Iraqi forces, backed by U.S. soldiers, entered a residential street in southeast Baghdad’s Zafaraniya district early Wednesday during a security sweep. When the mission was over, two men were dead and their relatives and neighbors were accusing the Iraqi forces of murder.
The U.S. military said the Iraqi security unit, which was not identified, came under fire and shot back in self-defense.
Relatives and neighbors said troops set off explosives that knocked down the gates and doors to a home, where they detained an Iraqi military intelligence officer and killed two civilians. Their bodies were discovered with dog bites and gunshot wounds on a kitchen floor, which was streaked with blood, the witnesses said.
The two starkly different accounts of the events underscored the volatile atmosphere in Baghdad, where multiple security branches operate, often in secrecy, and armed groups hide among the civilian population.
It was not immediately clear which Iraqi security branch -- special forces, an elite police unit or regular infantrymen -- took part in the raid. Iraq’s counter-terrorism branch, which commands the special forces, denied any involvement. A spokesman for the Iraqis’ Baghdad operations command did not respond to repeated phone calls and text messages.
The U.S. military released a carefully worded statement Wednesday night, saying:
“Iraqi security forces conducted a security operation in southeastern Baghdad Wednesday. During the operation, the force was fired upon by two individuals in a nearby building. In self-defense, the force immediately returned fire and killed the two aggressors.”
Angry neighbors and relatives gathered Wednesday near the cinnamon-colored home, with its smashed-in gate and door. They had their own account of what happened in Zafaraniya’s Muwalamin Ula section, home to Sunni Arabs and Shiite Muslims.
Abu Haitham, 50, who lives on the same street, said he had been awakened before dawn by an Iraqi police vehicle broadcasting an announcement that U.S. and Iraqi forces had sealed off the area and people should not leave their homes. He said he looked out a window and saw military vehicles and that his home was shaken by three large explosions, accompanied by the screams of women and children.
After the forces left, he said, he went to the house that had been raided and was among the first to see the dead.
“One of the bodies had been badly mutilated, even dogs had bitten it,” said the man, who did not give his full name for fear of retribution. “This is a brutal way. If they have something against the guy they should detain him and interrogate him, not like this.”
Relatives pointed to the kitchen and backyard, both streaked with a wide trail of blood mottled with congealed black spots, and a bullet hole in the yard and similar marks in the kitchen.
One man, who identified himself as the brother of the detained man, insisted that his family was innocent. He said his brother, Nasr Rashid Abed Nasaif, was a warrant officer in the Iraqi army’s 11th Division. He described the family as Sunni.
“Did they come here to detain an Al Qaeda leader? Believe me, if we thought that they were involved in something suspicious we would be the first to tell on them. But they are innocent people and my brother is serving the country,” the man said, who called himself Abu Mustafa.
The dead men were identified as Mohammed Jassim Ahmad Karkhi, a resident of the house where the shooting occurred, and Abu Kara, a friend who was staying overnight after sharing iftar, the sunset meal with which Muslims break their daylong fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
Karkhi’s sister, who asked not to be named, said her family fled the city of Baqubah to the northeast during sectarian fighting in recent years and had moved in with relatives in Zafaraniya. Her slain brother and another sibling were detained by Iraqi special forces for 16 days last year, she said.
“We are people who were displaced, and my father died because we lost our home, and now they took my brother’s life,” she said, her voice rising. “There must be a secret informant who passed them false information.”
She pounded her chest, and her voice continued to rise as she accused the security forces of stabbing her brother with a knife and allowing their search dogs to bite him.
“Who will hear me, [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] Maliki or the Americans? These people don’t know God!” she screamed. “Oh my God, he was a Muslim and he was fasting.
“After three hours, his body will be covered with dust and later things will return to normal as if nothing happened.”
Redha is a Times staff writer.