BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq’s former interim prime minister complained Sunday that human rights abuses by some in the new government are as bad now as they were under Saddam Hussein.
Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite Muslim, told the London newspaper the Observer that fellow Shiites are responsible for death squads and secret torture centers and said brutality by elements of Iraqi security forces rivals that of Saddam’s secret police.
“People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same thing,” the newspaper quoted Allawi as saying.
In Canada, meanwhile, a Parliament official said four aid workers, including two Canadians, had been kidnapped in Iraq but refused to name their group or say where they were seized. Britain’s Foreign Office identified one of the four as Norman Kember, a Briton, but provided no further details.
Elizabeth Colton, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman, said the United States was investigating whether an American also was among the missing.
Most international organizations fled Iraq last year following a wave of kidnappings and beheadings of foreign and Iraqi hostages. Many of them were carried out by al-Qaida in Iraq, led by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
The U.S. military reported that a Marine assigned to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing was killed Saturday when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb near Camp Taqaddum, 45 miles west of Baghdad. At least 2,106 U.S. military personnel have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Allawi’s allegation of widespread human rights abuses follows the discovery this month of up to 173 detainees, some malnourished and showing signs of torture, in a Shiite-led Interior Ministry building in Baghdad.
“People are doing the same as Saddam’s time and worse,” he said. “It is an appropriate comparison.”
His remarks appeared aimed at winning favor among the Sunni Arab minority as well as secular Shiites ahead of the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections. Allawi is running on a secular ticket that includes several prominent Sunnis.
During his tenure as prime minister, Allawi lost the support of many Shiites because he brought back former members of Saddam’s Sunni-dominated regime back into the security services to bolster the fight against insurgents.
There was no comment from Shiite politicians on Allawi’s interview. However, the leader of Iraq’s biggest Shiite party said allegations of torture were distortions and might be designed to draw attention away from the Saddam’s trial, which resumes Monday after a five-week break.
“At the time of the Saddam trial, the issue of the torture in Iraqi detention centers is being exaggerated,” said Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. “When it comes to the crimes committed by Saddam for decades in which millions of Iraqis were affected, there is complete silence.”
In an interview published Sunday by the Washington Post, al-Hakim also complained the U.S. government is tying Iraq’s hands in fighting the insurgency and said one of the country’s biggest problems “is the mistaken or wrong policies practiced by the Americans.”
Military operations by Interior Ministry commandos against insurgents have led to widespread claims of abuse from the Sunni community, which forms the backbone of the insurgency. Sunni politicians say the ministry rounds up hundreds of innocent civilians to search for a handful of rebels.
Interior Minister Bayn Jabr said Iraqi authorities had postponed a major military operation against insurgents until after next month’s elections following a request from the head of the Arab League.
Jabr did not elaborate, but the league has been seeking to reduce tensions between Iraq’s Shiites and Sunnis and recently sponsored a conference in Cairo, Egypt, attended by representatives of the country’s major factions.
Before dawn Sunday, about 350 Iraqi soldiers in 50 vehicles carried out an operation in a Sunni Arab area south of Baqouba, 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. A similar operation two weeks ago brought strong protests from Sunni leaders.
Iraqi army Maj. Karim Al-Zihayri said 15 people were arrested on suspicion of planting roadside bombs, attacking checkpoints, kidnapping and stealing.