son, also a driver, was wounded in the attack but managed to escape and sought shelter among Iraqi troops based near Al-Fallujah. He said several U.S. soldiers happened upon the scene and asked what had happened to the injured man. The Iraqi soldiers told the U.S. troops that he was a thief.
Abid said that only the presence of the U.S. soldiers saved the young man's life. "This army is not an Iraqi army," Abid said.
The director of the Criminal Department of the Baghdad police, General Raad Yas Kadir, said the investigation into the deaths of the six drivers is formally under the jurisdiction of the Al-Fallujah police, but that the Interior Ministry on 20 June ordered them to hand it over to the Baghdad police.
Kadir said he doesn't know for certain why the drivers were killed and mutilated. He said what little information he does have suggests they might have been mistaken for U.S. spies. "The information that we have is that [fighters] suspected they were transporting goods to the American troops, and for that reason they were killed," he said.
The dead men were buried recently. Iraqi President Ghazi al-Yawir, himself a Sunni tribal leader, sent his son to the funerals. The radical Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr also sent a delegation.
Both Abid and Khairi said they will not forget. They said their families belong to southern Shi'a tribes and that they will seek revenge if the police do not aggressively pursue the case and find and punish the killers.