- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 7, 2006

BAGHDAD — Iraqi authorities charged 57 members of the Shi’ite-dominated Iraqi police force, including a general, in the suspected torture of hundreds of detainees at a prison in east Baghdad, the Interior Ministry announced yesterday.

Torture is considered widespread within the poorly trained police force, which has suffered heavy losses at the hands of Sunni insurgents and criminal gangs, but yesterday’s announcement marked the first time the government has pressed charges.

Some officers were accused of abetting the violence by allowing the gunmen to violate curfews and pass through checkpoints.

Among those charged in the torture at Site No. 4, the prison in eastern Baghdad, were a general, 19 officers, 20 noncommissioned officers and 17 patrolmen or civilian employees.

Authorities reported finding the bullet-riddled bodies yesterday of 15 apparent death-squad victims floating in the Tigris River south of Baghdad, all blindfolded and bound at the wrists and ankles. The victims appeared to have been tortured before being fatally shot.

In the latest round of sectarian attacks, police said two mortar shells slammed into a coffee shop in a Shi’ite neighborhood in northern Baghdad, killing at least 14 persons and wounding 16.

A top Shi’ite leader said yesterday that Iraq’s neighbors could help with the deteriorating security situation in the country, but first they have to be convinced that U.S. troops are not a danger to them.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the largest bloc in parliament, the United Iraqi Alliance, was referring to Iran and Syria, countries that the United States has accused of aiding a three-year insurgency that has killed tens of thousands of people.

“As you know, the lack of stability in a country could be the result of an internal or external factor. Some neighboring countries could have a negative effect on the situation at the same time these countries could play a positive role,” Mr. al-Hakim said.

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who heads the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, suggested last month that Washington engage Syria and Iran in the effort to pacify Iraq.

“These countries are seriously worried because of the presence of multinational forces [in Iraq] and because of their goals, and therefore there is a need to convince these countries that those forces do not form any danger,” said Mr. al-Hakim, who lived in exile in Iran until after Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003.

Meanwhile, a somber and subdued Saddam Hussein called on Iraqis to “forgive, reconcile and shake hands” as he returned to court for his Kurdish genocide trial two days after being sentenced to death in a separate case.

Saddam had risen during the afternoon session to question the testimony of the witnesses, who told of a mass killing of Iraqi Kurds in 1987 and 1988. He calmly described how the prophet Muhammad and Jesus Christ asked for forgiveness for those who opposed them.

“I call on all Iraqis, Arabs and Kurds to forgive, reconcile and shake hands,” Saddam said before taking his seat.

The former president’s demeanor was far different from his combative performance Sunday, when another court sentenced him to death by hanging in the deaths of about 150 Shi’ite Muslims in the town of Dujail in 1982.

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