Monday, November 05, 2007

Health Ministry officials may face trial for killing Sunnis

Let's hope that Iraq realizes how important it is for a democracy to abide by the rule of law:

An Iraqi judge has ruled that there is enough evidence to try two former Health Ministry officials, both Shiites, in the killing and kidnapping of hundreds of Sunnis, many of them snatched from hospitals by militias, according to American officials who are advising the Iraqi judicial system.

The case, which was referred last week to a three-man tribunal in Baghdad, is the first in which an Iraqi magistrate has recommended that such high-ranking Shiites be tried for sectarian violence. But any trial could still be derailed by the Health Ministry, making the case an important test of the government’s will to administer justice on a nonsectarian basis.

The Iraqi investigation has confirmed long-standing Sunni fears that hospitals had been opened up as a hunting ground for Shiite militias intent on spreading fear among Sunnis and driving them out of the capital. Even before the case, Baghdad residents told of death threats against doctors who would treat Sunnis, of intravenous lines ripped from patients’ arms as they were carried away, and of relatives of hospitalized Sunnis who were killed when they came to visit.

The case centers on Hakim al-Zamili, a former deputy health minister, and Brig. Gen. Hamid al-Shammari, who led the agency’s security force, which is charged with protecting the ministry and its hospitals. The former officials were taken into custody in February and March amid reports that they had been implicated in sectarian violence and corruption. But the status of the judicial inquiry into their activities and its findings have not previously been reported.