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Fresh Abuse Scandal Erupts Over Secret Baghdad Jail

US Marine, LCPL Derrick Lee, from Echo company 2nd Battalion 2nd Marine Regiment hangs an American flag atop his Humvee during a sweep through the Zaidon market, located southeast of Fallujah, during an operation, 15 November, 2005. US Marines launched an operation in the Zaidon area southeast of Fallujah, aimed at detaining suspected insurgents and uncovering potential weapons caches. AFP photo by David Furst.

Baghdad (AFP) Nov 15, 2005
Iraq faced a fresh prison scandal Tuesday after Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari ordered an investigation into reports of abuse at a clandestine interior ministry jail.

The announcement came as 15 Iraqis, including 10 policemen and three soldiers, died in rebel attacks, a further sign of unabating violence exactly a month ahead of national elections.

US forces also announced the death of three marines in western Iraq where 80 insurgents have been killed in the past two days.

Jaafari told a press conference he had "received information relating to the presence of 173 Iraqi detainees at a centre run by the interior ministry, some of whom said they were badly fed or had been tortured."

US forces raided an underground shelter at an interior ministry building Sunday evening and found 167 undocumented detainees, most of them Sunnis, according to a source close to the government.

They took the detainees to another holding facility and arrested police who had been guarding them, the source said.

US forces in Baghdad contacted by AFP declined to comment on the incident, but the US embassy welcomed Jaafari's statement of concern, noting that the Iraqi leader "confirmed that such practices are completely contrary to Iraqi government policy."

US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad and General George Casey, the overall head of the US-led military force in Iraq, discussed the case "with the leaders of the Iraqi government at the highest levels.

"We agree with Iraq's leaders that the mistreatment of detainees is a serious matter and totally unacceptable."

While the Iraqi government is taking the lead in investigating the case and prosecuting those found guilty, US officials are providing technical help, including support from US Department of Justice and FBI investigators, the statement read.

The UN mission in Iraq on Monday accused the interior ministry of maintaining hundreds of individuals in detention despite judicial orders for their release.

Sunni Arabs, who provide the backbone to the insurgency, have accused Shiite-led security agencies of engaging in torture and extra-judicial executions.

In an unrelated case, a brother of Iraq's Sunni Arab parliament speaker Hajem al-Hassani, seized with two bodyguards by Kurdish security officials a week ago, was released Tuesday by US and Iraqi security forces.

Hatem al-Hassani, 43, had been missing since November 8 in the ethnically mixed northern city of Kirkuk where he sells cars.

The US military said three marines were killed in fighting Monday in Ubaydi, near the Syrian border, where their forces have been involved in a large-scale sweep to root out Al-Qaeda linked insurgents from the region.

The number of US military personnel to have died since the March 2003 invasion now stands at 2,071, according to an AFP tally based on the independent Iraq Coalition Casualty Count.

The military also said 80 insurgents have been killed in the past two days in Ubaydi. where US forces said they encountered "strong resistance".

A marine ground assault was backed by US Air Force F-15 fighters and unmanned Predator drones that bombed and rocketed insurgent positions.

By late Tuesday the military said most of the city had been cleared, but that there were "pockets of resistance and improvised bombs that still pose a considerable risk."

US and Iraqi forces were, meanwhile, housing and feeding some 1,400 civilians displaced by the fighting, the military said.

Three policemen died and three were hurt when a roadside bomb exploded in the northern oil centre of Kirkuk, four policemen were killed when their patrol car was ambushed east of the town and two died in a Baghdad car bombing.

Another policeman was shot dead and seven wounded in clashes with rebels in the northern city of Mosul, local sources said.

Three soldiers were killed and four wounded, along with three civilians, when a suicide bomber drove his car at a checkpoint near Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad, an interior ministry official said. Two civilians also died.

In the United States, where the war is increasingly unpopular, the US Senate voted to demand that the administration provide regular reports on progress made in the violence-battered nation.

The Senate, in an amendment to a military budget bill, also said "US military forces should not stay in Iraq any longer than required" and urged the administration to tell Iraqis to make compromises to achieve a sustainable political deal that was "essential for defeating the insurgency."

The Pentagon has said it will keep about 160,000 troops in Iraq through the national elections on December 15, the final stage in the country's transition to democracy after decades of dictatorship under Saddam Hussein.

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