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Iraq PM probes police rape allegations

HAMZA HENDAWI, Associated Press writer


February 19, 2007

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered an investigation Monday into allegations by a Sunni Arab woman that she was raped by three members of the Shiite-dominated police force after she was detained over the weekend.

A top police official disputed the allegation, which could not be independently verified.

The 20-year-old married woman said the ordeal began when police commandos raided her house early Sunday in the Amil district of western Baghdad while her husband was not home. She said the commandos accused her of cooking for Sunni insurgents and took her to a police garrison where the attack occurred.

"One of them put his hand on my mouth so no one outside the room could hear me," she said in a videotape taped by Associated Press Television news. "I told them `I did not know that an Iraqi could do this to another Iraqi.'"

She said a neighbor alerted U.S. soldiers about the arrest and they released her after the attack.

U.S. spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Garver said he could not confirm any U.S. role in her release but that the military "will support the Iraqi government in its investigation."

The allegations are potentially explosive at a time of rising tensions between Shiites and Sunnis as the United States begins a security operation to restore order in the capital.

Sunni leaders have been claiming the crackdown has focused on their neighborhoods while leaving some Shiite militia strongholds largely unaffected.

Sunnis routinely accuse the Shiite-dominated security forces of using excessive force against them, including indiscriminate arrests and torture of prisoners.

The victim did not specify that her attackers were Shiites, although they form the majority within the ranks of Baghdad police, especially elite commando units.

Deputy Interior Minister Hussein Ali Kamal said the allegation was unlikely because "something like this could not happen because Iraqi forces are operating with U.S. forces at all times."

In a statement Monday, the government said al-Maliki, a Shiite, "has ordered that the severest punishment be meted out to everyone that's involved in the incident."

A top Iraqi security official said several senior officers of the police "Order Protection Force" were being questioned. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

Initial reaction among Sunni leaders was one of outrage.

"By God, if you don't bring justice to this Muslim Iraqi woman, whom you should view as your sister or daughter ... history will curse us with eternal disgrace," parliament speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a top Sunni official, said on Al-Jazeera television, referring to the prime minister.

The Association of Muslim Scholars, a hardline Sunni clerical group, said the alleged rape was a sign of "a moral genocide in which government forces play the leading role."

The allegations first appeared Monday in a front-page story in the Baghdad newspaper Azzaman and was reported by Al-Jazeera as well as
Iraq's government station later in the day.

The National Accordance Front, a major Sunni political alliance, first said the police only attempted to rape the woman. But a party spokesman, Abu Iraq al-Issawi, later said she was too embarrassed but changed her mind and went public.

"She wants the whole world to know what happened to her. Silence is no longer an option in the face of this anti-Sunni campaign," he said.

Rape victims rarely come forward in this conservative Islamic country because of the risk of public scorn and humiliation. A woman who acknowledges being raped risks death at the hands of male relatives seeking to restore the family's honor.

"I told them that I thought that the Americans are the ones who rape Iraqis, but one of them responded: 'This is what we do to anyone who doesn't confess,'" she said.

:: Article nr. 30778 sent on 20-feb-2007 04:44 ECT


Link: news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070219/ap_on_re_mi_ea/iraq_rape

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