Top Sunni official fired over rape case
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Wednesday fired a top Sunni official who had called for an international investigation into the rape allegations leveled by a Sunni Arab woman against three members of the Shiite-dominated security forces.
A statement by al-Maliki’s office gave no reason in announcing the dismissal of Ahmed Abdul-Ghafour al-Samaraie, head of the Sunni Endowments. Al-Samaraie, whose organization cares for Sunni mosques and shrines in Iraq, had joined other prominent Sunnis in criticizing the government’s handling of the case.
Al-Samaraie, speaking from Amman in neighboring Jordan, disputed al-Maliki’s right to fire him, arguing that only Iraq’s Presidential Council – which comprises President Jalal Talabani and his two deputies – has that authority.
He said the woman who made the rape allegations was one of many who he said are sexually assaulted by the security forces. “Many girls are raped but they refuse to appear in the media so as not to tarnish their reputations,” he said.
The 20-year-old woman said she was assaulted Sunday at a police garrison where she was taken on suspicion of helping Sunni insurgents.
Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, the chief U.S. military spokesman, said the woman was admitted to a U.S.-run medical facility Sunday and was released the next day. He refused to divulge details of her medical treatment or examination for privacy reasons, and said she left the hospital with her medical reports.
Caldwell also told reporters that Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, ordered an inquiry into the case and appointed an investigating officer who already has begun collecting information on the allegations.
He said that if the Iraqi authorities needed it, U.S. officials would make that information available “once the Iraqi government makes a decision on how they are going to move forward.”
Al-Maliki’s office released what it said was a medical report indicating no signs of rape. The grainy document was marked as page two of three and did not have the name of the patients or any of her personal details. A handwritten note in English said she had no bruises or injuries. The Iraqi government and Sunni officials have identified the woman; The Associated Press does not name alleged rape victims.
Al-Maliki has said the rape allegations were being used by his critics to discredit the security forces and undermine a major, U.S.-led Baghdad crackdown. In exonerating the three officers Tuesday, al-Maliki said they should be rewarded as a sign of confidence in the force.
Al-Samaraie said Monday the rape allegations offered what he called proof of the failure of the security push in Baghdad to protect the city’s residents.
“The Sunni Endowments strongly denounces this horrific crime and lets out a cry for help from the international community and human rights organizations, demanding that they launch an immediate investigation into this crime,” said the statement, signed by al-Samaraie.
A statement by the Endowments, which has offices across the country, said it rejects al-Samaraie’s dismissal and declared an indefinite protest at its offices to protest the move.
In the northern city of Mosul, at least 300 students demonstrated inside the city’s main university campus to condemn the rape allegations.
His dismissal is the latest move in a highly publicized and increasingly bitter dispute over the rape allegations, pitting al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government of al-Maliki against its Sunni Arab critics. The public quarrel is fueling charges by the Sunnis that the Baghdad crackdown was targeting Sunni neighborhoods and leaving unaffected Shiite areas harboring militias blamed for sectarian killings.
In his Tuesday statement, al-Maliki said the woman “had not been subjected to any sexual attack” and that three outstanding warrants had been issued against her for unspecified charges. He also accused “certain parties” – a thinly veiled reference to Sunni politicians – of fabricating the allegation.
Word of the allegations first came from main Sunni Arab parliamentary bloc, the National Accordance Front, on Monday, a day after the alleged rape. The woman later told Arabic language television stations that she was assaulted by the three policemen after she was taken into custody for allegedly helping Sunni insurgents.
Although the woman did not say her attackers were Shiites, many Sunnis associate the police with the rival sect.
Rape is considered especially heinous in conservative Muslim countries, and victims rarely come forward since they risk not only public scorn but possible “honor killing” at the hands of male relations seeking to restore the family’s honor.
The speed with which the officers were exonerated outraged many Sunnis at a time when sectarian tensions are high.
“A succession of past governments that ruled Iraq destroyed their enemies and rivals within days or months. But the governments that ruled in the past four years are killing the Iraqi people,” Sunni lawmaker Abdul-Nasser al-Janabi told Al-Jazeera television late Tuesday .
In a statement posted on the Web, a major Sunni insurgent group – the Islamic Army in Iraq – declared “we will not sleep or be satisfied until we avenge you and every free woman who was stripped of her virtue and dignity.” The authenticity of the statement could not be confirmed.