Troops raid Iraqi facility to check prisoner welfare

Effort tied to allegations of abuse by police officers, concerns about Shiite militia presence in the force


BAGHDAD, IRAQ -- About 100 U.S. and Iraqi troops raided an Interior Ministry administrative and detention facility last night, in part to check on the welfare of prisoners.

"We're assisting any possible injured inside, checking their medical condition," said Capt. John Aguello with the U.S. Army's 4th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division. "We're verifying their paperwork."

An Iraqi police source said the soldiers entered the low-slung bunker and ordered police officers stationed there to disperse.

The ministry compound was a center for police officers affiliated with the Badr militia, a Shiite Muslim paramilitary organization, according to an Iraqi politician who lives nearby and to the police source, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.

Falah Naqib, the politician, said police guards at the site told U.S. soldiers that there were only 40 prisoners there, but that military personnel told him they found about four times that number.

Naqib, a member of parliament and former interior minister who maintains contacts with the police forces, said he was aware of cases in which Iraqi police abused detainees.

In an interview Saturday, U.S. military spokesman Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said that U.S. and Iraqi officials were investigating all accusations of police abuse.

U.S. officials increasingly have expressed concerns in recent weeks about Shiite militia presence in the Iraqi police force and persistent allegations of abuses and suspicious deaths. U.S. officials also have alleged that Sunni Arab insurgent elements are working within the police force, though in smaller numbers.

Scores of bodies have been discovered in and around Baghdad, handcuffed, blindfolded and shot in the head. Relatives of the dead often say that the last time they saw their loved ones, they were being led away by Iraqi police officers.

U.S. and Iraqi soldiers arrived in Humvees and troop personnel trucks and ordered Iraqi police stationed at the facility to disperse. As U.S. officials looked through records inside the building, Iraqi soldiers wearing ski masks and camouflage uniforms set up a perimeter outside.

Naqib, who led the ministry during the interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, lives near the building and said that it held Iraqi detainees from far-flung areas including Fallujah and Tall Afar, Sunni Arab strongholds that have been the scene of several large counterinsurgency offensives.

Sitting in his large living room in front of a big television entertainment center, Naqib said the raid was another sign of problems with Iraq's 111,000-member police force.

"They have killed or fired or isolated all the well-trained professionals in the ministry and let them do nothing," he said. "Then they depend on maybe 150 Badr militia" members.

Sunni Arab leaders, meanwhile, condemned yesterday a large raid by Iraqi soldiers and police in Baqouba, 50 miles north of the capital, which led to the arrests of more than 360 people, including a high-ranking judge, local legislators and the mayor.

More than 600 Iraqi troops launched the campaign Saturday, the same day that two Marines died in an unrelated bombing near Fallujah, about 60 miles west of the capital, and a U.S. soldier died in a vehicle accident in Rawah, near the Syrian border.

A U.S. military spokesman confirmed that U.S. troops also participated in the Baqouba raids, though as of early today he did not know how many or in what role.

Iraqi Gen. Mohammed Hassan, the commander of the operation, said the raids could continue into today, and that police and army troops also have been dispatched to other towns in Diyala province, including Kanaan, Buhruz and Balad Ruz, all within a few miles of Baqouba.

Police commandos and Iraqi soldiers arrested Baqouba's mayor, Khalid Sinjuri, Judge Saab Kohrshid, provincial councilman Mohammed Kamil and several prominent members of the Iraqi Islamic Party, which is planning to compete for parliament seats next month, Rahoomi said. The raids also netted local physicians, former Iraqi army officers and members of the Baathist Party, which ruled Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

In other developments yesterday:

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said British troops could leave Iraq by the end of 2006, an estimate that Britain's top soldier said was realistic but did not amount to a timetable for withdrawal.

Iraq's defense minister, Saadoun al-Dulaimi, criticized Damascus for letting militants train on Syrian soil and warned that an escalation of violence in Iraq would spill over into neighboring countries.

About 1,100 Iraqi lawyers said they withdrew from Saddam Hussein's defense team over the killings of two colleagues representing co-defendants of the ousted leader. A senior Iraqi judicial official said Hussein's trial will nevertheless resume on schedule.

The U.S. command said troops will continue to search for Hussein's chief deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, casting doubt on an online claim that the suspected architect of the Iraqi insurgency had died.

Solomon Moore writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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