Iraq executes 14 despite U.N. rights chief protest

BAGHDAD Wed Feb 8, 2012 7:40pm GMT

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq executed 14 convicted criminals Tuesday, a Justice Ministry official said, bringing the number of executions this year to at least 65 despite objections from the United Nations' human rights chief.

Those executed included an al Qaeda commander, the senior official said. They had been found guilty of crimes ranging from armed robbery and murder to terrorist offences.

Executions were suspended after Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003 but reintroduced in 2004 by Iraqi authorities who said the death penalty was needed to combat a wave of sectarian bloodshed and attacks by insurgents. Death sentences are usually carried out by hanging.

"The Justice Ministry executed 14 Iraqis - terrorists and criminals - in Baghdad Tuesday," a senior Justice Ministry official told Reuters Wednesday.

They included Abu Talha who headed an al Qaeda affiliate, Islamic State of Iraq, in the northern city of Mosul and the provinces of Anbar and Salahuddin, the official said on condition of anonymity.

Those executed carried out their crimes in 2006 and 2007, when violence peaked in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Tuesday's executions were the second such batch since U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay criticised Iraq last month for the number of death sentences and questioned the fairness of its judicial proceedings.

Pillay urged Baghdad to impose a moratorium on executions. A week later, 17 Iraqis were executed.

The rights group Amnesty International has also expressed concern about the use of the death penalty in Iraq.

(Reporting by Mohammed Ameer; Editing by Francois Murphy and Ben Harding)

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