In Iraq, a Grieving Father Hungers for Revenge

Since a death squad meted out a terrifying end to his football-crazy son in Baghdad two years ago, Abu Fuad has had only one thought in his mind -- revenge.

His beloved Fuad, 20, disappeared in October 2005 after responding to a mystery phone call.

His father found his body 16 months later at a cemetery in the Shiite holy city of Najaf. He had been badly tortured and was horrifically disfigured.

"I will never let the criminals escape even if I spend my life searching for them," said 52-year-old Abu Fuad, who carries a faded picture of his son wherever he goes.

"Someone telephoned my son, who was a football player in one of local teams, in mid-October 2005. My son left home -- and never returned," said Abu Fuad, an ordinary civil servant now caught up in the cycle of killings and revenge murders which has ravaged Iraq since the US invasion of 2003, leaving thousands dead.

"When night came, we started calling him for hours. We searched for him everywhere and asked his friends and our relatives, but no one knew anything about him," he said.

Working like a sleuth, Abu Fuad, a Shiite, managed to identify the owner of the mobile used to make the last fateful call to his son.

"I found out that the caller was a youth living in Al-Talbiyah neighbourhood," near northeastern Baghdad's Shiite bastion of Sadr City, said Abu Fuad, who works in a government health centre and lives in the mostly Shiite Al-Ameen neighbourhood in southwestern Baghdad.

"I monitored him for a while then I asked my relatives to help me. We kidnapped him and brought him to my house. I called his family. His parents and uncles came and I showed them the evidence that he had made the last call to my son."

The youth, he said, confessed that he had given his mobile phone to a police captain at the time of the incident.

"I called the chief of the captain's tribe and we agreed to meet some days later. But the tribal leader did not turn up and instead some mediators offered me money in return for dropping the case. I refused."

He later found out that the captain was part of a death squad comprising three brothers -- two officers and an ordinary policeman -- and two of their relatives.

He sought an arrest warrant against the gang but nothing happened, he said, because police refused to pursue action against their colleagues.

He was then told that his son had been imprisoned at Camp Bucca, a US-led prison in Basra, or at a jail in northern Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region.

Visits to the two facilities yielded nothing.

Finally his relentless pursuit for the truth paid off. After 16 months, the tribal leaders told Abu Fuad his son had been killed and his body dropped in Baghdad's Al-Qanat irrigation canal -- favourite dumping ground of Shiite death squads.

"They told me to go to the Al-Muthanna police station in Zayuna neighbourhood to get more information," he said.

At the police station officials confirmed that his son's body had been found in the ditch, and that it had been so badly disfigured they had initially not been able to distinguish whether it was that of a man or a woman.

Since the start of the sectarian violence in Iraq, the security forces, who are dominated by Shiites, have been accused of carrying out a campaign of terror against Sunni Arabs.

But the murder of Fuad and thousands like him indicates that the violence is carried out often without distinction and fuels claims gangs are being paid to carry out killings to ignite community violence.

Abu Fuad finally found his son's body in the cemetery in Najaf.

"The crime was terribly ugly, the murder was hideous. I saw but could not recognise my son because of the burns he sustained. They even cut away his body parts. He was still dressed in a sports tracksuit."

Officials at Al-Muthanna police station identified one of the killers as a "Captain Firas" but said they had no evidence against him.

The father said one of the members of the death squad was killed in an explosion and another was arrested but escaped.

"I am still collecting information on them and will find them. I have heard they are still abducting and killing people."

Clearly distressed, tired and weak from his relentless pursuit of the killers, Abu Fuad refused to give up despite the apathy of the police.

"I will search for them everywhere, I will punish them myself if the law does not do so. But before that I just want to know why they did this to my son. He was only a young man who wanted to play football."

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