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Iraqi torture practices could be more widespread

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"It is leadership that determines whether or not torture takes place, whether people get fired or go on trial,'' says Whitson, adding she isn't aware of any recent arrests or dismissals of interior ministry officials for abuse. "The Iraqi leadership is responsible and they've failed."

Sunni Arabs have been complaining for months to US officials and human rights organizations about torture and disappearances at the ministry. Months ago Sunni politicians like Ala Mekki alleged the Interior Ministry kept secret torture cells in its main compounds in Baghdad.

While the US has touted the human rights component of its police and military training in Iraq, history shows that respect for basic rights like freedom from torture and freedom from unlawful detention are severely eroded in war. US abuses at Abu Ghraib make this point.

And with Iraq's legacy of brutal politics, limited oversight by the country's weak courts, and general support for torture and execution by millions of Iraqis - frustrated and angered by an insurgency that kills many more civilians than soldiers - severe abuses were almost inevitable. The apparent pattern of torture in Iraq also leaves the US in a political bind.

"Human rights and the rule of law are central components of our relationship with Iraq and are key areas for US involvement and support,'' says Justin Higgins, a State Department spokesman in Washington. "These are allegations of abuses by Iraqis against Iraqi in Iraqi facilities ... we want to see them make progress and see them reach the standards that we hold other countries to. We're counting on the Iraqis to conduct a thorough investigation."

While the latest revelation won't help matters among the Sunni Arab minority whose members feed the insurgency, it is being seen as simply the latest confirmation of what they have long thought was happening anyway.

"When the Shiites came into government they introduced their militias into the police forces,'' alleges Mr. Mekki, on the political committee for the Iraqi Islamic Party, one of the main Sunni Arab groups. "It used to be just the Americans - you might get taken to Camp Bucca and eventually released if there was no evidence against you. But these people in police uniforms cut the story short: Abductions, torture with drills and pulled fingernails, bodies thrown into the street have become the norm."

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