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Rights Group Claims Abuse Systematic

Human rights conditions in Iraq remains dire, says Amnesty International report.
By Omar Anwar
Amnesty International this week condemned US-led multinational forces in Iraq for systematically abusing and torturing detainees, a charge that the military denies.

In a 48-page report entitled “Beyond Abu Ghraib”, the London-based human rights group charged US-led forces in Iraq of holding prisoners without trial and abusing detainees. It also expressed concern about violations by Iraqi security forces.

Amnesty's spokeswoman for the Middle East and North Africa, Nicole Choueiry, said US claims that the cases are isolated are false. Amnesty, she said, wants transparent and public investigations to identify the chain of command, "We have evidence that shows it is a systematic policy."

Major Joseph Todd Breasseale, a spokesman for the US-led Coalition, said that while there was "irrefutable" evidence that prisoners had been abused in the past, he denied Amnesty’s charge that this was systemic.

"I am simply unaware of any sort of 'systemic policy' in regard to a standardised 'culture of abuse' that exists in coalition-controlled detention facilities," he said.

Amnesty called on US, UK and Iraqi authorities to take "urgent and concrete steps" to ensure that the fundamental human rights for the detainees were respected. It said the human rights situation in Iraq, three years after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, "remains dire".

"The US-led alliance has failed to put in place measures which respect the basic rights of detainees under its control and to safeguard them from possible torture or other abuses," said Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, deputy director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme, in a statement.

Since the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, tens of thousands of people have been detained without charge or denied the right to challenge their detention before a judicial body, Amnesty International said in the report.

"Detaining people for an indefinite period with no legal basis…is totally unacceptable," said Choueiry.

The vast majority of "security internees" - those prisoners whom the multinational forces hold because they consider them a threat to security - have never been tried. Amnesty, citing data from the US-led Coalition, said Iraq had tried 1,301 alleged insurgents by the end of November 2005. It estimated that 14,000 detainees are being held in prisons run by multinational forces.

The report also said torture and ill-treatment in Iraqi prisons appeared to be on the rise.

"We have a growing concern over what is happening in Iraq. There are abuses and torture conducted by the Iraqi interior minister, especially the Wolf Brigade," said Choueiry, in reference to the Shia commando unit accused of abusing human rights in its counterinsurgency operations.

It was revealed in December that the interior ministry had run secret jails where prisoners - primarily Sunni Arabs - were tortured. Iraqi officials condemned the detentions and abuse.

Interior ministry officials could not be reached for comment.

Omar al-Juburi, director of the Iraqi Islamic Party's human rights office, said more than 12,000 Sunni Arabs had been arrested, including prominent businessmen. "Anyone who enters the [jails] will not escape torture," he said.

Major Breasseale said US and Iraqi officials had agreed that no form of abuse would be tolerated and that they would prosecute those suspected of it. He said the US-led forces are helping to integrate human rights training into the Iraqi ministries of defence and interior.

However, he admitted that human rights violations and corruption "were woven into the very fabric of Iraq for decades, and it is unlikely to disappear overnight".

Omar Anwar is a London-based freelance journalist. Iraqi Crisis Report editor Tiare Rath contributed to this report.

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