Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Stadium Victims “Were National Guard”

Local residents refute government claims that nearly 20 men killed by insurgents in Haditha were fishermen visiting from the south.
By Daud Salman

Residents in Haditha claim that the 19 bodies found in a football stadium last week were members of the Iraqi National Guard, ING - disputing government claims that insurgents had executed fishermen.


And one national guardsman, speaking on condition of anonymity, told IWPR, “We have lost two of our patrol groups, including 19 members of the ING.”


He added that the guardsmen were called as backup after security forces clashed with militants, and then were captured and taken to the stadium.


Haditha residents corroborate his story.


After the bodies were found on April 20, initial reports said the victims were soldiers who were kidnapped by insurgents. Residents who heard the gunshots went to the stadium, where they discovered the bodies lying against a wall.


But a day later, the Iraqi defence ministry said the bodies were those of fishermen who had travelled from the southern provinces of Diwaniya and Najaf.


The government claimed that the men had come to western Anbar province to fish in Tharthar lake, but instead were captured by insurgents and taken to the Haditha stadium, located 140 kilometres northwest of Baghdad.


On April 26, a defence ministry official said an investigation into the Haditha execution was ongoing, and declined to elaborate.


Hamad al-Jagfi, who lives near the stadium where the bodies discovered, said he was one of the residents who went to the area after he heard the shootings. He said that some of the victims were wearing tracksuits, while others had ING uniforms.


“We found a number of guardsmen,” he told an IWPR reporter who was in Haditha on April 21 and 22. “Nineteen of their bodies were on the ground and no one else was around.”


Al-Jagfi added that, after the discovery, a helicopter landed at the stadium and took the corpses to a nearby military base.


Sjid al-Hassan said his 22-year-old son, Haider, a member of the ING, was one of the dead found at the stadium.


“I knew for sure when I heard the news about the shooting that my son was one of the victims,” he said. “I went to receive his body from the base.”


Residents claim that the execution of the guardsmen was typical of recent events in Haditha.


A day before the bodies were found, Lieutenant Colonel Hassan Harat of the Haditha police was killed at his home, along with his son and one of his nephews.


“We are not surprised that these members of the ING were kidnapped and executed in Haditha,” said resident Mahmoud Hamid.


Residents say they feel they are caught between the insurgents on one side, and American-Iraqi forces on the other.


After the bodies were discovered, leaflets were found throughout the city that said the Resistance Cord - Asaib al-Mukawama in Arabic - claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and execution of the guardsmen. The Resistance Cord is a new organisation tied to the network of Islamic militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.


“We don’t know what is going on in our city, which has become a theatre for operations by militants,” said Adnan Mohammed.


Daud Salman is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.