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UN rights office urges Iraq to rein in death squads

Written by: Staff

GENEVA, Mar 23 (Reuters) The United Nations has called on Iraqi authorities to rein in ''death squads'' allegedly operating within security forces and said it received regular reports of torture in detention centres.

The UN human rights office in Iraq also said in a report covering the first two months of this year, insurgent activities including ''terrorist acts'' have intensified since the bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in Samarra on Feb 22, ''resulting in hundreds of cases of killings, torture, illegal detention and displacement''.

US and Iraqi forces are battling a Sunni Arab insurgency against the Shi'ite- and Kurdish-led interim government.

The nine-page report posted on the website www.uniraq.org., said UN officials, who report to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, had received serious allegations about elements in the police and special forces and ''their apparent collusion with militias in carrying out human rights violations''.

Allegations that ''death squads'' operate in the country had grown stronger after the discovery by multinational forces and the Iraqi security forces in January of a suspicious group operating within the Interior Ministry, it said. Twenty-two men, dressed as special police commandos, were caught when driving with a man who was allegedly about to be executed, it said.

''This reaffirms the urgent need for the government to assert control over the security forces and all armed groups,'' the UN report said.

Numerous summary executions had taken place in and around Baghdad during the period, reportedly by armed militias, thereby further fuelling sectarian tensions and violence, it said.

''The same methods of execution-style killings are usually used: mass arrests without judicial warrant and extrajudicial executions with bodies found afterwards bearing signs of torture and killed by a shot to the head,'' it said.

Conditions and the legality of detention in Iraq remained of particular concern, it said.

Following mass arrests, some 29,565 detainees are now held in overcrowded Iraqi facilities where lack of judicial oversight remains problematic, according to the UN report.

''The (U.N.) Human Rights Office also continues to receive regular allegations and evidence of torture in detention centres, particularly (those) not operated or controlled by the Ministry of Justice,'' it said.

It welcomed inspections underway in places of detention under the control of the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defence and special forces throughout the country, according to the UN which called for those reports to be made public.

It also said military operations by multinational and Iraqi forces especially in western Anbar province had raised concerns due to allegations of ''excessive use of force'', mistreatment and theft during raids, and demolitions of houses.

Minority groups, including some of the estimated 34,000 Palestinian refugees living in Iraq, are subject to increasing detention, torture and discrimination because of their alleged links to foreign Arabs supporting the insurgency, it added.

Reuters DH VP0310

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