Global Policy Forum

ICRC Says Near Accord with


By Stephanie Nebehay

November 30, 2006

The International Committee of the Red Cross is close to an agreement with Iraqi authorities to allow its officials to visit prisoners held at Iraqi-run detention centres, where Sunnis allege inmates are tortured. The ICRC regularly visits 14,000 prisoners in Iraq, including 12,000 held by U.S. and British forces, and 2,000 held by Kurdish authorities in the north of the country.

The humanitarian agency has been seeking access to all Iraqi-run prisons, including those under the Shi'ite-led Interior Ministry, accused by Sunni Arabs of operating torture centres and dungeons holding Sunni detainees. "We are quite confident that this dialogue will materialise in an agreement in a short period," Georges Comninos, ICRC head of operations for the Middle East and North Africa, told a news briefing at ICRC headquarters on Thursday. He declined to provide an exact timeframe or any details.

The United Nations, in its latest report on Iraq last week, said there were nearly 30,000 detainees in the country, about half in Iraqi hands and half held by coalition forces.

The Interior Ministry announced on Nov. 7 it had charged nearly 100 employees, including a police general and other high-ranking officers, with involvement in torturing detainees at a Baghdad prison known as Site 4. The U.S. is pressuring Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to rein in Shi'ite militias in the police.

The ICRC requires governments to allow it to interview detainees in private. Its confidential reports on conditions and treatment are sent only to the detaining authorities.

In a statement, the ICRC condemned recent bloodshed in Iraq and called on all parties to halt deliberate attacks on civilians. The U.N. has said 7,054 civilians suffered violent deaths in September and October alone.

The ICRC said it would expand its work in Iraq despite difficult security conditions for its staff, who do not use military escorts. It deploys 400 people in Iraq with an annual budget of 38 million Swiss francs ($31.59 million), which will rise to 58 million Swiss francs ($48.21 million) next year.

The agency helps hospitals with surgical and medical supplies to treat casualties and morgues to deal with the influx of dead bodies. It has also fixed water treatment plants. "But this assistance is only piecemeal in the face of the immensity of the needs," Comninos said.

More Information on Iraq
More Information on Torture and Prison Abuse in Iraq
More Information on Torture and Prison Abuse
More Information on the Occupation and Rule in Iraq


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