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Body Showing Torture Fuels Sadr City Rumors
Shadowy "Special Groups", not the Mahdi Army, are Spoken of in Whispers
By DANIEL W. SMITH 05/16/2009 10:44 PM ET
An Iraqi Army Vehicle Guards a Government Building in Sadr City
Photo: Daniel W. Smith
An Iraqi Army Vehicle Guards a Government Building in Sadr City

BAGHDAD – On Thursday, a corpse was found in the street in Sadr City. According to an Iraqslogger source, the body was identified as that of a young man who had been abducted twelve days earlier, and that it bore signs of torture. The young man was rumored to have “worked for the Americans,” but it was not clear in what capacity he may have done so.

Despite much improved safety from past years, there is great fear among residents of Sadr City. The return of the Mahdi Army is often written of, in reference to this area, a bastion of support for Muqtada al-Sadr, but people who live in Sadr City speak quietly of another threat. Shadowy “special groups,” underground mafia-like groups are seen as the cause of much violence within the huge slum.

Though reports of violence in “The City” (“al-Medina” in Arabic) as Sadr City is often called, (or “al-Thawra”, its previous name, by those who strongly oppose Sadrist elements) are not widely reported, they are still common. Instead of blatant killings by those easily recognizable as militia members, there is a frightening air of mystery surrounding multiple targeted deaths of late. The rash of killing of young gay men (or those thought to be gay) has been widely reported on, but many other deaths have not. For deaths to be reported as “official”, the Sadr City council must often approve a death certificate, sometimes characterized by members of the council as done in such a way as to repress reporting such deaths in a timely fashion.

The US military describes special groups as Iranian-trained/supported cells of insurgent fighters, but within al-Medina, the perception of who is behind the groups is not always so cut-and-dry. Though this definition can apply for many, special groups seem a frightening secret force whose motives are not always clear. Residents lately often see them as capable of attacks of much more precision than Mahdi Army elements (though there is thought to be some crossover between the two).

There are only four entrances to Sadr City, and the Iraqi Army has up to four checkpoints for all of Sadr City’s 101 districts. Talk both in the streets and in Sadr City council meetings reflect the idea that this strongly suggests involvement of some Iraqi security forces with special groups, and also the existence of buildings used as torture/killing rooms within Sadr City’s borders.

On Saturday, a rocket (perhaps intended to hit a US base nearby) struck a house and killed three members of a family, including a child under two years old.

Members of Iraqslogger’s network of Iraqi staff contributed to this report, but choose to remain anonymous, for security reasons.


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