Thursday, March 22, 2007
The Price Of Unity
I admit I'd always been a little bit baffled every time I read that Moqtada al-Sadr's militia had infiltrated the Iraqi Health Ministry. I could understand infiltrating the Defense Ministry, or the Justice Ministry. But what the heck can you do with the Health Ministry?
Then this article in the BBC about the exodus of Iraq's doctors and the resulting lack of decent medical care triggered a little light bulb moment. It describes how patients and even staff have been routinely killed by militias who raid the hospitals with impunity. Militias that are based in the Health Ministry.
A quick google search returned this USA Today article from last November. This is pretty chilling stuff, worth a lengthy quote:
Iraq's Health Ministry is a case study in how al-Sadr used his government role to consolidate his political and military support.
Ministry-run hospitals have been used as a weapon against rival Sunnis, according to critics, such as Sunni lawmaker Mithal al-Alusi. "It's a jungle," al-Alusi says. "What (al-Sadr) has done with that ministry is criminal."
Last month, a Sunni man was taken to Kindi Hospital in central Baghdad for a gunshot wound, says Omar al-Jubouri, human rights director at the Iraqi Islamic Party.
He was shot and killed in his hospital bed, al-Jubouri says. His brother went to retrieve the body. He brought 17 male relatives along for protection, but they were quickly outgunned by an even larger group of armed men, believed to be the Mahdi Army, al-Jubouri says. The group was kidnapped and killed, he adds.
Two days later, the family picked up the 19 bodies, escorted by an Iraqi army convoy, from the Baghdad morgue. Al-Jubouri says some of the bodies showed signs of torture, including drill holes to the skull and electrocution burns.
So many Sunnis have been followed and killed after picking up relatives at the ministry-controlled Baghdad morgue that al-Jubouri's party regularly coordinates Iraqi army convoys to escort the families, he says. "We'll wait until we have 17 or 18 bodies waiting," he says. "Then we'll send for the convoy."
There's alot more about ministry offices being used for holding cells, complete with gruesome evidence of torture, as well as the steady degradation of the quality of the nation's health care services. This is what al-Sadr got in return for giving up armed resistance to the occupation and opting into the political process.
It's worth recalling that until very recently, the Bush administration trumpeted the Iraqi unity government as a major benchmark of progress. But it was never anything but a sham. A bloody and murderous sham. And Bush only agreed to drop the pretense because the Iraq Study Group blew his cover.