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U.S. Report Claims Afghan, Iraq Human Rights Abuses Are Up

WASHINGTON -- As the U.S. military prepares to leave Iraq, the State Department is blaming the Iraqi government for arbitrary killings of civilians and other human rights abuses.

The department's annual human rights report, released Thursday, also highlighted abuses in Afghanistan, another country where American troops are battling an insurgency. Civilians suffered the most when violence in Afghanistan spiked last year, the report said.

Blaming the insurgents, the report said that almost one-third of Afghanistan was plunged into armed conflict, reducing the government's ability to protect its citizens and extend its influence.

In Iraq, human rights abuses continued in 2009 despite an improvement in general security, the report said.

The report on the state of human rights in 194 countries around the world also described abuses in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

The annual report is often dismissed by foreign leaders who say the United States should focus on its own abuses and civilian deaths that result from its military actions. This year, complaints include President Obama's failure so far to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, holding foreigners suspected of terrorism; U.S. missile attacks meant to kill insurgents in the Pakistan-Afghan border area; and the continued use of the death penalty in the U.S.

U.S. officials addressed that criticism Thursday, saying a number of other government reports examine the United States' human rights record.

Michael Posner, an assistant secretary of state for human rights, said that later this year, the U.S. Trafficking in Persons report, which looks at forced labor and sexual exploitation, will for the first time rank the United States as it does foreign governments.

"We hold every government, including our own, to a single universal standard," Posner said.

In the new report, China was slammed for harassing lawyers and activists seen by the government as threats to the Chinese Communist Party, and for increasing repression of Tibetan and Uighur minorities and tightly controlling and monitoring the Internet.

The report said local government and insurgent forces in Russia's North Caucasus region reportedly were responsible for murders, torture and kidnappings.

In Afghanistan, it said that insurgent attacks increased last year, "with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence." Civilian casualties in Afghanistan, where U.S. commanders have ordered troops to use caution to try to avoid harming innocents, stir anger and highlight a growing impatience with the U.S.-led forces' inability to secure the country after more than eight years of war.

The report said Pakistan saw extrajudicial killings, torture and disappearances last year, despite some positive steps by the country's civilian government. It says hundreds of civilians died because of militant attacks in the rugged area along the Afghan border.