- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2005

LONDON — Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, whose ministry is accused of operating clandestine prisons where some detainees were tortured, will vacate his job shortly, security and political sources in Baghdad said yesterday.

Mr. Jabr has been under pressure to step down since a Nov. 15 raid by U.S. forces of a secret prison in the Baghdad neighborhood of Jadriyah, where 166 prisoners were discovered, most of them Sunni Muslims and some showing signs of torture.

The minister also had been criticized amid widespread though largely unproven charges of abuses, including hit squads operating within the Interior Ministry, which is dominated by Shi’ite Muslims.

Multiple sources contacted by telephone from London agreed that Mr. Jabr would not retain his position. Most said he was being forced out, although one said he would resign of his own volition because he found the pressure unbearable.

Political factions that are negotiating to form a government after Dec. 15 elections have generally agreed that the next interior minister — who runs the nation’s police force and its prisons — will come from a party that does not operate a militia, several sources close to the talks said.

Mr. Jabr is a senior official in a major Shi’ite party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which operates the Badr Brigade militia and maintains close ties with neighboring Iran.

A senior security source supervising some Interior Ministry activities confirmed that Mr. Jabr would not continue in office.

“He has said he has had enough,” the source said.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad also has made clear that Mr. Jabr would be unlikely to stay.

“The selection of the minister of interior will be very important. You can’t have someone sectarian; you need to have someone who has the confidence of all communities,” Mr. Khalilzad said recently.

His remarks echoed demands from a wide range of Iraqi politicians that the next ministers of defense and interior be “neutral.”

U.S. officials disputed a claim last week by Gen. Muntazar Jasim al-Samarrai, the Interior Ministry’s former head of a special forces brigade, who told The Washington Times that Mr. Jabr already had been relieved of his duties.

The claim is not true, said Lt. Col. Fred Wellman, a spokesman for the U.S.-led Multi-National Security Transition Command in Iraq. “The minister is continuing to work at his desk inside his office at the Adnan Palace.”

Repeated attempts to contact Mr. Jabr for comment were unsuccessful.

Gen. al-Samarrai, a Sunni Muslim, fled to Jordan in July, claiming that a purge of Sunnis and moderates had taken place and that he was receiving death threats.

Last night, Gen. al-Samarrai backed down somewhat from his earlier remarks, saying Mr. Jabr continued to work at the ministry, but remained adamant that the interior minister was being forced out.

Since the raid on the prison in Jadriyah and a subsequent U.S.-Iraqi inspection on a second prison elsewhere in Baghdad, where some prisoners also showed signs of having been tortured, the Iraqi government has moved to restructure the Interior Ministry, he said.

For example, Gen. al-Samarrai said, the Interior Ministry official in charge of the detentions, Tahseer Nasr Lawandi, had been arrested. Gen. al-Samarrai said Mr. Lawandi is an Iranian intelligence colonel who had been given Iraqi citizenship.

The general also has said there are several other detention centers where torture was routine.

An official investigation was ordered by the Iraqi government, of which SCIRI is a main constituent.

Under recent legislation, militias were to be disarmed and merged into official security forces. A preliminary report on the investigation has been delayed, and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has promised that it will be released “very soon.”

Hamid Mousa Al-Bayati, chairman of the Communist Party, also said Mr. Jabr’s role would come to an end.

“There is agreement among all parties concerned that the minister of defense and the minister of interior must remain neutral in any future government in office. It was agreed that anyone who occupies these posts must have no relations with political parties or political groups,” he told the Iraqi News Agency.

• Distributed by World News & Features.

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