Iraq massacre of 20 family members exposes failings in security forces

Killings spur calls for an overhaul of the security forces, which are accused of corruption and human rights violations

An Iraqi SWAT security forces member, affiliated to the Interior Ministry, mans a turret in an armoured vehicle. AFP
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An apparent family dispute that resulted in Iraqi security forces killing 20 family members on Thursday has laid bare failings in the country's complex array of forces, despite billions of dollars being spent on training, reforming and equipping them.

The massacre in the small town of Jbala, south of Baghdad, was the culmination of a long-running dispute between Rahim Kadhim Al Ghrairi and his brother-in-law Shihab Al Shimmari, a colonel in the Interior Ministry’s anti-drugs department, a relative and a security official involved in the investigation, told The National.

Al Ghrairi allegedly refused requests from his brother-in-law to let his wife visit her family in Baghdad, leading to many quarrels, Sheikh Akram Nasr Al Ghrairi, the area’s senior tribal leader, told The National.

In a bid to pressure him, Mr Al Shimmari filed false accusations against Al Ghrairi, accusing him of being a drug dealer and harbouring two terrorists in his house, Al Ghrairi and the security official said.

On Thursday afternoon, a force was dispatched from Baghdad to arrest him without informing the provincial judicial and security authorities in Babil province, Governor Hassan Mandeel told reporters on Friday. Babil is located about 100 kilometres south of Baghdad.

“At the beginning, the Humvees pulled over away from his house and some security forces in civilian clothing including the colonel walked to his house and asked Rahim to come with them,” the sheikh said.

“He refused and asked them to leave, sparking a quarrel which led him to fire a few shots into the air to warn them,” he continued.

Security forces responded by opening fire and calling for reinforcements from the well-trained SWAT team in Babil province, said the security official, who is affiliated with the National Security Department which is in charge of the investigation.

The exchange of fire lasted for about four hours and security forces fired heavy weapons, including the SPG-9, a type of portable artillery piece, he said.

During the clashes, Al Ghrairi called his uncle who urged him to flee, but it was too late as his house was surrounded, the sheikh added.

Al Ghrairi, his wife, four sons, two daughters, daughter-in-law and grandchildren, including a 7-day-old baby, were killed.

Shortly after the raid, the Iraqi Security Media Cell put out a statement saying the troops chased two wanted men at Al Ghrairi’s house and that the exchange of fire wounded two security personnel.

They accused him of shooting his family before killing himself.

“The man is known in the area as a poor and peaceful farmer and had nothing to do with drugs or terrorism,” the sheikh said.

“This tells all us how cheap is the Iraqi blood, the recklessness among the security forces and the fragility of these forces when they issue and implement such orders,” he said.

“This incident is an opportunity to review the performance of the security forces in order to retain the trust between the citizen and the security apparatus,” he added.

Police chief dismissed

On Friday, Iraqi Interior Minister Othman Al Ghanimi dismissed the provincial police chief and ministry spokesman Saad Maan denounced the incident as a "crime on all levels".

The officer in charge of the force dispatched to arrest Al Ghrairi has been arrested, along with several security personnel who took part in the raid, the security official said.

Al Ghrairi’s brother-in-law is still at large, he added.

The incident sent shock waves across Iraq and beyond. The Geneva-based Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor expressed “complete shock” and called for an independent investigation.

“The contradiction that prevailed in the official narrative of the incident and attempting to present it as a security treatment of a terrorist cell indicates an intention to justify or cover up the disproportionate use of force,” the group said in a statement on Sunday.

“The security authorities that provided misleading leaks about the motives and details of the crime in an attempt to reduce it or cover up what happened should also be investigated,” it said.

Authorities "should take urgent measures to ensure that law enforcement forces and agencies are not used for the personal interests of some influential parties or individuals, away from the principles of law in arrest and execution”, it added.

Updated: January 02, 2022, 2:19 PM