Amid new violence, Gonzales in Baghdad

Attorney general talks with Iraqi officials about rule of law

August 30, 2006|By Louise Roug | Louise Roug,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales arrived in Baghdad to discuss the rule of law yesterday, a day when 21 bodies were found in the capital, all bearing signs of torture and execution.

Authorities said 36 other people died after a pipeline exploded as residents siphoned fuel from it in Diwaniya, where a battle between Shiite militiamen and government forces the previous day killed at least 81, according to revised figures provided by authorities yesterday.

Elsewhere in Iraq, 27 people were killed or found dead yesterday; a U.S. soldier was felled by a roadside bomb in the capital.

Flying into the capital's heavily guarded Green Zone, Gonzales discussed detainee issues and interrogation tactics with top Iraqi security officials.

Afterward, Gonzales told reporters he had discussed the use of "extraordinary measures" in the handling of detainees, but he added that the Iraqis will have to decide for themselves what will be permissible.

"It's difficult to decide what is appropriate and what is allowed under law," said Gonzales.

In a series of memos, Gonzales helped draft the U.S. administration's torture and detention policies that contributed to abuses of military prisoners in Cuba and Iraq, critics charge. He dismissed Geneva Convention protections for prisoners detained in Afghanistan.

Last year, he also acknowledged taking part in a meeting at which participants discussed the legality of interrogation techniques including the threat of live burial and simulating the sensation of drowning.

Taking questions from reporters during a brief meeting inside the courthouse where deposed strongman Saddam Hussein is being tried, Gonzales said, "The U.S. does not engage in torture."

He also said he had discussed rule-of-law issues with Iraqi officials and reiterated U.S. support for the Iraqi judicial system.

In Iraq, torture and extrajudicial killings by militias and Shiite-dominated security forces are endemic problems.

All of the bodies discovered in various neighborhoods throughout the capital yesterday had been handcuffed and tortured before being shot execution-style. But it was unclear whether the victims were Sunni or Shiite.

During the past three days, 13 U.S. troops have died as violence has raged across the country despite stepped-up security efforts by American and Iraqi forces.

Iraqi security forces assumed control yesterday of Diwaniya, where a pitched battle between Shiite militia and government forces raised alarms about the Iraqi army's ability to assume control of the streets.

Iraqi security forces killed 50 gunmen but lost 23 soldiers, several of whom were executed when they ran out of ammunition. Local officials in Diwaniya said that eight civilians also had died during the battle.

Diwaniya, about 80 miles south of the capital, is a Shiite-dominated city and increasingly a stronghold for Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric who once clashed with U.S. troops in Najaf and is a key broker in Iraq's delicate formula for stability.

Tragedy in the southern city was compounded yesterday when an explosion tore through a pipeline where Iraqis had been siphoning fuel, killing at least 36 people, officials said.

The fire was still burning as rescue workers and civilians tried to extricate the wounded. Witnesses said the death toll was certain to climb and described victims trapped in large pools of burning fuel. Health officials reported 30 to 40 people missing after the blast.

"I heard a big explosion and saw a huge fireball that rose 50 meters into the sky," said Mohammed Zaydi, 35.

The deputy governor of the province said the explosion was caused by fighting among those stealing fuel and pipeline guards.

Another official said the pipeline had been left unguarded by Iraqi soldiers deployed to fight the militias.

Chaos after the fighting between Shiite militia and government forces also apparently hampered relief efforts. Rescue workers and relatives said closed roads kept them from getting the wounded to the hospital.

Louise Roug writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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