- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Iraq’s interior minister claims to have taken major steps to end corruption, collusion with terrorists and human-rights abuses since taking over that important ministry in May.

Bayan Jabr has promised to continue “instilling the principles of democracy and law” among his commando and public-order troops until he moves to another job when the new government is organized.

Mr. Jabr was mistakenly reported to have been relieved of his duties late last year, but he does not expect to retain his post in a new government soon to be formed.

He said that since he took office, the Interior Ministry has fired many officers who colluded with terrorists or freed them for money. He said he is taking legal sanctions against human-rights abusers and those involved in hit squads that he says had been operating before he took over the ministry.

In his first interview with a Western newspaper, Mr. Jabr told The Washington Times how the ministry is dealing with claims of torture at detention facilities and reputed hit squads linked to his ministry.

In written answers, the minister insisted he is trying to instill respect for law and human rights in Interior Ministry forces and listed as one of his main achievements that he has put a judicial officer in each of the ministry’s regiments.

U.S. forces discovered a secret Interior Ministry prison in mid-November in which many of the 166 detainees had suffered abuse, torture or starvation. There also have been repeated instances in which men wearing the uniforms of the ministry’s special police units were seen abducting Sunnis — in one case a lawyer for a co-defendants in the trial of ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.

But the minister’s written answers, while avoiding direct comment on these incidents, sought to show that abuse had sharply decreased since he took charge of the ministry.

He said he inherited a police force riddled with human-rights abusers and officers who colluded with suspected terrorists. He said the ministry is following up these accusations and will “punish anyone convicted of human-rights violations.”

Mr. Jabr declined to discuss whether these abuses were still taking place.

But, he cited a year-old Human Rights Watch report that said that during the previous administration, headed by interim prime minister Iyad Allawi, “there were numerous ugly human-rights violations that resulted in the death of many Iraqis during torture.”

Among his major achievements to date, the minister listed steps to combat “rampant” administrative fraud at the ministry, where some officers collected the salaries of “ghost employees.” The ministry also discovered that suspected terrorists had been released in exchange for bribes.

“Terrorists who were caught were sold after a few days for a few hundred dollars by the major-crimes directorate, also in the commando forces and public order [units]. Many elements that had a relationship with the terrorists were fired,” the minister wrote.

He told The Washington Times he hopes to end his tenure as interior minister, and if his party asks him take up a new post in the next government. Informed sources say he might become minister of reconstruction, a post he held under L. Paul Bremer, the former American chief administrator in Iraq.

“My personal desire is to work within my specialization, as civil engineer in the reconstruction field,” he said in an apparent acknowledgement that his tenure as interior minister could soon end.

He said he has “huge amounts of money and property” because he comes from a well-known business family and so has no financial need for a government job.

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