BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraqi and U.S. military officials say an inspection of an overcrowded detention center run by the Interior Ministry discovered 13 prisoners who required medical treatment, the victims of apparent abuse.
A statement released Sunday night by the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry did not say why the 13 needed treatment but added that an investigating judge also ordered the immediate release of 56 people apparently held without reason at the Baghdad facility — which was inspected by investigators on Dec. 8.
Last month, an inspection by U.S. troops found up to 173 malnourished Iraqi detainees at a building of the Shiite-led Interior Ministry in Baghdad's Jadriyah district. Some of those inmates showed signs of torture. On Nov. 15, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari promised ordered an investigation and results within two weeks.
The latest revelation could impact Thursday's parliamentary elections. Opposition parties and Sunni Arab groups have accused the government and the Shiite-dominated security forces of human rights abuses.
"The team has discovered a number of problems that the Interior Ministry and Human Rights Ministry have undertaken to solve," the statement said, adding that "13 detainees were evacuated from the above mentioned center so that they could receive medical treatment."
The ministry did not say why they needed treatment, what had caused their injuries, or if they were consistent with abuse or torture.
But an officer at the Interior Ministry, who asked not be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said the 13 were taken for medical treatment because they had signs of abuse.
"Thirteen people with signs of torture were transferred to the hospital and are now under guard," he said.
A spokeswoman for the U.S.-led Multinational Forces in Iraq confirmed Monday that 13 people had been taken from the facility for medical treatment but had no further details.
"There were coalition officers present during the inspection of the facility," said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Stacy Simon. "Thirteen of them were removed from the facility to receive medical treatment."
According to the Human Rights Ministry, the facility located next to the Interior Ministry housed 625 detainees. The Interior Ministry runs Iraq's police forces.
"The team has also discovered that this center is very overcrowded," the statement said, and added that the Justice Ministry ordered that 75 detainees be transferred to one of its prisons.
"Work is under way to quickly release those whom there is no need to detain them for further time," the statement said.
News of more abuse in the detention system comes at a time when the Shiite-dominated government is still trying to deal with the fallout of last month's discovery at an Interior Ministry prison in the Jadriyah neighborhood, on the southeast side of the Tigris river.
Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said Sunday the investigation had not yet finished and could still take time.
"The investigation is going on and I met with a member of the committee yesterday. I believe it will take some time. As you know investigations take time," he said.
"I hope it (investigation) ends," Jabr said during a news conference. "I personally hope it ends as soon as possible. We are waiting for the results to take measures in punish the wrongdoers."
A prominent Sunni Arab candidate, Saleh al-Mutlaq, accused the Shiite-led government Saturday of withholding results of an investigation into torture allegations to avoid losing votes in the election.