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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Raid Uncovers Abuse at Iraqi Prison

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- U.S. 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 U.S. official said early Monday.

The raid was the second in the past month in which U.S. 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 U.S. official, Lieutenant Colonel 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.

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.

The uncovering of the bunker last month led to an extraordinary public rebuke from the U.S. Embassy, which asked the government to bar militias from dominating the security forces and assigned U.S. Justice Department officials to assist in a wider Iraqi-led investigation into detention centers across Iraq. The U.S. administration is still grappling with fallout from the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal that galvanized anti-American sentiments across the Muslim world.

Special voting began in Iraq's hospitals and prisons on Monday, Reuters reported, with security forces, detainees and the ill kicking off the country's first elections for a full-term parliament since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Patients in hospitals in Baghdad and the northern city of Kirkuk put their votes into large plastic ballot boxes by their bedsides after dipping their fingers in purple ink, a measure designed to prevent multiple voting.