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Iraq's Maliki accused of jailing, torturing opponents

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was accused by former prime minister and rival Ayad Allawi of using the security services to torture members of opposition groups into giving false confessions.

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Maliki's official spokesman, Ali al Dabbagh, didn't respond to an emailed request for comment. His telephones went unanswered Thursday.

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A coup?

Western diplomats scoff at the idea that the arrests were aimed at thwarting a coup.

"This is just paranoia," said one diplomat, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. "It's fantasy land."

Salim al Juburi, a member of the Iraqiya bloc who heads the Human Rights Committee in parliament, also disputed the government's claim of a conspiracy against it. "That's just an illusion. It's just an excuse to carry out arrests nationwide as the Americans are withdrawing, and was a real attempt to target some politicians," he said.

There's little doubt that Maliki ordered the roundup, diplomats and analysts here say. Security forces that answer directly to the prime minister made the arrests.

Juburi also said he had no doubt that those arrested since October had been tortured. "So many detainees have given false confessions under torture," he told McClatchy. "So many have been convicted of crimes they didn't commit."

Juburi said he couldn't provide a number for those arrested since October. He said many were being held in buildings that are under the Ministry of Interior, outside Iraq's prison system.

Others said the number was much higher than 1,000, with Allawi putting the figure at "thousands."

Another Iraqiya member and Maliki critic, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al Mutlaq, estimated that 1,500 people have been detained, while Sattar al Bayar, who deals with human rights issues for Iraqiya, put the number at 1,800.

In a submission this week to Iraq's supreme judicial council, Iraqiya listed 89 detainees by name, all of whom had been arrested late last year, and asked the council's "assistance to know the location of their detention so that we may meet them and become their counsels according to the law."

Those on the list were members of Allawi's Iraqi National Accord, as well as of political parties headed by some of Iraq's most prominent Sunni politicians, including Mutlaq and Vice President Tareq al Hashemi, whom Maliki has accused of running an assassination squad and who's sought refuge in the Kurdish region.

Bayar, Iraqiya's human rights coordinator, told McClatchy on Wednesday that all of those on the list had been charged with terrorism under the country's counter-terrorism law. He denied that any of them were involved in terrorism.

In a letter to President Talabani earlier this month, Allawi charged that the detainees "have been stripped of all their legal rights in obtaining counsel and meeting their families."

In earlier submissions, Allawi gave the names of another 36 people who'd been arrested and whose locations were unknown. The lists, all of which McClatchy has seen, were compiled using information from the families of the detained, Bayar and Allawi said.

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