Iraq's Prime Minister Faults U.S. Military in Massacre

By EDWARD WONG

New York Times

October 27, 2004

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 26 - Prime Minister Ayad Allawi blamed the American-led military forces on Tuesday for the weekend massacre of 49 freshly trained Iraqi soldiers, saying the military had shown "major negligence."

In a speech before the interim National Assembly, the prime minister said a committee had begun investigating the ambush, the deadliest of the guerrilla war. The assault took place Saturday night in remote eastern Iraq, as three minibuses of unarmed Iraqi soldiers were heading south on leave. Insurgents dressed as policemen waylaid the men at a fake checkpoint, killed all 49 soldiers and their three civilian drivers, mostly with shots to their heads, and burned the vehicles.

"I think there was major negligence by the multinational forces," Dr. Allawi said before the 100-member assembly. "It was a way to damage Iraq and the Iraqi people."

The massacre took place in an area of the country under the command of Polish forces.

Dr. Allawi did not elaborate on his statement, and his aides could not be reached by phone for further comment. The prime minister's lacerating words marked the first time he has publicly criticized the American-led forces, disclosing his profound frustration at the assault and perhaps the deteriorating security situation as well.

The American military defended itself in a statement released Tuesday evening. "This was a cold-blooded and systematic massacre by terrorists," the statement read. "They and no one else must be held fully accountable for these heinous acts."

An American military official said the ambushed soldiers were members of the 16th Iraqi Army Battalion, Seventh Iraqi Army Brigade, and not of the Iraqi National Guard, as had been widely reported. They had left the main Iraqi Army training base in Kirkush, northeast of Baghdad, about 15 miles from the Iranian border. They were ambushed on an isolated road southeast of Baghdad, he said, not far from the border.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said officers in his United States Army division, which has trained Iraqi national guardsmen, were baffled by the utter lack of protection given the Iraqi soldiers. He said when Iraqi guardsmen under his division's watch go on leave, they are sent off in armored convoys bristling with heavy guns. "We provide the gun trucks and protection, like when we go out ourselves," he said.

"There's a lot of people stunned by this," he added. "There's a lot of people scratching their heads. It's a strange one."

Capt. Steven Alvarez, a spokesman for Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, whose command includes the Kirkush base, said in an e-mail message that the general was deferring all comment to the main military press office.

The relentless assault on Iraqi security forces continued Tuesday, as a militant group called the Army of Ansar al-Sunna posted photos on the Internet showing that it had captured 11 Iraqi security officers. A message on the Web site said the insurgents had snatched the "infidels" of the "crusaders' militia" on a road between Baghdad and Hilla, about 50 miles south, where the men were apparently on patrol. The posting said the hostages were national guardsmen and part of an outfit called the Legion Security Force.

In the photos, some of the guardsmen look frightened, sitting in a dirt pit at the feet of three guerrillas wearing black ski masks and brandishing AK-47's. Most of the hostages have on white T-shirts with "LSF," for "Legion Security Force," emblazoned across the chests. Two are wearing the brown camouflage uniforms of Iraqi national guardsmen, and one has on a plain khaki uniform with a blue "LSF" armband.

[Early Wednesday, the television network Al Jazeera reported that an Internet videotape posted on a militant Islamist Web site threatened to behead a Japanese man taken hostage if Japanese forces were not removed within 48 hours, The Associated Press reported. It was not clear if the man, who was shown explaining the kidnappers' demands, was a member of the Japanese forces or was working with them, the agency reported.

[There was no confirmation of anyone missing from Japan's forces, but in Tokyo, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told the chief cabinet secretary that Japanese troops would not pull out, Agence France-Presse reported, quoting a spokesman for Mr. Koizumi.]

The Army of Ansar al-Sunna has claimed responsibility for several prominent killings in recent months, including the executions of a dozen Nepalese in August. It is an offshoot of Ansar al-Islam, whose mountain redoubt in northern Iraq was overrun by American Special Forces troops and Kurdish militiamen when the war began. It has proven to be one of the most extreme groups operating in Iraq and is suspected in many beheadings.

The capture of the 11 guardsmen, the massacre on Saturday and numerous other attacks have shown the weak state of the Iraqi security forces, despite President Bush's assertion that local police officers and soldiers will soon be able to take over security duties from the 138,000 American troops here.

An Iraqi national security aide said Monday that 5 percent of the Iraqi forces might be infiltrated by insurgents, and American troops regularly say Iraqi police officers and guardsmen are either worthless as fighters or working with insurgents. Western reporters also frequently encounter Iraqi security officers who say they are ready to take up arms against the occupation forces.

The guerrillas who staged the ambush on Saturday probably had inside information on the movements of the soldiers, Iraqi officials have said.

The interior minister, Falah al-Naqib, also appeared before the National Assembly on Tuesday and said the government was starting to remove police officers deemed to be bad workers. "Some of them are lazy," he said. "They came just for the sake of making a salary or earning a living. We have a real unemployment problem."

In interviews, Iraqi police officers almost invariably cite the lack of jobs as the main reason they joined the security forces, despite the dangers. The nationwide unemployment rate is about 60 percent. The average police officer makes more than $220 a month, a solid middle-class income in this society.

If the men are turned away from security jobs or fired, Mr. Naqib said, then insurgents will recruit them and pay them even more.

Several recent prominent arrests have exposed potential senior-level corruption among the security forces. Last month, the First Infantry Division arrested a senior commander of the Iraqi National Guard in Diyala Province, where the Kirkush base is situated, accusing him of having ties to the insurgency. In August, marines arrested the police chief of rebellious Al Anbar Province on charges of corruption.