Dahr Jamail and Harb al-Mukhtar
*BAGHDAD, Dec 8 (IPS) - After the U.S. forces and the bombings, Iraqis are coming to fear those bands of men in masks who seem to operate with the Iraqi police.*
Omar Ahmed's family learnt what it can mean to run into the police, their supposed protectors.
Omar was driving with two friends in the Adhamiya district of Baghdad at night Sep. 1 when they were stopped at a police checkpoint.
"The three of them were arrested by the police even though there was nothing in the car," an eyewitness told IPS, speaking on condition of anonymity.
They did not return home for days, and the family began to search the morgues, common practice now when someone is arrested by the Iraqi police and does not return.
"Five days after they were arrested we found Omar's body in the freezer in a morgue, with holes in the side of his head and shoulders," a friend of the family told IPS.
"We don't know if the other two men are dead or alive," he said. "But we know these men were guilty of nothing other than driving their car at night. We have no security and the problem is that police are killing and disappearing the Iraqi people every day now."
The 'death squads' as they have come to be called are getting more active with just a week to go before the Dec. 15 election.
On Tuesday this week Iraqi police said they found 20 bodies dumped at two different locations in western Iraq, according to the al-Sharqiyah television network.
Eleven bodies of men wearing civilian clothes were found dumped on the main road between Baghdad and the Jordanian border. The bodies were found near al-Rutbah city, with their hands tied behind their backs.
Police said that nine bodies, also of civilians, and riddled with bullets, were found on the side of a road near Fallujah on Monday.
Signs are emerging that such killing is the work of death squads backed by Iran-backed Shia forces that dominate the government, and therefore the police.
Abdullah Omar, a 39-year-old unemployed engineer who now sells petrol and cigarettes on the black market says he survived one such Shia squad.
"I was sleeping on the roof of my house one night because it was so hot and we had no electricity as usual," Omar told IPS. "I was awakened by a loud explosion nearby, and immediately surrounded by strange men wearing night-vision goggles."
Omar says he was thrown to the ground by the men, handcuffed and blindfolded. "They started to beat me using the end of their guns," he said. "Then they searched my house, took my gun which I told them I had, then they took me away."
His 32-year-old wife Sumia, a teacher, was also handcuffed and taken away.
Omar says he saw about ten pick-up trucks carrying at least 100 men wearing black masks before a bag was placed over his head. He was taken to the back of a truck, and beaten up until he fainted.
Sumia was beaten up too. "I received so many kicks to my stomach," she told IPS. "I heard Abdullah screaming in pain, so I fought until they handcuffed me and beat me until I couldn't do anything else."
The two were taken to the Iraqi police station in Suleakh, Baghdad, where they were interrogated and accused of owning a mortar.
"I explained to them that I don't know anything about mortars," said Omar. "And that I have never had anything to do with the resistance, but they said so many insulting words to me, and beat me further."
Sumia, who was also interrogated, pleaded with the policemen to let them return home to care for their young children. "They would not give me a headscarf to cover my head," she told IPS. "They kept asking me about mortars and wouldn't let me go to look after my children. We know nothing about any mortars.."
Omar said the next morning he was moved into another room where he saw men lying handcuffed, with their heads covered with sacks. "They were lying on the ground without a blanket or pillow."
In a while, he said he saw 14 men wearing black masks enter the room carrying whips. "I watched them beat the prisoners. They told them this was their breakfast."
Abdullah and Sumia were later taken home, and warned that if security forces were attacked in their neighbourhood, they would be detained again.
Omar said the men who detained him and his wife were members of the Shia Badr Army, a militia affiliated with Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
Tensions in Baghdad run high, as people who live in areas not controlled by the Badr Army face daily threats of being kidnapped or killed by members of the militia.
"The Badr Army is conducting a campaign to destroy other political parties and their electoral advertisements," said Saleh Hassir, a doctor at a Baghdad medical centre. "We see black paint and tears on ex-prime minister Allawi's posters and those of the Sunni groups, but pictures of al-Hakim remain unaffected."
The doctor says the Americans have helped bring in new Iran-backed terror.
"So many of us are against Iraq being controlled by these fundamental Islamic Iranian loyalists like al-Hakim," the doctor told IPS. "Now we are seeing the suffering and ultimate dictatorship they have brought us here with the help of the Americans."
(Isam Rashid contributed to this article)