A top Interior Ministry official said Wednesday the 173 malnourished prisoners found by U.S. forces included all Iraqi sects, downplaying Sunni Arab allegations of a systematic campaign by Shiite-led security forces to suppress Sunnis before next month's election.
Elsewhere, six more American service members died Wednesday, the U.S. military said. They included five Marines killed in fighting in Obeidi, 300 kilometers (185 miles) west of Baghdad, and an Army soldier who died from wounds received the day before in the capital.
In Baghdad, the Shiite-led government sought to dampen Sunni outrage over revelations Tuesday by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari that 173 detainees, some showing signs of torture, were found last weekend by U.S. troops at an Interior Ministry lockup in the capital's Jadriyah district. Most were believed to be Sunni Arabs, the leading group in the insurgency.
But the deputy interior minister, Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal, said the detainees also included Shiites, Kurds and Turkomen. Kamal, who is a Kurd, gave no breakdown.
President &to=http://english.pravda.ru/world/2002/12/19/41041.html' target=_blank>Jalal Talabani, returning from a trip to Europe, said there was "no place for torture and persecution in the new Iraq" and that anyone involved "would be severely punished."
Government spokesman Laith Kubba defended the ministry, saying all the detainees had been legally arrested and most had been referred to courts for prosecution. But they were kept at the center due to lack of jail space, he said.
"The Interior Ministry is doing its job at a difficult time and some mistakes happen," Kubba said.
That did little to assuage &to=http://english.pravda.ru/mailbox/22/101/397/13719_Iraq.html' target=_blank>Sunni Arab anger, with Sunni politicians saying the Jadriyah center was not the only place where detainees are tortured. Sunni leader Adnan al-Dulaimi said he had complained to the government about abuses at two Interior Ministry compounds in western Baghdad and another near Taji just north of the city.
He and several other Sunni politicians demanded an international investigation. Some alleged that Shiite-led security forces were trying to intimidate Sunnis from voting in the Dec. 15 parliament elections. Many Sunnis saw the hand of Shiite-dominated Iran _ Iraq's longtime foe which offered sanctuary to many Iraqi Shiites during Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led regime.
"Some government officials want to keep the Sunnis away from the next elections by terrorizing us," Saad Farhan, a Sunni merchant in Ramadi, said, adding his brother and cousin had been held in Jadriyah. "We believe that Iran's agents are behind it because normal and genuine Iraqis never do this."
Raad al-Dulaimi, a farmer near Ramadi, said government security services were dominated by "pro-Iranian elements" bent on "settling old sectarian scores with the Sunnis."
Passions were running high. At a Baghdad news conference, Tariq al-Hashimi, secretary-general of the Iraqi Islamic Party, held up photos of the bodies of people who appeared to have been subjected to torture and said: "This is what your Sunni brothers are being subjected to."
The photos were later determined to have been from an incident last summer in which Sunnis died after being locked in an Interior Ministry van in 36-degree (100-degree-plus F) weather. The ministry later said the ventilation system failed.
The Sunni call for an international investigation drew support from Manfred Nowak, a special U.N. investigator on torture.