Iraq Tries To Dampen Jail Outrage

A top Interior Ministry official said Wednesday the 173 malnourished prisoners found by U.S. forces included all Iraqi sects, playing down allegations of a campaign by Shiite-led security forces to suppress Sunni Arabs ahead of next month's election.

The Shiite-led government sought to dampen Sunni outrage over revelations Tuesday by Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari 173 Iraqi detainees — malnourished and showing signs of torture — were found last weekend by U.S. troops at an Interior Ministry lockup in the capital. Most were believed to be Sunni Arabs, the leading group in the insurgency.

But the deputy interior minister, Maj. Gen. Hussein Kamal, said the detainees also included Shiites, Kurds and Turkomen. He gave no breakdown.

President Jalal Talabani said there was "no place for torture and persecution in the new Iraq" and that anyone involved "would be severely punished."

CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier reports that the rumor of abuse at the Interior Ministry prison came from an Iraqi commander, who told an American commander. From there, a raid by coalition troops was organized, and the battered prisoners were cared for by the troops that freed them.

What many American officials believe is that Iraqi officials .

U.S. officials who have been briefed told CBS News national security correspondent David Martin that they're worried it could undo all the progress that's been made to bring the various factions into the political process.

Iraq's deputy interior minister vowed to punish those responsible for starving and torturing scores of Sunni prisoners, Dozier reports. But that could mean a purge at the highest levels.

A Pentagon official told CBS News that the Iraqi running the detention facilities was a former member of Saddam Hussein's regime, and was "complicit" in the abuse and torture.

In related developments:

  • Five U.S. Marines died in a combat operation near the Syrian border in western Iraq on Wednesday, the U.S. military reported. The troops from Regimental Combat Team 2, 2nd Marine Division, were killed in a firefight in Obeidi, 185 miles west of Baghdad, a statement said.

  • Two court employees attacked Saddam Hussein and punched him several times after he cursed two Shiite Islam saints, state-run Iraqi television reported Wednesday. Iraqiya television, quoting people close to the investigative judges, did not say when the incident occurred. However, Saddam's lawyers said in July that their client was attacked during an interrogation session.

  • War protester Cindy Sheehan and several others pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of demonstrating without a permit outside the White House. The protesters, who face fines and not jail time, were being tried Wednesday afternoon by U.S. Magistrate Alan Kay after several hours of talks with court officials about how quickly their trial could be wrapped up.

  • Vice President Dick Cheney added his voice on Wednesday to the chorus of Republican criticism of Democrats who have accused the Bush administration of manipulating intelligence on Iraq, calling it "one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city." He also said in remarks for a GOP fundraiser: "Some of the most irresponsible comments have, of course, come from politicians who actually voted in favor of authorizing force against Saddam Hussein."

  • A Sunni Arab coalition running in next month's general elections declared Wednesday that their priority in the new parliament will be to amend the country's new constitution and work on speeding withdrawal of foreign troops.

  • Officials from the European Union on Wednesday ruled out sending an observer mission to Iraq for the elections because it is too dangerous.

  • Wednesday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair ruled out sending more of his country's troops to Iraq to seal the porous border with Iran. His government has recently accused Iran's Revolutionary Guard of giving Iraqi insurgents bomb-making technology, and has said that weapons and fighters are smuggled across the poorly protected border. Britain has about 8,500 troops in Iraq.

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