Tuesday, November 15, 2005
A Step Back for Democracy in Iraq
By BASSEM MROUE
Associated Press Writer
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- Iraq's prime minister said Tuesday that 173 Iraqi detainees - malnourished and showing signs of torture - were found at an Interior Ministry basement lockup seized by U.S. forces in Baghdad. The discovery appeared to validate Sunni complaints of abuse by the Shiite-controlled ministry.
The revelation about the mostly Sunni Arab detainees by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari was deeply embarrassing to the government as critics in the United States and Britain question the U.S. strategy for building democracy in a land wracked by insurgency, terrorism and sectarian tension.
"I was informed that there were 173 detainees held at an Interior Ministry prison and they appear to be malnourished," al-Jaafari said of Sunday's raid at a detention center in the fashionable Jadriyah district. "There is also some talk that they were subjected to some kind of torture."
But the head of Iraq's largest Sunni political party said he had spoken to al-Jaafari and other government officials about torture at Interior Ministry detention centers, including the one where the detainees were found.
Mohsen Abdul-Hamid, leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, said the government routinely dismissed his complaints, calling the prisoners "former regime elements," meaning Saddam Hussein loyalists.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, have expressed their "deep concern" over the condition of the detainees "at the highest level" of the Iraqi government, a U.S. Embassy statement said.
"We agree with Iraq's leaders that the mistreatment of detainees is a serious matter and totally unacceptable," the statement added.
But the case also raises troubling questions about the training and discipline of Iraqi security forces, which Washington hopes can assume a greater role in fighting the insurgents so that U.S. and other international troops can begin to go home.
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