5 Iraqis arrested in U.S. civilians' deaths

Four work for security forces

FBI agents called to help with investigation

March 13, 2004|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi security forces have captured and are interrogating four of their own policemen plus a former officer from Saddam Hussein's regime as chief suspects in this week's execution-style killings of two American civilians who were doing human rights work near Babylon, U.S. coalition officials said yesterday.

The Americans were the first U.S. civilians working for the occupation authority to be killed in Iraq, and, if their killers turn out to be police, they would be the first to have been killed by members of Iraq's newly minted, 150,000-strong security forces.

FBI agents have been called in to assist on forensics and re-create the crime scene, said Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt. But coalition spokesman Dan Senor warned that it was premature to say whether the U.S.-nurtured security forces had been infiltrated by an anti-American cell.

"We have a very robust vetting process for all Iraqis that are hired or rehired in the security services," said Senor. "But it is not perfect. ... Individuals slip through the cracks. We act to identify it and remove them immediately."

Both men said that corrupt police officers are in every society, then boasted that 500 more Iraqi police had graduated from an eight-week, U.S.-sponsored police academy program in Jordan. That brought the number of Iraqi police who have taken the course to 2,827. In addition, 12,422 others received a special three-week course.

It wasn't known whether the suspects completed the special U.S.-funded program, said Kimmitt, adding that four of the five suspects were carrying coalition-approved police badges. The fifth, he said, was an officer in Hussein's now-defunct Iraqi police force.

Investigators are checking the four policemen for criminal records or ties to the Hussein regime, to see if they should have been disqualified from Iraq's new security forces, which were ostensibly cleansed of Baath Party loyalty under administrator L. Paul Bremer III.

Killed were Fern Holland, 33, from Oklahoma, Robert Zangas, 44, a former Marine from suburban Pittsburgh, and their U.S.-paid Iraqi interpreter, Selwa Ourmashe. Holland helped write the women's rights section of the new interim Iraqi constitution, and Zangas was working on an Iraqi free press project.

Kimmitt said there had been no confessions - the five men were caught in the Americans' car - but Senor said the killers' motive was to spread terror and undermine U.S. gains in nurturing Iraqi democracy.

The emerging post-Hussein police and paramilitary are supposed to be U.S. partners, and at times their protectors, as American troops systematically leave the policing of urban centers to Iraqis. But even as the United States prepares to return sovereignty to Iraqis on June 30, Kimmitt said yesterday that the new reconstituted Iraqi "security apparatus" - which now outnumbers U.S. forces in Iraq - will not be well enough equipped or trained to take over for at least a year.

"That won't be the case on June 30," the general said. "That may be the case a year later. But we do not see that calendar date to be a date when we remove coalition oversight, coalition partnership with the Iraqi security forces."

Ourmashe was the first of three Iraqi women killed this week who had been working with the coalition. A day later, gunmen opened fire on a taxi, killing two sisters, ages 26 and 29, who were headed home after washing laundry for U.S. coalition members in the southern port city of Basra.

The killings of the laundresses as well as Ourmashe, all in southern Iraq, suggest that assassins may be increasingly targeting women in a campaign to intimidate Iraqis who work with Americans.

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