Friday, November 18, 2005

Report #19 on the Era of Peace

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From USA Today November 18, 2005

Car bombs explode near interior ministry, killing 6 in Iraq

BAGHDAD (AP) — Two car bombs exploded Friday morning near an interior ministry building in Baghdad where U.S. troops earlier in the week found detainees who appeared to have been tortured by Iraqi security forces. At least six people were killed and more than 40 were injured, police said.

A mushroom cloud rises after two car bombs hit near an interior ministry building where troops found detainees showing signs of torture.
By Gregorio Borgia, AP

The blast in the Jadiriyah neighborhood echoed throughout central Baghdad and produced a towering cloud of smoke. It was followed by gunfire.

AP Television News footage showed several residential buildings collapsed from the blast and a large crater in the road. Residents helped firefighters dig through debris and pull victims from the rubble.

Police Capt. Nabil Abdel-qadir said the two car bombs went off behind the interior ministry building. Six civilians were killed and three police officers were among the injured, he said.

U.S. troops found up to 173 malnourished detainees — some showing signs of torture — in the building on Sunday. Most were believed to be Sunni Arabs, the main group in the insurgency.

A leader of a major Sunni party, Tariq al-Hashimi, told Iraq's Sharqiyah television on Thursday that his group had submitted 50 complaints of prisoner abuse to the government "but we did not receive a timely response."

However, Interior Minister Bayn Jabr, a Shiite, brushed aside the complaints, denied sectarian bias and claimed that "every time" al-Hashimi has differences with him "he exerts pressure on me through the U.S. Embassy." (Related video: Iraq interior minister disputes torture claim)

"I reject torture and I will punish those who perform torture," Jabr said. "No one was beheaded, no one was killed" — a clear reference to the beheadings of foreign and Iraqi hostages by insurgents including al-Qaeda's Iraq wing.

He also said "those who are supporting terrorism are making the exaggerations" about torture and that only seven detainees showed signs of abuse.

In a statement Thursday, the U.S. Embassy said Iraqi authorities had given assurances that they will investigate the conditions of detainees found Sunday night and that the abuse of prisoners "will not be tolerated by either the Iraqi government" or U.S.-led forces.

"We have made clear to the Iraqi government that there must not be militia or sectarian control or direction of Iraqi security forces, facilities or ministries," the U.S. statement added.

Prominent Sunni Arabs have complained for months about abuse by interior ministry forces, whom they claim have been infiltrated by Shiite militias. The Sunnis called for an international investigation after the Jadriyah detainees were found.

The government denies the militia allegations.

Last May, however, officials confirmed that a Shiite militia affiliated with Jabr's party helped capture five men wanted in a fatal car bombing in east Baghdad. Another Shiite militia took part in a joint raid with police last month southeast of the capital in which about 20 people were killed.

The U.S. statement seemed designed to reassure the Sunni Arab minority that the Americans are keen to defend their interests at a time when Washington is encouraging a big Sunni Arab turnout in the Dec. 15 election — hoping that will help take the steam out of the insurgency.

America's death toll rose Thursday as the U.S. military reported a U.S. Marine killed the day before in Haditha, 220 kilometers (140 miles) northwest of Baghdad. An Army soldier died Thursday in a traffic accident near Beiji, 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of Baghdad, the command said.

U.S. officials have refused to say how many detainees showed signs of torture and whether most were Sunnis, pending completion of an Iraqi investigation.

Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch told reporters that American soldiers, led by U.S. Brig. Gen. Karl Horst, went to the Jadriyah facility because a 15-year-old boy was believed to be held there illegally. Interior ministry officers denied the U.S. troops entry until Horst telephoned Jabr, who ordered his staff to allow the Americans inside, Lynch said.

"When he entered the facility, Gen. Horst saw 169 individuals that had been detained. Some of those individuals looked like they had been abused, malnourished and mistreated," Lynch said. "Gen. Horst and his soldiers took control of the facility, took appropriate actions with the Iraqi leadership and the Iraqi government."

In a nationally televised press conference, Jabr, the interior minister, delivered a spirited defense of his agency and said the detainees included Shiites and Sunnis — some among the most "dangerous terrorists" in the country.

He said a Shiite who had been crippled by polio was arrested after he was hired by Sunni religious extremists to detonate a bomb.

The spokesman for a Sunni clerical association insisted that torture was widespread within the interior ministry and his group would not trust the findings of any investigation in which the Iraqi government played a role.

"We are not accusing anybody, but our people are being arrested by (interior ministry units) and then their bodies are found," Abdul-Salam al-Kubais of the Association of Muslim Scholars said. "If the minister is not aware of this, then he should resign."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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