iraqi officials face abuse scandal

Sunday,  July 19, 2009 3:53 AM

By Deb Riechmann and Bushra Juhi
ASSOCIATED PRESS

BAGHDAD — Iraqi officials outraged by the abuse of prisoners at the U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison are trying to contain a scandal of their own as allegations continue to surface of mistreatment inside Iraqi jails.Accounts of Iraqis being beaten with clubs, blindfolded and coerced into signing false confessions are attracting increased attention partly because the United States is getting out of the prison business in Iraq. The U.S. has transferred 841 detainees into Iraq’s crowded prison system, and more are on the way.

Allegations of mistreatment have persisted since 2005, when U.S. troops raided an Interior Ministry lockup in a predominantly Shiite area of southeastern Baghdad and found scores of emaciated prisoners. The matter returned to the spotlight after the June 12 assassination of Sunni lawmaker Harith al-Obeidi, an outspoken advocate of prisoner rights.

The issue is a test of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s commitment to the rule of law and to reconcile with the Sunni minority, who account for most of the prisoners held in security cases. Sunnis say they are being unfairly singled out by security forces run by al-Maliki’s Shiite-dominated government.

“The cases are as bad as what took place at Abu Ghraib, but it is painful when these things take place in Iraqi prisons,” said Sunni lawmaker Salim Abdullah. “We met some of those who were released and saw the scars on their skins. They use different kinds of torture, like tying the shoulders and hanging the body, which normally leads to dislocation of the shoulders.”

The allegations pale in comparison with the horrific accounts of Saddam Hussein’s prisons, where inmates were systematically beaten, jammed into tiny windowless cells and executed on the flimsiest of evidence, and where men were forced to watch their wives and daughters raped.

Still, the current Iraqi leadership came to power with the promise to hold itself to a higher standard and respect human rights.

An eight-member panel that al-Maliki set up after al-Obeidi’s assassination to look into abuse is expected to complete its investigation in a month or two.

A military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, said the panel has visited three detention centers in Baghdad and will inspect others. He said most of the abuse uncovered so far took place in Rusafa prison in eastern Baghdad.

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