On Sunday Malik Duhan al-Hasan said: "The Arabs have been referred to Iraqi courts and the verdicts against these foreigners are due to be pronounced soon for acts of terror they carried out in Iraq."

 

He added that those on trial included Egyptians, Iranians, Jordanians, Lebanese, Moroccans, Yemenis and Syrians.

 

"The crimes committed in Iraq will be judged according to Iraqi law which reserves the death sentence for those charged with premeditated murder or those who carry out a car bombing to kill the biggest number of people," he said.

 

Despite personally disapproving of the death penalty, the minister said the dire security situation in Iraq - demonstrated by the weekend massacre of 49 new soldiers after they graduated from a training camp - demanded radical measures.

 

"When one person is responsible for the death of 50 others, must we treat them with the regard that he chose not to give to those whose lives he took?" he asked.

 

Capital punishment, which was in force under the ousted government of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, was reinstated by the US selected interim government on 8 August after being abolished by the previous US administration.


Instability
 

Hasan recognised that on occasion, arrests and detentions in Iraq were not strictly in accordance with the law, but he reasoned that this was due to the instability of the country and was a temporary phenomenon.

 

US soldiers have abused
suspects at Abu Ghraib

"According to the law, a suspect must appear before a judge within 24 hours after his detention, who must issue an arrest warrant," he said.

 

"Prisons refuse entrance to anyone who does not have such a warrant."

 

But if the police carry out a raid in Najaf, for example, and arrest 500 people on the same day, how could they all be brought before a judge, questioned the minister.

 

Such suspects are therefore detained in local police stations, where they are kept in small cells due to lack of space.


Prison scandal
 

"Prisons used to fall under the umbrella of the ministry of social affairs, but (former US administrator Paul) Bremer decided to shift it to our ministry," he explained.

 

At the same time, Hasan noted an improvement in prison conditions, saying that the Red Cross has unhindered access to Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, where US jailers shocked the world with the abuse of suspects by humiliating them and photographing them in the nude.

The soldiers at first said they were following procedure and that the photographs were used for further interrogations, but later testified that it was for their personal use.


Suing the US, UK
 

Iraq might sue the US and UK for
the Abu Ghraib scandal

Hasan, however, condemned the back-seat his ministry had been given in dealing with the scandal, involving several low-ranking soldiers charged in the affair.

 

"All crimes committed in a country must be judged by the penal code of that country, but the United States refuses to apply this rule with its soldiers," he said.

 

"We are examining the possibility of lodging a complaint against the Americans or the British at courts in the United States or Britain for the crimes they have committed in Iraq," he said.