Iraq’s interior ministry has opened an investigation into the existence of a police death squad, one of the first times the Shia-led government has addressed persistent accusations of assassinations of Sunni Arabs by the security forces.
The announcement comes as Ibrahim al-Jaafari, prime minister and nominated to take the post for another four years by the ruling United Iraqi Alliance, struggles to put together a government that may depend upon Sunni Arab support.
It also comes amid outrage at the release of new photos of Iraqis abused while under US detention as well as videotape of the apparent beating of Iraqi civilians by British troops.
Major General Hussein Kamal, deputy interior minister, said the investigation would address US military claims that soldiers last month detained 22 men dressed in police uniforms on the verge of killing a Sunni Arab in their custody.
The detainee was not killed, but others have been. Discoveries such as that on Wednesday of four men bound, gagged and shot in the head in the predominantly Shia district of Shuala, Baghdad, have been common in recent months.
Sunni leaders say more than 1,000 members of their faith have been assassinated or have disappeared after their arrest by the police.
Human rights minister Nermine Othman, meanwhile, said on Wednesday that she was aware of 170 Iraqis subjected to torture, and that she would expect the prosecution of mid-ranking interior ministry officials who carried out the abuses as well as justice ministry officials who were aware of it.
The newly elected parliament is expected to convene in about a week to take the first steps towards forming a government. However, Iraqi politicians are saying the entire process may take two or more months.