Iraqi Foreign Minister denies accusations of rights abuses

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said accusations that human rights abuses by some members of Iraq's government were as bad now as when Saddam Hussein was in power were "wrong." In an interview with the daily Liberation published Wednesday, Zebari, who is on a visit to France, said the allegations by former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi were aimed at winning favor ahead of Dec. 15 parliamentary elections.

"It is an unfortunate, false and unrealistic declaration, made for electoral reasons to attack the government. It is a bad message he is sending to our people and to our friends," the newspaper quoted Zebari as saying.

"There is no comparison possible: no mass graves, gassing of the population, thousands of people buried in the desert by bulldozer as was the case under Saddam," he added.

Allawi, a secular Shiite Muslim, told the London newspaper The Observer last weekend that fellow Shiites are responsible for death squads and secret torture centers and said brutality by elements of Iraqi security forces rivals that of Saddam's secret police.

His allegation follows the discovery this month of up to 173 detainees, some malnourished and showing signs of torture, in a Shiite-led Interior Ministry building in Baghdad. Zebari, a Kurd, said the government faced a constant threat from insurgents opposed to the U.S.-led occupation.

"I am not going to defend the Interior Ministry, but we are at war. Terrorists are killing us every day. Defending ourselves is a question of life or death," he told Liberation.

Military operations by Interior Ministry commandos against insurgents have led to widespread claims of abuse from the Sunni community, which forms the backbone of the insurgency. Allawi's remarks appeared aimed at garnering support among the Sunni Arab minority as well as secular Shiites ahead of next month's elections. Allawi is running on a secular ticket that includes several prominent Sunnis, reports the AP. I.L.

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