Speaking to Reuters, Justice Minister Abdul Hussein Shandal also criticised US detentions of Iraqi journalists and said the media, contrary to US policy in Iraq, must have special legal protection to report on all sides in the conflict.

"No citizen should be arrested without a court order," he said this week, complaining that US suggestions that his ministry had an equal say on detentions were misleading.

"There is abuse [of human rights] due to detentions, which are overseen by the Multinational Force (MNF) and are not in the control of the Justice Ministry," said Shandal, a Shia judge respected for standing up to Saddam Hussein on the rule of law.

UN resolution

Killings and unjustified arrests of Iraqi civilians by US troops risked going unpunished, he said, because of UN Security Council resolution 1546, which granted US-led forces sweeping powers following their overthrow of Saddam in 2003.

Last month, 1000 men were freed
from Abu Ghraib

"The resolution ... gives immunity to the MNF and means taking no action against the MNF no matter what happens or whatever they do against the people of Iraq," Shandal said.

"We're hoping to make more efforts with the Security Council and the whole United Nations to end this resolution or amend it so that anyone who violates Iraqi law or assaults any citizen is held accountable," he said.

"This is a matter of sovereignty."

He said he was pressing US forces to speed up releases for some of the 10,000 Iraqis held at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere, often for many months without charge, on suspicion of aiding Sunni Arab fighters.

US forces pressed

Last month, 1000 men were freed from Abu Ghraib as Iraq's Shia-led government and Washington tried to appease the once dominant Sunni minority.

"There is abuse [of human rights] due to detentions, which are overseen by the Multinational Force (MNF) and are not in the control of the justice ministry" 

Abdul Hussein Shandal,
justice minister

The United Nations said last week faster releases could promote Sunni acceptance of the new political system.

Iraqi officials voice frustration with US and British vetoes on some requests for release, noting that Iraqis have been held for two years without charge to "gather intelligence".

Speaking of the Combined Review and Release Board (CRRB) which guarantees detainees a hearing every six months, Shandal said: "The representatives of the MNF in the committee have the rights and all the authority under the UN resolution."
 
Journalists detained

Shandal said he was concerned about the US military's refusal to accord special consideration to the media and at the number of journalists detained for many months by US troops.
  
Among these is Reuters cameraman Ali Omar Ibrahim al-Mashhadani, who was ordered detained by the CRRB last month as a "threat to the people of Iraq". The military will not say what suspicions it has against him.

Reuters' Ali al-Mashhadani 
remains in US custody 

Asked to clarify the CRRB definition of "threat", Shandal said: "It's a catch-all term to portray this person as a threat to the nation and allow the other side to keep him in custody."

Asked if the government approved of such measures, which US generals say they implement with Iraqi official support, he said: "I am a man of law and a judge and I respect human rights... No citizen should be arrested without a court order."

Special protection

Although the nature of their work brings journalists under suspicion from both sides, the US command in Iraq refuses to consider special treatment for accredited reporters and says it will detain them under the same conditions as any other suspect.

Shandal, however, said journalists needed special protection and defended independent reporting from all sides, including from fighter-held areas.

He insisted on journalists' right to film and interview Iraq's fighters without fear of arrest or worse.

"In this time of conflict ... between terrorists and the army or Multinational Forces, the journalist comes to the fore.

"Full freedom should be given to journalists to take pictures and film in the field," he said. "Without images what would we know of history? We would know nothing."