BAGHDAD: An Iraqi judge has ruled that there is enough evidence to try two former Shiite officials in the Health Ministry in the killing and kidnapping of hundreds of Sunnis, many of them snatched from hospitals by militias, according to U.S. officials who are advising the Iraqi judicial system.
The case, which was referred to a three-member tribunal in Baghdad last week, is the first time that an Iraqi magistrate has recommended that such high-ranking Shiites be tried for sectarian violence. But a 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 investigation has confirmed longstanding Sunni fears that hospitals were 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 Brigadier General Hamid al-Shammari, who led the agency's security force, which is charged with protecting the ministry and its hospitals. The two were taken into custody in February and March, but the status of the judicial inquiry into their activities and its findings had not previously been reported.