Thursday, December 18, 2008

Women's rights activist beheaded in Iraq

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Gunmen broke into the house of a women's rights activist in the volatile northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Thursday and beheaded her, police said.

Iraqi Interior Ministry troops conduct inspections at a checkpoint in the southern Iraqi city of Basra in May.

Iraqi Interior Ministry troops conduct inspections at a checkpoint in the southern Iraqi city of Basra in May.

The victim was identified as Nahla Hussain, the leader of the women's league of the Kurdish Communist Party. She was alone in the house at the time of her death.

It is not known what the circumstances were that led to the attack. Violence against women has been an ongoing problem in Iraq.

In an unrelated development, authorities this week seized between 20 and 30 Interior Ministry officials allegedly linked to an offshoot of Saddam Hussein's Baathist movement, a ministry spokesman said Thursday.

The arrests come ahead of next month's Iraqi provincial elections, a watershed event that's generating an uptick in civil unrest and political infighting.

The detained have links to the al-Awda party -- an underground successor to Hussein's Baath party, the movement that ruled Iraq for 35 years but later was banned after Hussein was overthrown in the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

There were no details about what the detained officials were accused of doing.

It is the latest problem facing the Interior Ministry -- which oversees policing, border enforcement and internal security but has been criticized by Iraqi and U.S. officials for its inefficiency, corruption, and infiltration by Shiite militia groups during the Sunni-Shiite violence in 2006 and 2007.

According to Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim Khalaf, an Interior Ministry spokesman, the highest-ranking person taken into custody was a brigadier general, and the others were low-ranking officers. He said 23 officers were detained, and judicial authorities were questioning them.

A second Interior Ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said at least 32 ministry employees were arrested between Monday and Wednesday, although he had no information about the reasons for the arrests.

The arrests, made inside and outside the ministry, were carried out by an elite force that reports directly to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the official said. Critics have accused al-Maliki of taking unilateral action against political rivals.

At least two generals, including Gen. Ahmed Taha Abu Ragheef, the head of the ministry's Internal Affairs department and a traffic police general, were among the arrested, the official said.

Ragheef, appearing on state TV, denied the arrest and said he took part in the investigation that led to the arrests. Khalaf said Ragheef was not among those arrested.

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email mc at purplegrassed[at] said...
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