A U.S. military intelligence report says that followers of radical Shi'ite cleric Sheik Muqtada al-Sadr imprisoned, killed and mutilated Iraqis who opposed his insurrection.
American intelligence officers are now investigating in the town of Najaf, the site of Sheik al-Sadr's bloody standoff with coalition forces. A U.S. military officer told The Washington Times that the command recently acquired photos of 15 to 20 mutilated bodies that appear to be Iraqis lying in a courtyard.
A written U.S. intelligence report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, puts the body count much higher, based on an Iraqi informant, some of whose information was confirmed by local police.
The report said that after last week's truce, Iraqi forces moved into buildings held by the radical cleric's Mahdi's Army militia and found the bodies.
"Inside the court building, Iraqi police found approximately 200 mutilated bodies taken by the Moqtada militia for speaking out against Moqtada al Sadr," said the intelligence report sent to the Pentagon and stamped "secret."
"Some of the prisoners had eyes and ears drilled out and others had their limbs and heads cut off. Some males had genitals cut off and shoved in their mouths. There was evidence of rape to men, women and children," according to the report.
The senior officer, who asked to remain anonymous, said that the number of bodies found is much less than 200. The source said that while it appears certain that the bodies exist, the circumstances of when and where the people were killed, and by whom, remained unknown yesterday.
"We don't have a complete picture of where they came from," the officer said. "We're trying to uncover what really happened before we are able to release information."
The source said that the U.S. command in Baghdad only learned of the deaths Sunday, and later acquired the photographs of mutilated bodies.
"There appears to be a large group of bodies that were uncovered," the officer said.
He said that a military-intelligence unit was in Najaf investigating the deaths, alongside Iraqi police.
Sheik al-Sadr has led several deadly uprisings in southern Iraq, unleashing his rifle-toting, ragtag army on coalition forces and innocent civilians. U.S. Army and Marine units have responded by attacking and killing scores of the fighters.
Sheik al-Sadr holed up in Najaf's main mosque for days before Iraq's leading Shi'ite, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, returned from Britain and helped negotiate a cease-fire on Thursday.
The sheik's aides say that he now may choose to enter politics. But if his Mahdi's Army is tied to the massacre of innocent Iraqis, he could face a criminal investigation.
"The commander of the Sadr movement, leader Muqtada Sadr, announced today in Najaf the end of all fighting in the whole of Iraq and the integration of his movement in the political process," Sheik Naim al-Qaabi said last week.
U.S. military sources have told The Times that Iranian money helped Sheik al-Sadr rise from an obscure cleric during Saddam's rule to an influential rebel who paid a large army, provided social services and opened a rabble-rousing newspaper.
Earlier this year, the coalition shut down the newspaper after it called for the killing of al-Sadr opponents. The U.S.-led allies also began arresting some of his top aides. Looking boxed in, Sheik al-Sadr openly called for a rebellion that touched off a series of urban battles against American soldiers.
The U.S. intelligence report obtained by The Times states that most of Sheik al-Sadr's recruits were criminals that Saddam released from prison weeks before the March 2003 invasion.
The report states, "They slaughtered the innocent people. Most of the al-Mahdi were criminals jailed during the former regime and released by Saddam before his capture."