THULUYA, Iraq — Two hours before the dawn call to prayer, in a village still shrouded in silence, Sabah Kerbul’s executioners arrived. His father carried an AK-47 assault rifle, as did his brother. And with barely a word spoken, they led the man accused by the village of working as an informer for the Americans behind a house girded with fig trees, vineyards and orange groves.
His father raised his rifle and aimed it at his oldest son.
“Sabah didn’t try to escape,” said Abdullah Ali, a village resident. “He knew he was facing his fate.”
The story of what followed is based on interviews with Kerbul’s father, brother and five other villagers who said witnesses told them about the events. One shot tore through Kerbul’s leg, another his torso, the villagers said. He fell to the ground still breathing, his blood soaking the parched land near the banks of the Tigris River, they said. His father could go no further, and according to some accounts, he collapsed. His other son then fired three times, the villagers said, at least once at his brother’s head.
Kerbul, a tall, husky 28-year-old, died.
“It wasn’t an easy thing to kill him,” his brother Salah said.
In his simple home of cement and cinder blocks, the father, Salem, nervously thumbed black prayer beads this week as he recalled a warning from village residents earlier this month. He insisted his son was not an informer, but he said his protests meant little to a village seething with anger. He recalled their threat was clear: Either he kill his son, or villagers would resort to tribal justice and kill the rest of his family in retaliation for Kerbul’s role in a U.S. military operation in the village in June, in which four people were killed.
“I have the heart of a father, and he’s my son,” Salem said. “Even the prophet Abraham didn’t have to kill his son.” He dragged on a cigarette. His eyes glimmered with the faint trace of tears. “There was no other choice,” he whispered.
In the simmering guerrilla war fought along the Tigris, U.S. officials say they have received a deluge of tips from informants, the intelligence growing since U.S. forces killed former president Saddam Hussein’s two sons last week. Acting on the intelligence, soldiers have uncovered surface-to-air missiles, 45,000 sticks of dynamite and caches of small arms and explosives. They have shut down safe houses that sheltered senior Baath Party operatives in the Sunni Muslim region north of Baghdad and ferreted out lieutenants and bodyguards of the fallen Iraqi president, who has eluded a relentless, four-month manhunt.
But a shadowy response has followed, a less-publicized but no less deadly theater of violence in the U.S. occupation. U.S. officials and residents say informers have been killed, shot and attacked with grenades. U.S. officials say they have no numbers on deaths, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the campaign is widespread in a region long a source of support for Hussein’s government. The U.S. officials declined to discuss specifics about individual informers and would not say whether Kerbul was one.
Lists of informers have circulated in at least two northern cities, and remnants of the Saddam’s Fedayeen militia have vowed in videotaped warnings broadcast on Arab satellite networks that they will fight informers “before we fight the Americans.”
No Protection From U.S. Troops
The surge of informants has also provoked anger in Sunni Muslim towns along the Tigris. Some residents say informants are drawn to U.S. field commanders’ rewards of as little as $20 and as much as $2,500. The informants are occasionally interested in settling their own feuds and grudges with the help of soldiers, the residents said. Others contend that the informers are exploiting access with U.S. officials to emerge as power-brokers in the vacuum that has followed the fall of the government on April 9.
“Time’s running out. Something will happen to them very soon,” said Maher Saab, 30, in the village of Saniya.
The U.S. military says bluntly it does not have the means to safeguard those providing intelligence. “We’re not providing any kind of protection at the local level,” said Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the U.S. military commander in Iraq.
In Saniya, where slogans still declare “Long Live Saddam Hussein,” Abdel-Hamid Ahmed sat in a well-to-do house along dirt roads and arid fields of rolling hills where sheep graze. He proudly described himself as the first person to greet the invading Americans and ticked off the help he has offered since they arrived, most notably information on saboteurs of electricity wires.
Since then, he said, he has met U.S. soldiers at his house at least once a week, usually for no more than 15 minutes.
“I’m not an informer, but I help explain to the Americans the situation here,” he said in a well-kept living room, adorned with a new Toshiba television, a stereo, karaoke machine and 15 vases of plastic flowers.