Iraq's main Sunni Arab political party on Wednesday demanded an international investigation into allegations that security forces illegally detained and tortured suspected insurgents at secret jails in Baghdad.
Omar Heikal of the Iraqi Islamic Party said it was now clear that majority Shiites in the U.S.-backed government were trying to suppress minority Sunnis head of the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections. "Our information indicates that this is not the only place where torture is taking place," he said, reading an official party statement. The party "calls on the United Nations, the Arab League and humanitarian bodies to denounce these clear human rights violations and we demand a fair, international probe so that all those who are involved in such practices will get their just punishment."
Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari confirmed Tuesday that more than 173 Interior Ministry prisoners were found malnourished and possibly tortured by government security forces at a Baghdad lockup.
Al-Jaafari's comments came a day after an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said an investigation will be opened into allegations that Interior Ministry officers tortured suspects detained in connection with the insurgency.
"I was informed that there were 173 detainees held at an Interior Ministry prison and they appear to be malnourished. There is also some talk that they were subjected to some kind of torture," al-Jaafari told reporters.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said U.S. and Iraqi forces went into the facility in Baghdad suspecting that individuals there might not have been appropriately handled or managed, and "they found things that concerned them."
Tariq al-Hashimi, the secretary-general of the Iraqi Islamic Party, held up photos of the bodies of people who appear to have been subjected to torture and said: "This is what your Sunni brothers are being subjected too."
He said his group had sent complaints in the past the government, but without response.
"We told them that if you don't have information, then where are our brothers who were kidnapped by people wearing your uniforms, using your telecommunication equipment and driving your cars," he said. He said that if the investigation proves that the interior minister was involved, then he should resign. He also said the country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, should "condemn these acts and stop covering" for the Shiite minister.
Saad Farhan, a 40 year-old trader in Ramadi, said his brother and cousin were detained by interior ministry forces and that some detainees were taken to building raided by U.S. forces.
"Some government officials want to keep the Sunnis away from the next elections by terrorizing us," Farhan said. "We believe that Iran's agents are behind it because a normal and genuine Iraqis never do this."
Many Sunnis suspect Shiites of being allies of Iran. The U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq issued a report on Monday depicting a bleak picture of the Iraqi legal system.
"Massive security operations by the Iraqi police and Special Forces continue to disregard instructions announced in August 2005 by the Ministry of the Interior to safeguard individual guarantees during search and detention operations," the report said.
Near the Syrian border Tuesday, U.S. and Iraqi forces swept through most of an insurgent stronghold, encountering pockets of fierce resistance, destroying five unexploded car bombs and killing at least 30 guerrilla fighters, the U.S. command reported.
"Intelligence reports indicate that the strong resistance to the Iraqi and coalition push into the city is due in large part to the fact that insurgents believe they are trapped and have nowhere else to go," the military report said of the border operation.
The U.S.-Iraqi attack on Obeidi was the latest stage of an offensive to clear al-Qaida-led insurgents from towns and cities in the Euphrates River valley near the border with Syria and seal off an infiltration route for foreign fighters sneaking into Iraq.
U.S. officials have said the Euphrates Valley campaign is also aimed at encouraging Sunni Arabs to vote in the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections without fear of insurgent reprisals. The Bush administration hopes a successful election will encourage many in the Sunni community to abandon the insurgency.
Separately, three U.S. Army soldiers were killed Tuesday in a roadside bombing near Baghdad, the U.S. command said. A U.S. Marine was also killed Tuesday when a car bomb exploded near Karmah, 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of Baghdad, another statement said.
That brought to at least 2,074 the number of U.S. service members who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count. Also Tuesday, a Pentagon spokesman acknowledged that U.S. troops used white phosphorous as a weapon against insurgent strongholds during the battle of Fallujah last November. The spokesman, Lt. Col. Barry Venable, denied an Italian television news report that the spontaneously flammable material was used against civilians, reports the AP. I.L.