BAGHDAD, Iraq, Monday, Dec. 12 - American and Iraqi forces raiding an Iraqi government detention center last Thursday in Baghdad discovered more than 600 prisoners packed into a cramped space, 13 of them mistreated so badly they had to be taken to a hospital, a senior American official said early Monday.
The raid was the second in the past month in which American forces have uncovered mistreatment of prisoners at the hands of Interior Ministry officials. On Nov. 15, soldiers with the Third Infantry Division, charged with controlling Baghdad, entered a ministry bunker in central Baghdad and found 169 malnourished prisoners, some of them tortured. Most of those prisoners were Sunni Arabs.
The detention center raided Thursday, situated to the east of the Tigris River, is run by a commando unit from the Interior Ministry, which oversees the country's police forces, said the senior American official, Lt. Col. Guy Rudisill, a spokesman for the American detention system in Iraq. When members of the search team entered the building, he said, they found "overcrowded" conditions that prompted them to begin transferring the prisoners.
"Thirteen of them were removed due to medical reasons and sent to a hospital," the colonel said in a telephone interview, declining to specify exactly what signs of abuse or torture, if any, the prisoners might have exhibited. Iraqi officials are still investigating the findings, he added. A total of 625 prisoners had been kept in the center.
Sunni leaders immediately denounced the Shiite-led government after the Nov. 15 discovery, and some have repeatedly raised the issue during campaigning for the parliamentary elections on Thursday.
The Interior Ministry is run by Bayan Jabr, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a leading religious Shiite party that has an Iranian-trained armed wing called the Badr Organization. Many Iraqi officials have said the ministry has recruited heavily from Badr and other Shiite militias, and there is growing evidence that such forces are abducting, torturing and killing Sunni Arabs.
Colonel Rudisill said he did not know the ethnic or religious make-up of the prisoners found Thursday, or whether the commandos running the center had been recruited from militias. The Interior Ministry employs a vast array of commando units, many shrouded in secrecy.
There was no immediate comment from the Interior Ministry on the Thursday raid, first reported on The Washington Post's Web site late Sunday.
The uncovering of the bunker last month led to an extraordinary public rebuke from the American Embassy, which asked the government to bar militias from dominating the security forces and assigned Justice Department officials to assist in a wider Iraqi-led investigation into detention centers across Iraq. The Bush administration is still grappling with fallout from the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal that galvanized anti-American sentiments across the Muslim world.
The broader investigation begun last month has not been completed, and it was unclear whether the search last Thursday was part of it. Colonel Rudisill said he did not know what prompted the raid. The team was led by the Ministry of Human Rights, he added.
Of the 625 prisoners found, 75 have been transferred to a center called Rusafa Prison, also in Baghdad, and 56 others were released after Iraqi judges determined there was no longer any need to hold them, the colonel said. The rest are still in the prison that was raided, he said, and judges will be reviewing their files.
With just four days to go until the parliamentary elections, the Iraqi electoral commission said Sunday that it had found irregularities in voter registration in the volatile northern city of Kirkuk.
The discovery was the first election irregularity announced by the commission as the country prepares for the vote on Thursday.
The commission said experts conducting an audit of voter lists had found an unexpected surge in voter registration in the area. When the experts scrutinized the registration forms, the commission said in a written statement, they found that many had been filled out incorrectly. Some had missing signatures and others had more than one signature. In some cases, the same name appeared on several forms.
Adel al-Lami, the director general of the electoral commission, said in an interview on Sunday that in his view the voter registration irregularities were technical errors. "Please stay away from political conspiracies," he said. "There's no political reason for this."
Kirkuk is considered one of the most potentially incendiary cities in Iraq, because of both its diverse ethnic and religious mix and its oil. The area has 10 percent to 20 percent of Iraq's oil reserves. As a result, several competing groups - Kurds, Turkmens and Arabs - claim dominance. The commission said that it would distribute to polling places a list of names for whom forms had been rejected, and that those people would not be allowed to vote.
The American military said Sunday that a soldier was killed in a roadside bomb explosion in Baghdad. At least 2,144 American troops have died in the war.
An insurgent group, the Victorious Army Group, has extended a deadline for a Web design contest, according to an Internet posting. The group has set a Jan. 15 deadline for submissions of a design "worthy of the group's reputation and the reputation of the jihad and the mujahedeen," according to a translation provided by the SITE Institute, which monitors jihadist messages.
The winner is promised "God's blessings" and the opportunity to fire three long-range rockets at an American military base.