Baghdad (AFP) Nov 16, 2005
Five US marines were killed in western Iraq on Wednesday, bringing the two-day American death toll to nine, as the government faced calls for an international inquiry into torture allegations at a clandestine Baghdad prison.
The five marines were killed in a gunbattle in far western Iraq during a US-Iraqi military sweep in the town of Ubayid near the Syrian border, the US military said.
The sweep is part of Operation Steel Curtain, which aims to break the back of the Al-Qaeda in Iraq network operating in the region ahead of Iraq's December 15 general elections.
Earlier the military announced that three US soldiers were killed Tuesday by a roadside bomb in Baghdad, and that a marine was killed in a car bombing in the restive Sunni Arab city of Fallujah, west of the capital.
The deaths bring to at least 2,079 the number of US military personnel who have died since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, according to an AFP tally based on the independent Iraq Coalition Casualty Count.
In Baghdad, the Sunni-based Islamic Party called for an international inquiry following revelations that some 170 detainees, mostly Sunni, were illegally held at an interior ministry complex in south Baghdad.
US forces raided the Jadariyah facility, controlled by the Shiite-dominated ministry, on Sunday.
The commander of US-led forces in Baghdad vowed to inspect all Iraqi detention facilities after the alleged abuse emerged.
"We're providing technical expertise" and "we intend to coordinate with the Iraqis and inspect any detention facility that we find out about," US Brigadier General William Webster told reporters.
"We will support their (Iraqi) committees' investigations of all facilities," he added, speaking of the two committees set up by Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari to investigate the scandal and other suspicious Iraqi detention sites.
US forces stumbled on the secret prison after a Sunni family reported that their 15 year-old son had been arrested and was believed to be held at Jadariyah, a senior US officer said Wednesday.
"We went inside to see if the kid was there and found some things that seemed to be improper," he said.
"We started looking deeper and we found some additional probable improprieties," he said, adding that detainees on the premises "needed food, water and medical treatment". US forces did not find the teenager.
The Islamic Party called on Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the premier figure of Shiite Islam in Iraq, to publicly denounce the scandal, with party spokesman Ayad Samarrai saying past abuse allegations have "led to nothing".
He called for "an international and impartial inquiry as we are beginning to think there are people high up in government who are responsible, or at least accomplice" to the abuse.
Makki also said the abuse could not have happened without the "green light" of US-led coalition forces.
US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and General George Casey, the head of the US-led military coalition in Iraq, said that detainee mistreatment was "totally unacceptable."
Jaafari and Interior Minister Bayan Baker Solagh told Casey "that they take the allegations and the evidence that they've seen so far very seriously," said Webster.
Iraqi deputy interior minister Hussein Kamal told CNN television that he saw "signs of physical abuse by brutal beating. One or two detainees were paralyzed. And some had their skin peeled off various parts of their body."
CNN also showed a film given to them by the deputy governor of Diyala province, just northeast of Baghdad, showing evidence of alleged abuse of prisoners at the hands of police and dating from August.
The footage showed a group of three or four men, each with handcuffs dangling from one hand, with severe bruising over their backs, shoulders and thighs, along with lacerations apparently caused by beatings.
"In a new Iraq this kind of thing must not happen," said President Jalal Talabani, back in Iraq late Wednesday after a visit to Europe.
"There will be an impartial investigation and those responsible for these crimes will be punished," he said.
The Committee of Muslim Scholars, Iraq's main Sunni religious organisation, accused "interior ministry services of resorting to torture and ransoming prisoners".
Committee spokesman Sheikh Abdel Salam al-Kubaissi said his organisation had "filmed testimony of released detainees who had been tortured," and that the videos were handed over to Arab League chief Amr Mussa when he visited Baghdad last month.
The sheikh also accused "interior ministry services of detaining people at night in their homes on terrorist charges and then torturing them into making confessions, parts of which are then broadcast on television".
Some detainees were released a month or two later "after paying a bribe, with no charges being brought against them," Kubaissi added.
The European Union also voiced concern over the abuse charges.
The news "will not help to stabilize the situation, and to get the Sunnis much more engaged in the process, which is what we are looking for now," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told AFP.
The revelations came just a month ahead of general elections for a permanent government, the final stage in Iraq's transition to democracy following the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein.
Revelations of detainee abuse at the US-run Abu Ghraib prison in 2004 resulted in a scandal that tarnished the US reputation around the world.
And five Iraqis, including four policemen, were killed Wednesday in violence across the country, security sources reported.
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Camp Al Qaim, Iraq (SPX) Nov 16, 2005
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