Iraqi interior minister says torture allegations exaggerated

Interior Minister Bayan Jabr was defiant Thursday when answering questions about allegations his officers have tortured suspected insurgents, saying the reports have been exaggerated and insisting only five people appeared to have been maltreated. He said that a number of those detained in the well-known facility were suspected foreign terrorists, including one man accused of building six car bombs.

"These are the most criminal terrorists who were in these cells," Jabr said. He said he personally instructed that these particular suspects be taken to the detention center in Jadiriyah because they were considered the most dangerous.

He said that an investigation was underway into the torture allegations, about which he held talks with the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey.

"I reject torture and I will punish those who perform torture," Jabr said. "No one was beheaded, no one was killed."

Earlier, Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal, Iraq's deputy interior minister, called for a unified command over detention centers to prevent future cases of torture, saying that the new government's worst fear had come to pass.

"What we were afraid of has happened when some prisoners were subjected to ill-treatment at the hands of the investigators," Kamal said. "We strongly condemn such illegal acts."

Sunni Arab anger has welled up following revelations by the Shiite prime minister that 173 detainees, malnourished and some showing signs of torture, had been found in an Interior Ministry building seized by U.S. troops in Baghdad last weekend. Most were believed to be Sunni Arabs.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari promised a full investigation and punishment for anyone guilty of torture. But Sunni leaders claimed the Shiite-led security forces were trying to intimidate Sunnis from voting and demanded an international investigation.

Most insurgents are Sunnis, while Shiites and Kurds dominate the U.S.-backed security services.

On Wednesday, five U.S. Marines were killed in fighting with al-Qaida-led insurgents near the Syrian border and an Army soldier died of wounds suffered in Baghdad, making it the second deadliest day for American forces in Iraq this month.

The soldier, from the Army's Task Force Baghdad, died Wednesday of wounds suffered the day before when a roadside bomb exploded northwest of the capital, the U.S. command said. Three other soldiers were killed Tuesday in a roadside bombing in the same area. But it was unclear if the soldier who died Wednesday was injured in the same attack.

The six deaths made Wednesday the deadliest day for American forces in Iraq since Nov. 2, when seven service members died in four separate attacks. At least 51 U.S. service members have already died in Iraq this month.

For the Marines, it was the worst single-day loss since they launched an offensive Nov. 5 to push al-Qaida-led insurgents from a series of towns along the Euphrates River used by foreign fighters to slip into the country from Syria.

A Marine statement did not give any details of the Wednesday losses, and names of the victims were withheld pending notification of their families. They were assigned to Regimental Combat Team 2 of the 2nd Marine Division.

However, a New York Times reporter traveling with U.S. forces said an explosion occurred as a squad entered a farm house in Obeidi, 185 miles (298 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad. Insurgents then racked survivors and rescuers with small arms and grenade fire before other Marines could recover the dead and wounded and kill the attackers, the newspaper said.

Eleven Marines were wounded in the ambush, according to Times reporter.

The Marine statement confirmed the five deaths but made no mention of wounded. The military also said 16 insurgents were confirmed killed in the fighting.

The latest deaths brought to at least 2,079 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, reports the AP. I.L.

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