BAGHDAD,(Reuters) – An Iraqi militia group suspected of links to a secret bunker where 173 malnourished prisoners were found this week denied any ties to the facility on Wednesday and said it was being blamed for political reasons.
The underground bunker, near the Interior Ministry compound in central Baghdad, was discovered by U.S. troops during a raid on Sunday night as they were searching for a 15-year-old boy.
Inside they found 173 malnourished and in some cases badly beaten men and teenagers, some of whom showed signs of having been tortured, Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari said on Tuesday as he ordered an investigation into the chamber”s discovery.
"This bunker is run by the Interior Ministry, the Americans are there every day," said Hadi al-Amery, the head of the Badr Organisation, a militia group that is tightly allied to SCIRI, a powerful Shi”ite Muslim political party in the government.
"Badr has nothing to do with this, why would Badr be involved in the first place?" he told Reuters. "If there was torture we ask for an investigation."
The Badr Organisation, formerly known as the Badr Brigade, was formed in exile in Iran during the 1980s as the armed wing of SCIRI, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, which fought against Saddam Hussein”s regime from exile.
Since Saddam”s overthrow, SCIRI has become a potent force in Iraqi politics — the interior minister, Bayan Jabor, hails from SCIRI, one of two main Shi”ite parties in the government.
Many Iraqis, particularly members of the Sunni Arab minority, accuse Badr and other militias linked to the government of infiltrating the police and security services and targeting Sunnis suspected of links to the insurgency.
The government and the militias have repeatedly denied the accusations, although in July this year the government did admit that some of its new security forces were resorting to the same sort of torture and abuses as were seen under Saddam.
At the same time, Sunni Arab insurgents have carried out a campaign of attacks against Shi”ites, driving them from some Baghdad districts and targeting them in suicide bombings, thrusting Iraq to the brink of a full-blown sectarian civil war.
Amery said the American raid on the bunker was a violation of Iraq”s sovereignty and said it appeared to have been carried out in order to give Sunni Arabs a boost ahead of elections next month which Shi”ites and Kurds are expected to dominate.
"The Americans have violated Iraqi sovereignty by raiding the place the way they did," he said. "They have done exactly the same as the British (troops) did when they raided a place in Basra to free a spy who was harming the Iraqi people.
"The Americans are accused of violating human rights at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib … they want to cover up their crimes," he said, explaining why he thought the raid happened.
While acknowledging that the Badr Organisation had members who are employed by the Interior Ministry, Amery said it was the right of members of his organisation to apply for jobs in the police and other security forces.
He said he saw a political motive behind the accusations against Badr, as well as allegations, which he also denied, that Iranian agents were present at the bunker for interrogations.
"If they think by doing this that they will make the Shi”ite list unpopular, and that then people will hate it, I say they are mistaken," he said, referring to the list of Shi”ite candidates set to contest the Dec. 15 election.
"The more mistakes they make, the more popular the list will become."