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U.S.: Iraqi death squad members detained

Iraq condemns newly released Abu Ghraib images

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An Iraqi child stands Thursday near the scene of a car bomb attack on Iraqi police in Baghdad.

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Four members of a "death squad" from Iraq's Interior Ministry were arrested last month, a U.S. general in Baghdad said Thursday.

Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, spokesman for Multi-National Force-Iraq, confirmed a Chicago Tribune report published Wednesday that said "the first evidence of a death squad" came when 22 men dressed in police uniforms were detained at an Iraqi army checkpoint in January.

Lynch said Thursday the 22 actually were Iraqi highway patrol officers employed by the Interior Ministry, and "four of those individuals were planning to conduct a kidnapping and murder" of a Sunni man.

The four members of the death squad were sent to Abu Ghraib prison, Lynch said. He said an investigation into the incident was ongoing.

The Tribune reported the 22 men didn't try to hide their motives.

"They responded truthfully, telling the soldiers that they were taking the Sunni man away to be shot dead.

"The amazing thing is . . . they tell you exactly what they're going to do," Maj. Gen. Joseph Peterson, who commands the civilian police training teams in Iraq, was quoted as saying.

The report said the 18 others, "who were likely just following orders," and the Sunni, who is accused of murder, are in an Iraqi jail.

The Tribune quoted Peterson as saying "investigations suggest the four 'instigators' in U.S. custody owed their allegiance to the Badr Organization," the militia allied with one of Iraq's leading Shiite political parties.

Sunni Arabs, who held power until Saddam Hussein was deposed, have accused Iraq's Interior Ministry of using Shiite militias to target them for retribution. Many Iraqis believe Sunnis make up the largest segment of the insurgency.

Three of the biggest militias in Iraq are the Badr Organization, the Kurdish peshmerga, and the Mehdi Army, populated by followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Lynch said "there is no denying" that Iraqi security force members sometimes have "displaced loyalties" toward militias, which he said was the case in this incident.

He said it is possible there are other death squads but this appeared to be an "isolated incident."

Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr is a Shiite and a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite group backed by the Badr Organization.

When asked if such reports of death squads could stoke Shiite-Sunni sectarian strife, Lynch said he believes that the Sunni leadership will look at the broader perspective and trust the government if it responds properly to such incidents.

Execution-style violence in the capital appears to have increased during the past year. Police often find the bodies of people who have been shot in the head with their hands tied behind their back.

Iraq denounces Abu Ghraib images

The Iraqi government Thursday condemned prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, following an Australian TV broadcast of newly released images. A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq called the timing of broadcast "irresponsible and "unnecessarily provocative."

The Australian television network SBS program "Dateline" broadcast the pictures and videos Wednesday night.

The images included pictures of prisoners apparently forced to engage in sex acts and one video where five men wearing hoods masturbate for the camera, presumably under orders from their guards.

The photos and videos reportedly date from 2003 -- the same time that previously released photographs of prisoner abuse were taken. (Full story)

Three Diyala officials killed

Gunmen shot dead three leaders of a small town in Diyala province, while a string of bombs in Baghdad killed at least one civilian and wounded 18 others, Iraqi officials said Thursday.

In Khan Bani Saad, a town between Baghdad and Baquba, two members of the council of sheikhs and a city council member were killed.

Sheikh Mendez al Khafaji, head of the council, Sheikh Ra'ed Ahmad and local lawmaker Hamash al Mousawi were victims of a drive-by shooting, the Diyala Joint Coordination Center said.

In the provincial seat of Baquba, three bombs wounded at least 11 people. The total included five Iraqi police officers hurt when a bicycle bomb went off near a police station, the JCC said.

The province, northeast of Baghdad, has a mixed religious population and is often the scene of insurgent violence.

Other developments

  • Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr will meet with King Abdullah II and other officials in Sunni-dominated Jordan, the Jordanian news agency Petra reported Thursday. Al-Sadr's visit to one of Iraq's neighboring countries is designed to help ease tensions with Sunni Arabs.
  • In Baghdad, a car bomb targeting Iraqi intelligence forces killed one civilian and wounded four members of the patrol. Two other car bombs in the capital wounded 14 civilians, including 11 in an attack that missed a U.S. military patrol.
  • An Iraqi television station has begun airing announcements seeking the release of American freelance journalist Jill Carroll, who was kidnapped in early January. In the announcements, aired free of charge on state-run Iraqiya TV beginning Tuesday, Carroll's mother and an Iraqi politician plead for her release. (Watch the announcements -- 3:00)
  • CNN's Arwa Damon contributed to this report.

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