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Iraq executes 21, flouting U.N. calls to halt use of death penalty

August 28, 2012 | 12:01 pm

In a single day, Iraq has executed 21 people for terrorism offenses, officials told reporters Tuesday, repeating an activity that has outraged the United Nations and human rights groups in the past.

Iraqi officials told several news outlets that among those executed Monday were three women and that all the prisoners had been sentenced in connection with terrorism charges -- although they did not specify the nature of the offenses. The Iraqi national news agency carried a brief English notice on Tuesday, saying "Ministry of Justice implements death penalty against 21 convicts."

Last month, U.N. officials urged Iraqi authorities to halt executions after death sentences for up to 196 prisoners were upheld in Anbar province. The U.N. officials said Iraq had been troublingly secretive about the cases.

An earlier rash of executions in January was condemned by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay as "truly shocking" in light of grave concerns about due process and fairness in Iraqi trials. The U.N. said it is alarmed that Iraqis can be put to death for crimes that, in some cases, include damaging public property.

The death penalty was reinstated in Iraq eight years ago after a short hiatus following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that overthrew longtime leader Saddam Hussein.

At least 70 people were executed in the first half of this year, exceeding the entire number of Iraqis put to death the previous year, according to Amnesty International.

Iraq employs the death penalty more than most other countries, Amnesty's March report found: The country ranked fourth in executions last year, behind China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Iraqi officials have defended the number of executions as a necessary deterrent to terrorism in a country that continues to suffer deadly insurgent attacks.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

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