Iraq security forces' actions scrutinized as tensions rise between religious factions

Iraqis blame government for escalating violen... 02:41

BAGHDAD - Wednesday was one of the deadliest days in Iraq since the U.S. pullout two years ago. At least 50 people were killed in a wave of bombings in Baghdad and other cities.

This is part of a religious war between the two main factions of Islam. Many Iraqis blame the government for fanning the flames.

Iraqi Minister of the Interior Adnan Asadi says soldiers seen firing on fleeing civilians in a video were acting in self-defense. CBS News
raq's security forces -- trained and equipped with American help -- are now well over half a million strong. For some, they're a proud symbol of Iraq's independence. For others, they're a dangerous and undisciplined force.

A video, shot last April at a protest camp in central Iraq, shows demonstrators from the Sunni branch of Islam. They say they're being unfairly treated by the Iraqi government, which is led by Shiite Muslims.

Riot police moved in after reports that armed criminals were hiding among the protesters. Suddenly, there was gunfire, and people started to run.

On the video at one point, soldiers appear to be firing their automatic weapons at the fleeing crowd.

CBS News took the video to Iraq's Minister of the Interior Adnan Asadi to ask what happened that day.

Told how the soldiers seem to be shooting as the fleeing crowd, Asadi said: "The demonstrators started shooting first. The soldiers were acting in self-defense."

The aftermath was terrible. At least 50 people were killed, and more than 100 injured.

The video shows the security forces kicking a body, and later vandalizing protesters' cars, actions the minister concedes were wrong.

Asadi was told, “The reason this is important is that the U.S. is thinking of sending a lot more arms, and the American people will say, ‘Why should we give weapons to an army like that?’”

To this he replied, “Those are not American weapons."

Asked if it matters because these are the men who are going to use them, Asadi said, “Nah, nah.  Now we fight al Qaeda.” 

Al Qaeda-linked extremists have taken the city of Fallujah in the past week and they're also believed to be responsible for the vicious bombing campaign -- seven bombs Wednesday in Baghdad and other cities.

The Iraqi security forces say they need American weapons to help fight the extremists, but given their general level of discipline and competence, America may  have to face the blame for the collateral damage.

  • Elizabeth Palmer
    Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."