BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq on Monday accused a dozen Shi’ite policemen of murdering minority Sunnis at the height of the sectarian violence that roiled the country.
Separately, a Sunni lawmaker denied carrying out similar sectarian attacks.
The crackdown on police and charges against the legislator come after a strong law-and-order message and a sharp drop in sectarian violence propelled Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and allies to victory in local polls last month.
One of the Sunni Muslims killed by the gang of police officers in a wave of violence over several years was the sister of Sunni Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, Interior Ministry spokesman Major-General Abdul Karim Khalaf said.
“They killed people in broad daylight, in front of everyone, and used police cars to commit their crimes,” he said.
Details of the arrests of the police officers emerged a day after the Shi’ite-led government accused Mohammed al-Daini, a member of the Sunni Iraqi National Dialogue Front party, of ordering sectarian and gangland-style slayings.
The allegations against Daini could strain relations at a time when the fighting between majority Shi’ites and formerly dominant Sunnis unleashed by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion wanes.
Charging Shi’ite police at the same time could preempt accusations of bias, analysts said.
Both developments could also be viewed against the backdrop of the January 31 provincial election, in which Maliki’s allies swept the Shi’ite south, campaigning for law-and-order and a strong, centralized state.
The success in the vote has given Maliki a boost ahead of a parliamentary election at year’s end, but also likely irked Shi’ite and Kurdish partners in his ruling coalition.
“He may incidentally be arresting people who were responsible for the civil war but I think that is not his prime goal. His prime goal is to control the police for his own ends,” said Iraq expert Toby Dodge of the University of London.
The Sunni lawmaker, Daini, on Monday rejected the accusations, which included a charge that he organized a 2007 suicide bombing in parliament that killed eight people.
He said the allegations were revenge for his criticism of the Iraqi government’s treatment of prisoners and that filmed confessions from two bodyguards, including a nephew, were extracted by force.
“The physical and psychological torture which those people were subjected to was so obvious,” Daini told a news conference.
Military spokesman Qassim Moussawi said authorities were waiting for the courts to issue an arrest warrant for Daini, after which they would ask parliament to lift his immunity.
A warrant already had been issued for his brother, Ahmed al-Daini, on terrorism charges, Moussawi told Reuters on Monday.
“We have enough evidence to incriminate Mohammed al-Daini,” Moussawi said.
Additional reporting by Wisam Mohammed and Aseel Kami; Writing by Michael Christie; Editing by Missy Ryan