Kurdish security forces torture suspects-HRW report

BAGHDAD, July 3 (Reuters) - Kurdish security police in northern Iraq routinely torture suspects and have held hundreds of people without trial, according to a report by a human rights group released on Tuesday.

"Detainees reported a wide range of abuse, including beatings using implements such as cables, hosepipes, wooden sticks and metal rods," said New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The report was based on interviews with 158 detainees held by the Asayish, which means 'security' in Kurdish, in detention centres in the autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.

The interviews were conducted between April and October 2006. Kurdish officials were not immediately available to comment.

As well as physical abuse, the report detailed cases where people were held after their original sentences had expired, and it found that the vast majority of the detainees it interviewed said they had never been formally charged with any crime.

"Most had no knowledge of their legal status, how long they would continue to be held, or what was to become of them," the report said.

Iraq's Kurdistan has enjoyed relative peace since the end of the first Gulf War in 1991 and has been spared much of the violence wracking Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Kurdistan even calls itself "the other Iraq" in advertising campaigns to lure foreign investors to the region, where construction is booming and there are high hopes for tourism.

The report said hundreds of Iraqis rounded up elsewhere in the country had been transferred to Asayish custody, where they have languished ever since.

But most being held were Iraqi Kurds accused of membership of armed Islamist militant groups behind violence in Kurdistan, including al Qaeda, Ansar al-Islam and Ansar al-Sunni, it said.

Some admitted to links with these groups, or even of taking part in attacks, but "this was rare", the report said.

The report did not estimate how many detainees were being held overall, but a Human Rights Watch spokesman said it might number in the thousands.

Human Rights Watch said Kurdish authorities had granted its researchers full access to 10 detention centres, and responded to some of the recommendations it subsequently made. But the measures taken had not gone far enough.

"The measures -- although concrete and constructive -- fall well short of the independent and impartial judicial review of the legal status of detainees," it said.

Human Rights Watch urged the Kurds to appoint an independent judicial committee to review the detainees, to immediately release or charge those in custody, and set free anyone who had already served their sentence.