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   Vol. 70/No. 46           December 4, 2006  
Kidnappings highlight factional fight in Iraq gov't
WASHINGTON—A recent string of kidnappings in Iraq highlight the ongoing factional struggle between wealthy Sunnis and Shiites to gain leverage in Iraq's government.

In Congressional testimony, Washington's top general in Iraq, John Abizaid, said an initial withdrawal of U.S. troops today would lead to more "sectarian violence" in Iraq and a larger number of U.S. troops will be needed to accelerate the training of Iraqi security forces.

Iraq's Shiite-dominated government issued an arrest warrant for one of the country's leading Sunni clerics, charging him with inciting violence and supporting terrorism.

In a separate development a U.S. soldier was sentenced to 90 years in prison after pleading guilty for his part in the rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the killing of members of her family.

On November 18 U.S. and Iraqi troops raided sections of Sadr City, a working-class section of Baghdad that is mostly Shiite, in search of dozens of men kidnapped in broad daylight from the Ministry of Higher Education. The ministry is headed by a leader of the main bloc of Sunni-led parties in the government.

One witness said police stood by while a group dressed in police uniforms abducted some 150 men, Reuters reported. Most were released but 50 remain unaccounted for.

The kidnapping was widely believed to have been carried out by a militia loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, according to an Associated Press dispatch. Al-Sadr’s forces fought fierce battles with U.S. troops in several cities in southern Iraq two years ago, but members of his organization now head several ministries in the U.S.-backed government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Washington has been pressuring al-Maliki to dissolve the militias, many of which are connected to political groups headed by Sunni and Shiite bourgeois forces. But al-Sadr is an important ally of al-Maliki's Dawa party within the Shiite governmental bloc that is headed by a rival group, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

In testimony on November 15 before a Senate committee, Abizaid, head of the U.S. Central Command, said more U.S. troops might be needed in Iraq to accelerate the training of Iraqi security forces. There are more than 140,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq.

Abizaid said even a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq would increase "sectarian violence." He also said he thought the dismissal of former officials in Saddam Hussein’s Baathist party regime, a process known as de-Baathification, had initially gone too deep.

On November 11, the day after an Iraqi court sentenced Hussein to death, the government also announced plans to reinstate thousands of members of his Baath party.

The Iraqi interior minister said November 17 that a warrant had been issued for the arrest of Harith al-Dhari, a leader of the main Sunni Muslim clerical association, the Association of Muslim Scholars. In response the group called on Sunni politicians to quit the government.

Alaa Maki, a prominent Sunni political leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, called the arrest warrant a "politically weak decision coming from a weak government." Saleh al-Mutlak, a Sunni member of parliament and leader of the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, said he planned to ask parliament to shut down until the government revokes the warrant.

Al-Dhari's home was raided by U.S. and Iraqi troops in 2004 and 2005. Recently he drew the ire of Iraqi government officials by calling the trial of Saddam Hussein illegitimate and expressing support for al-Qaeda.

Meanwhile, U.S. Army soldier James Barker was court-martialed in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and sentenced to 90 years in prison after pleading guilty to taking part in the rape and murder of 14-year-old Abier al-Janabi and the killing of her family.

In a nine-page document Barker described how he plotted the attack on Abier and her family with other soldiers. They disguised themselves, cut through a fence, and sneaked into the home. Pfc. Steven Green herded Abier's family into a room and shot them. The soldiers alternated holding Abier down on the floor while raping her. Then Green raped and killed the girl, according to the document.

Barker is one of 16 U.S. soldiers sentenced to prison time for the deaths of Iraqi civilians. Under the deal Barker avoided the possibility of the death penalty and agreed to testify against other soldiers charged in the case. Barker would be eligible for parole in 20 years.
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