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Iraq used torture to extract confessions from convicts, Amnesty says

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Amnesty International on Monday condemned the hanging in Iraq of 36 men convicted of a mass killing of soldiers, saying some of their confessions were extorted under threats and torture.

The watchdog called on the Iraqi authorities to establish a moratorium on executions and to hold “fair and transparent” trials for those accused of involvement in the massacre.

The hangings were carried out on Sunday, at a prison in southern Iraq, state television said. Those executed were convicted in the deaths of as many as 1,700 soldiers, mostly Shi’ites, two years ago.

The soldiers were killed after they fled from Camp Speicher, a former U.S. military base just north of Saddam Hussein’s home town of Tikrit, when it was overrun by Islamic State, the ultra-hardline Sunni group, in 2014. U.S.-backed Iraqi government forces and Iranian-supported Shi’ite militias recaptured the region last year.

“One of the men executed `confessed’ to killing 60 cadets at Speicher after receiving threats that his wife and sisters would be raped. He was also beaten with cables and given electric shocks,” Amnesty said. “Even though he recanted this `confession’ in court, according to lawyers, it was used to justify its verdict”.

The government came under increased pressure from local Shi’ite politicians to execute militants sentenced to death after a massive bombing that targeted a shopping street in Baghdad on July 3, killing at least 324 people.

Claimed by Islamic State, the truck bomb that blew up in the Karrada district was the deadliest since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Justice Minister Haidar al-Zamili on Sunday expected more executions to be carried out, dismissing U.N. and human rights groups concern over the fairness of the trials.

Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli