- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Bush administration suggested yesterday that prisons in Iraq where hundreds of detainees apparently were abused were only “nominally” under the control of the central government in Baghdad.

Although the central government, with U.S. help, is trying to take charge of these prisons, the Interior Ministry, which runs them, may have its own way of doing things, suggested State Department spokesman Adam Ereli.

“The problem has clearly not been solved and the problem is widespread,” he said.

“We and the Iraqi government continue to have concern about the way prisoners are treated in Iraqi facilities and in facilities nominally under the control of the Iraqi government,” he said.

“And the United States, for its part, is going to do everything it can to ensure that the rights of Iraqi citizens are respected,” Mr. Ereli added.

The statement acknowledged weakness in the Iraqi government, but also credited it with trying to address a problem that undercuts the administration’s case that reform is taking hold since the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

“We are working with the Iraqi government to provide advice and technical assistance” to correct the prison situation, Mr. Ereli said. “It is not easy, given the number of detainees, given the number of actors in this system.”

One goal, Mr. Ereli said, is “not feeding detainees into a system where there is abuse going on” — and “on a deeper level, working with the government to try to correct the system so that the kind of abuses and undermining of authority doesn’t happen.”

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said earlier this month that at least 120 abused prisoners were found in two detention facilities run by the Shi’ite-led Interior Ministry.

Even before then, Sunni Arabs had complained about abuse and torture by Interior Ministry security forces.

The U.S. military said Sunday it would not hand over detention facilities or individual detainees to Iraqi officials until they have demonstrated higher standards of care.

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