- Human rights abuses in Iraq are now as bad as they were
under Saddam Hussein and areeven in danger of eclipsing his record, according
to the country's first Prime Minister after the fall of Saddam's regime.
- 'People are doing the same as [in] Saddam's time and
worse,' Ayad Allawi told The Observer. 'It is an appropriate comparison.
People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons
that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things.'
- In a damning and wide-ranging indictment of Iraq's escalating
human rights catastrophe, Allawi accused fellow Shias in the government
of being responsible for death squads and secret torture centres. The brutality
of elements in the new security forces rivals that of Saddam's secret police,
- Allawi, who was a strong ally of the US-led coalition
forces and was prime minister until this April, made his remarks as further
hints emerged yesterday that President George Bush is planning to withdraw
up to 40,000 US troops from the country next year, when Iraqi forces will
be capable of taking over.
- Allawi's bleak assessment is likely to undermine any
attempt to suggest that conditions in Iraq are markedly improving.
- 'We are hearing about secret police, secret bunkers where
people are being interrogated,' he added. 'A lot of Iraqis are being tortured
or killed in the course of interrogations. We are even witnessing Sharia
courts based on Islamic law that are trying people and executing them.'
- He said that immediate action was needed to dismantle
militias that continue to operate with impunity. If nothing is done, 'the
disease infecting [the Ministry of the Interior] will become contagious
and spread to all ministries and structures of Iraq's government', he said.
- In a chilling warning to the West over the danger of
leaving behind a disintegrating Iraq, Allawi added: 'Iraq is the centrepiece
of this region. If things go wrong, neither Europe nor the US will be safe.'
- His uncompromising comments came on the eve of Saddam's
latest court appearance on charges of crimes against humanity. They seem
certain to fuel the growing sense of crisis over Iraq, both in the country
itself and in the US, where political support for the occupation continues
- Allawi was selected to serve as prime minister of the
first interim government, before last January's first national elections.
Admired in both Downing Street and the White House as a non-sectarian politician
committed to strong centralised government representing all Iraqis, Allawi's
supporters struggled in last January's elections, where they were eclipsed
by Shia religious parties, some of which have been implicated in the violence.
- Recently, however, his reputation has enjoyed a resurgence
as he has tried to build alliances with Sunni political groups ahead of
next month's national elections.
- His comments come as a blow to those hoping that Iraq
was moving towards normalisation under the new government. In a speech
on Wednesday, Bush is expected to hail the improved readiness of Iraqi
troops, which he has identified as the key condition for withdrawing US
- But the proximity of the latest round of elections appears
to have only intensified political murders and intimidations, including
members of Allawi's own list, who have been killed and attacked by political
- Despite denials of wrongdoing by the Ministry of the
Interior, which has been implicated in much of the abuse, a series of damaging
disclosures, including the discovery of a secret detention centre run by
the ministry, has heaped embarrassment on the Iraqi government and its
- The intervention by one of Iraq's most prominent political
figures promises to turn human rights abuses into a key election issue.
- Allawi's scathing assessment of the collapse of human
rights in Iraq under the country's first democratically elected government
came amid an angry denunciation of the involvement of the Iraq government's
institutions in widespread disappearances, torture and assassinations.
- He added that he now had so little faith in the rule
of law that he had instructed his own bodyguards to fire on any police
car that attempted to approach his headquarters without prior notice, following
the implication of police units in many of the abuses.
- Allawi saved his strongest condemnation for the Ministry
of the Interior, whose personnel have been accused of being behind much
of the abuse: 'The Ministry of the Interior is at the heart of the matter.
I am not blaming the minister [Bayan Jabr] himself, but the rank and file
are behind the secret dungeons and some of the executions that are taking
- Responding to the former prime minister's comments, Sir
Menzies Campbell, the Lib Dem foreign affairs spokesman, said: 'It is inconceivable
in the higher reaches of the command of the multinational forces that there
was not an awareness of what is being done by some Iraqis to their own
- 'The assertions by Mr Allawi simply underline the catastrophic
failure to have a proper strategy in place for the post-war period in Iraq.'