American military officers will inspect hundreds of detention centers and embed with Iraqi police commando units and other Interior Ministry forces to try to halt widespread abuses uncovered by raids on two Iraqi-run detention centers in Baghdad in the last month, the American ambassador pledged Tuesday.
The ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, said at a news conference that “over 100” of the 169 detainees whom American troops found on Nov. 15 in an Interior Ministry bunker in the Jadriya neighborhood had been abused, a far higher figure than the Americans had previously disclosed.
In the second raid last week, on another makeshift detention center run by a notorious police commando unit, the Wolf Brigade, as many as 26 of the 625 detainees jammed into the overcrowded center had been abused, Mr. Khalilzad said.
He gave no details of the abuse.
An Iraqi official said Tuesday that some of the detainees held by the Wolf Brigade had been “severely” tortured. The official insisted on anonymity, citing a clampdown on discussing the latest raid that he and other Iraqi officials said had been ordered by high-ranking Iraqis who were concerned about the effects that new disclosures about torture might have on the election on Thursday.
Most victims in the two detention centers were Sunni Arabs, already estranged from the Shiite-led government.
One Iranian-backed Shiite religious party in the alliance that is favored to win the biggest bloc of seats in the election, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or Sciri, has controlled the Interior Ministry under the transitional government that took office in May. The minister, Bayan Jabr, is a senior Sciri official. He has been widely accused by Sunni Arabs of infiltrating hundreds of members of the paramilitary wing of Sciri, the Badr Organization, into the police force, and allowing them to form death squads, and to run torture centers. Mr. Jabr has vigorously denied the accusations.
Although Mr. Khalilzad said Tuesday that “the United States does not endorse” any group in the election, American policy has placed a high premium on attracting a large Sunni turnout that will give Sunnis a major voice and an incentive to turn away from the insurgency.
The Americans, so long seen as patrons of the Shiites and Kurds, are eager to send the message that they are determined to protect Sunni interests, too.
The raid by American and Iraqi troops last Thursday, on a converted stable once used to keep racehorses owned by Uday Saddam Hussein, eldest son of the ousted dictator, was the first conducted by a joint American and Iraqi investigative unit that was established after the initial raid on the Jadriya bunker.
With hundreds of other Iraqi-run detention centers due to be inspected, American officials here appear to be concerned that the torture of detainees that was an entrenched feature of the Hussein years has reasserted itself under his successors.
“I want to let the Iraqi people know we are very committed to looking at all other facilities” run by the Interior Ministry, Mr. Khalilzad told a news conference in the fortified compound known as the Green Zone, the principal center of American power in Iraq.
He said it was “unacceptable for this kind of abuse to take place” and added that he wanted Iraqis to know that American officers were being assigned to police commando units and other Interior Ministry forces, as well as “security institutions” under ministry control, “so that they can observe how raids are carried out, how people are taken into custody.”
The Wolf Brigade has been implicated by Iraqi human rights groups and Sunni Arabs in a wide pattern of torture and killing, mostly of Sunni Arabs who the commandos have sought for links to the insurgency raging across the Sunni heartland or in revenge for the widespread torture and killing in Mr. Hussein’s years in power.
The brigade was established this year under a Sunni Arab officer who was imprisoned under Mr. Hussein, Gen. Adnan Thabit, and was armed and financed under an $11 billion American program to develop new Iraqi security forces.
An Interior Ministry official who agreed to talk about the raid on Thursday said the former stable was a half-mile from the old Oil Ministry headquarters in eastern Baghdad that the Interior Ministry is using. The official insisted on anonymity, citing the clampdown on discussing details of the abuses.
According to numerous human rights reports, Uday Saddam Hussein ran his own torture center nearby, in what was the National Olympic Committee headquarters, and used the stable for the Arabian thoroughbreds that were frequent winners at the main racetrack here.
On April 9, 2003, as American marines entered eastern Baghdad, looters led the horses from the stables. The horses broke loose amid the pandemonium and were not seen again.
The Interior Ministry official said the stable was taken over as a detention center last year, after Iraq had regained sovereignty from the American occupation authority. He said it was widely known in the ministry that the rooms once used as the stableboys’ living quarters had been used for torture in the last year.
“Torture has been common practice among the police commandos,” he said.
Mr. Khalilzad’s remarks at the news conference suggested that top American officials here were exhausting their patience with the transitional government of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari over the torture accusations.
Within hours of American troops’ seizing control of the Jadriya bunker last month, Mr. Khalilzad and Gen. George W. Casey of the Army, the American military commander, visited Mr. Jaafari at his headquarters in the Green Zone and insisted that a joint American-Iraqi inquiry examine what had occurred in the bunker.
The Americans demanded a second inquiry to look at all detention centers across Iraq and root out the mistreatment of detainees.
The results of the Jadriya inquiry, ordered to report in two weeks, have not been disclosed. But Mr. Khalilzad’s impatient tone on Tuesday suggested that the torture there had been worse than the Americans thought.
“It was far worse than slapping around,” the ambassador said, referring to reports that he had seen on the 100 abused detainees.
Some Iraqi officials have suggested that the techniques at Jadriya and other Interior Ministry detention centers the have included extracting fingernails, suspending victims upside-down from roof hooks for long periods, applying electric shocks to the genitals and other sensitive body parts and pressing lighted cigarettes to the bodies.
Mr. Khalilzad said the raid on the second detention center last week, involving American troops and embassy officials, as well as Iraqi forces, had convinced the Americans that the review of other detention centers needed “to be accelerated.”
The implication appeared to be that with the first two centers raided by American troops disclosing torture, the likelihood was that more abuse might be found in the several hundred detention centers that American military officers say they believe may exist across Iraq.
The ambassador’s statement that the American command had decided to embed officers with Interior Ministry units suggested that the practice of having American officers attached to commando units like the Wolf Brigade, common when they were established over the last year, had fallen away as the buildup of Iraqi forces accelerated.
Although American policy has been to assign “military transition teams” of up to 10 soldiers to each brigade-level Iraqi army unit, the free-wheeling police commandos appear to have had little American oversight in recent months. Mr. Khalilzad acknowledged as much when he said of the plan to embed Americans with the Interior Ministry units, “It’s a new phenomenon.”
Why the commandos have been left to operate unsupervised has been a burning question among Iraqi rights groups, who say the Wolf Brigade, among other special Interior Ministry units, established an early reputation for brutality.
When the issue has been pressed with American commanders, they have said the effective use of limited American troops has meant that “hard choices” had been made on where embedded American units were most needed.
Unlike many Iraqi police and army units, the Wolf Brigade established early that it was capable of functioning effectively on its own, the commanders have said.
But many Iraqis, including many Sunni Arabs, have been reluctant to believe the Americans’ insistence that they had no evidence of torture by Interior Ministry units until the raid in Jadriya. The critics have noted that uniformed American officers and other Americans in plainclothes are an obtrusive presence in the Adnan Palace, the high-domed edifice in the Green Zone that was once a retreat for Saddam Hussein and where most top Interior Ministry officials, including Mr. Jabr, the minister, now work.
General Thabit, founder of the Wolf Brigade, has an office along a corridor from Mr. Jabr’s, and American officers shuttle back and forth on the floor.