By Joshua Partlow and Colum Lynch
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, October 12, 2007
BAGHDAD, Oct. 11 -- A U.N. report issued Thursday outlined an "ever-deepening humanitarian crisis" in Iraq, with thousands of people driven from their homes each month, ongoing indiscriminate killings and "routine torture" in Iraqi prisons.
Also Thursday, a U.S. airstrike in Iraq killed 15 civilians -- nine women and six children -- and 19 suspected insurgents, the military said. "We regret that civilians are hurt or killed while Coalition forces search to rid Iraq of terrorism," Maj. Brad Leighton, a U.S. military spokesman, said in a statement.
U.S. troops targeting leaders of the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq came under fire while approaching a building near Lake Tharthar in Anbar province northwest of Baghdad, and aircraft fired on the site in response, the military said. The bombing also wounded six people, including a woman and three children.
The assessment by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, which covered a three-month period ending June 30, found that civilians were suffering "devastating consequences" from violence across the country. It documented more than 100 civilians allegedly killed by U.S.-led forces during airstrikes or raids.
The report described Iraq in more dire terms than last month's congressional testimony from top U.S. military and embassy officials, which stressed improvements in the security situation.
"The killings are still taking place, the torture is still being reported, the due process issues are still unresolved," said Ivana Vuco, a U.N. human rights officer in Baghdad.
The first draft of the U.N. report was completed in August, but release of the final version was delayed for more than a month following a request by the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker, according to a confidential account by a senior U.N. official. Crocker insisted that Iraq be given time to respond to the allegations, according to the account. The United States then prepared critical assessments of the U.N. investigation that were included in the final report.
U.N. officials in Baghdad said the report was not intended to challenge the U.S. military's assertion that this year's troop escalation helped reduce violence in much of Iraq. The reporting period ended before the time in which the U.S. military has described the sharpest drops in violence. The U.N. agency said it was again unable to persuade the Iraqi government to release civilian casualty figures.
Vuco said her organization was not trying to determine whether the situation in Iraq had improved or deteriorated. "As long as there are human rights violations, there are still concerns," she said.
Among the most serious issues raised in the report is the treatment of detainees. The U.N. agency found that as of June, 44,325 detainees were in Iraqi or U.S. custody, an increase of nearly 4,000 people since April. Many of them, it said, remained in detention for months without having their cases reviewed or with limited access to legal counsel. The report also expressed concerns about overcrowding and poor hygiene in detention centers, particularly pretrial holding cells run by the Interior Ministry in Baghdad. The agency said it "remained gravely concerned at continuing reports of the widespread and routine torture or ill-treatment of detainees."
"In addition to routine beatings with hosepipes, cables and other implements, the methods cited included prolonged suspension from the limbs in contorted and painful positions for extended periods, sometimes resulting in dislocation of the joints; electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body; the breaking of limbs; forcing detainees to sit on sharp objects, causing serious injury and heightening the risk of infection; and severe burns to parts of the body through the application of heated implements," the report said.
An Interior Ministry spokesman, Brig. Gen. Abdul-Karim Khalaf, said the ministry "totally rejects this report." Khalaf said politicians, journalists and human rights workers have visited ministry facilities, and "they didn't witness any kind of abuse."
The U.N. report warned of an increased rate of violence against women, particularly "honor" killings, in the semiautonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. In the first half of the year, regional government statistics counted 23 women killed by "blunt objects," 195 by burning and 37 by gunfire.
The report also highlighted the estimated 2.2 million Iraqis now living as refugees outside Iraq, about half of them in neighboring Syria.
In Baghdad on Thursday evening, a car bomb exploded in front of a popular cafe in the New Baghdad neighborhood, killing at least eight people and wounding more than 25, according to police and witnesses. The explosion took place about 9 p.m., as the cafe was crowded with patrons drinking tea and smoking water pipes.
The U.S. military also reported that rockets or mortar shells crashed down Wednesday evening on Camp Liberty, a major U.S. military base near the Baghdad airport, killing two members of the U.S.-led coalition and wounding 40 other people. In a separate incident, a U.S. soldier was killed Wednesday during a combat operation in eastern Baghdad.
Lynch reported from the United Nations.