Iraqi PM executed six insurgents, say witnesses.

Go Bush!  It looks like you’ve made ANOTHER fine choice.
If you don’t believe me, go to the site yourself.

Reporter: Maxine McKew

MAXINE MCKEW: Let’s go straight to the allegations that Iyad Allawi executed as many as six suspected insurgents at a Baghdad police station at the end of June.

The explosive claims in tomorrow’s Sydney Morning Herald and Age newspapers allege that the prisoners were handcuffed and blindfolded, lined up against a courtyard wall and shot by the Iraqi Prime Minister.

Dr Allawi is alleged to have told those around him that he wanted to send a clear message to the police on how to deal with insurgents.

Two people allege they witnessed the killings and there are also claims the Iraqi Interior Minister was present as well as four American security men in civilian dress.

Well, the journalist reporting the story is Paul McGeough, awarded a Walkley Award for his coverage of the Iraq war last year.

He’s also a former editor of the Herald and is now the paper’s chief correspondent.

He’s joined me on the line from a location in the Middle East.

MAXINE McKEW: Paul McGeough, thanks for joining us.

Paul, as you’ve also made clear in your article, Prime Minister Allawi has flatly denied this story.

Why then is the Herald so confident about publishing it?


What you have is two very solid eyewitness accounts of what happened at a police security complex in a south-west Baghdad suburb.

They are very detailed.

They were done separately.

Each witness is not aware that the other spoke.

They were contacted through personal channels rather than through the many political, religious or military organisations working in Baghdad that might be trying to spin a tale.

And they’ve laid it out very carefully and very clearly as to what they saw.

MAXINE McKEW: You haven’t identified these witnesses but why have they felt free to talk about such an extraordinary story?

PAUL McGEOUGH: Well, they were approached through personal connections and as a result of that, they accepted assurances.

They were guaranteed anonymity, they were told that no identifying material would be published on them and they told what they saw.

MAXINE McKEW: And just take us through the events as they were accounted to you?

PAUL McGEOUGH: Well, I’ll take you through what the two bits of pieces of what the two witnesses said to give you the full chronology as I understand it.

There was a surprise visit at about 10:30 in the morning to the police centre.

The PM is said to have talked to a large group of policemen, then to have toured the complex.

They came to a courtyard where six, sorry seven prisoners were lined up against a wall.

They were handcuffed, they were blindfolded, they were described to me as an Iraqi colloquialism for the fundamentalist foreign fighters who have come to Baghdad.

They have that classic look that you see with many of the Osama bin Laden associates of the scraggly beard and the very short hair and they were a sort of ... took place in front of them as they were up against this wall was an exchange between the Interior Minister and Dr Allawi, the Interior Minister saying that he felt like killing them on the spot.

It’s worth noting at this point in the story that on June 19, there was an attack on the Interior Minister’s home in the Sunni triangle in which four of his bodyguards (inaudible) --

Dr Allawi is alleged to have said (inaudible)—.

MAXINE McKEW: Paul, you just dropped out there.

You were just beginning to describe in fact how this incident, this alleged incident, took place.

What was the action taken?

PAUL McGEOUGH: Um, after a tour of the complex, the sort of official party, if you like, arrived in a courtyard where the prisoners were lined up against a wall.

An exchange is said to have taken place between Dr Allawi and the Interior Minister.

The Interior Minister lives to the north of Baghdad, and on June 19, four of his bodyguards were killed in an attack on his home.

He expressed the wish that he would like to kill all these men on the spot.

The PM is said to have responded that they deserved worse than death, that each was responsible for killing more than 50 Iraqis each, and at that point, he is said to have pulled a gun and proceeded to aim at and shoot all seven.

Six of them died, the seventh, according to one witness, was wounded in the chest, according to the other witness, was wounded in the neck and presumed to be dead.

MAXINE McKEW: And the victims, they were, what, foreign or local insurgents?

PAUL McGEOUGH: They were - one of the witnesses described them as Wahabis, the Iraqi colloquialism for foreign fighters who have come into the country or local Iraqis who have taken on their Islamic jihad, if you like.

The reference is very much to their appearance - very short hair, very scraggly beard and four of them were described as Wahabis, the other three were described to me as normal Iraqis.

MAXINE McKEW: Now you’re time line, Paul, on this is this happened just before the formal handover, is that right, to Dr Allawi’s interim Government?

PAUL McGEOUGH: As explained by the witnesses, neither of them could put a precise date on the incident.

But they each gave me a description in terms of the days that had lapsed from it and by tracking back on the two different descriptions that they gave me from the date of the interview I had with them, which was some days apart, I was able to establish that it happened on or around the weekend of June 19/20.

That would make it three weeks after Dr Allawi had been named as Prime Minister - one week before the handover.

MAXINE MCKEW: And your informants, in what kind of tone did they recount this extraordinary tale?

PAUL McGEOUGH: Very matter-of-factly, which is often the way you get incredible or remarkable events explained to you in this part of the world.

There’s been so much violence, so much pain and a particular attitude to death, if you like, that both of them recounted it quite matter-of-factly.

MAXINE McKEW: And of course, I have to ask you again - I’m sure that the Baghdad rumour mill would be thick with stories about Dr Allawi.

Why are you so confident that you can’t put this story into that same category?

PAUL McGEOUGH: Because it came from two eye witnesses.

You’re right about the Baghdad rumour mill, it’s ferocious.

And versions of this story are on it and it was as a result of hearing this story as a rumour that I proceeded to check it to investigate it, to see if it had a factual base.

I used, as I said earlier, personal channels to make contact with the two witnesses to establish that they were in a position to know in terms of somebody trying to come at me with a story, that wasn’t the case.

They did not come to me.

They weren’t offered or volunteered to me.

There was an element of chance involved in meeting one of them, which would have made it impossible for him to have been a set-up for me, and listening to their stories, their stories sounded credible.

I had a colleague sitting in by accident on one of the interviews.

He was impressed by the credibility and something that’s very important with a story like this in this part of the world, particularly where you’re interviewing through interpreters I had a very sound, to me on the ground, a very valuable set of Iraqi eyes and ears listening and also believing the account.

MAXINE McKEW: Your sources of course will be sought out by other news agencies after tonight.

Will they stand up to scrutiny?

PAUL McGEOUGH: Well I don’t know whether others will find them or not.

I won’t be making them available to anyone.

I’ve given undertakes that I would protect their identities absolutely and I have to stand by that.

MAXINE McKEW: All right, for that.

Paul McGeough, thanks very much indeed, fascinating story.


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