Iraq PM orders probe after Amnesty report on detention centers

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered an investigation on Thursday into a makeshift holding center where Amnesty International said more than 1,000 people were being held without charge in “inhumane and degrading conditions”.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks during a news conference in Baghdad, Iraq in this still image from video April 15, 2016. REUTERS/Iraqiya TV via Reuters TV

The London-based human rights watchdog said earlier this week 683 men, some as young as 15, had been crammed into disused warehouses converted into detention and interrogation facilities by counterterrorism forces (CTF) in Amiriyat al-Falluja, just west of Baghdad.

Abadi met Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty on Thursday and said Iraq was committed to upholding human rights and the protection of civilians as the war against Islamic State militants approaches its third year.

In a statement this week, Amnesty said the detainees being held had been picked up by Iraqi forces in the western province of Anbar on suspicion of collaborating with the ultra-radical Sunni militants of Islamic State.

CTF, backed by U.S.-coalition air strikes as well as army and tribal fighters, have rolled back Islamic State in Anbar, taking the provincial capital Ramadi and the town of Hit.

Tens of thousands of civilians who were still living in those areas have been displaced to camps following the offensives. Men are usually separated from women and children for interrogation and investigated for possible militant links.

But Amnesty said in its statement that CTF personnel had said they lacked the resources to carry out timely investigations and provide humane treatment.

They had disclosed that hundreds of other detainees were being held in similar conditions in another makeshift center further west in Habbaniya, it said.

The release of thousands of minority Sunnis imprisoned on blanket terrorism charges and held for years without trial was a top demand of protests that broke out in Anbar more than three years ago.

The government responded with force and Islamic State used the ensuing chaos to gain a foothold which helped it seize nearly the entire province.

Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Richard Balmforth