Iraq forces need 'massive' rights re-training: UN envoy

BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iraq's security forces require "massive amounts of re-training" in human rights to better conduct operations and combat the country's worst violence since 2008, the UN's new envoy to Baghdad said.

Mr Nickolay Mladenov, UN chief Ban Ki-moon's special representative, also said he did not expect any long-term political problems to be addressed before elections due April 30, but voiced hope that authorities could make progress on key issues such as the delivery of basic services.

"There is a culture within the security forces, and the way they do things, which needs to change," Mr Mladenov told a group of foreign journalists in Baghdad.

Asked what he meant by a change in culture, he replied: "One that is more respectful of human rights." "If you want to talk about the immediate security response to the crisis, the police, the army, ... need massive amounts of re-training... in relation to human rights, and how they respect international standards of human rights, how they undertake operations."

Mr Mladenov, a former Bulgarian foreign and defence minister, added: "A very big investment needs to be made in rule of law, human rights, both across the judiciary but also in the police and the security forces." Iraq's security forces have been criticised, particularly by the Sunni Arab community, over allegations that soldiers and police unfairly target the minority.

The claims range from accusations of warrantless and mass arrests, to extended periods of unlawful detention, as well as physical abuse in detainee facilities, often in a bid to extract confessions.

While officials admit that some individuals are wrongly arrested, they insist security operations are making progress in curtailing a protracted spike in violence that has sparked fears the country is on the brink of slipping back into all-out sectarian war.

The UN envoy did not blame any particular group in his critique of the security forces, noting that after 30 years of rule by the late dictator Saddam Hussein came to an end in 2003, Iraq has "been embroiled in conflicts; it's been fighting a terrorist threat." "I come from a transition country myself," he said.