June 16, 2009 / 6:46 PM / 10 years ago

Iraq to investigate suspected abuse in prisons

* Interior Minister visits Baghdad jail

* Says committees will study all allegations

By Waleed Ibrahim

BAGHDAD, June 16 (Reuters) - Iraq’s interior minister promised on Tuesday to punish any prison workers found guilty of abusing inmates.

Most of Iraq’s jails are rundown and badly overcrowded and the release into Iraqi custody this year of hundreds of people held by the U.S. military since its 2003 invasion is putting further strain on the system.

On Monday, Ahmed al-Masoudi, a parliamentary spokesman for supporters of anti-American Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, said several hundred prisoners were on partial hunger strike to try to draw attention to their plight. [ID:nLF386905]

International rights groups have urged the government to clean up its prisons, ensure that people accused of crimes are brought before judges quickly, and to end widespread torture.

"Investigation committees have been formed to look into these accusations, with full authority to take action against anyone proved to be involved," Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani told reporters during a visit to a Baghdad prison.

"The behaviour of some people working for this ministry does not represent the general trend. We stand strongly against any violation of human rights."

A ministry spokesman, Major General Abdul-Karim Khalaf, said prisoners who had alleged abuse, including torture and even rape, were being sent to doctors for examination.

In a statement, the U.S. military said it was holding 10,956 detainees. It said nearly 700 had been transferred to Iraqi custody since Jan. 1, and 3,682 freed. All detainees in U.S. custody are due to be released or handed over to Iraq this year.

The United States’ image was tarnished by the release of photographs in 2004 that showed abuse of detainees by U.S. warders at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad.

One of the prisoners at the jail in Karrada, Nazar Ihmood, said he had been mistreated during his month behind bars.

"They gave me an electric shock to my ear which caused bleeding," he told Reuters on the sidelines of the minister’s visit. "Now I can’t hear with it. My relatives have not been able to visit me. I am not allowed to see my family." (Writing by Daniel Wallis)

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