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Kurds willing to probe ethnic abuse claims

world Updated: Nov 12, 2009 23:36 IST

Iraq's Kurdish regional government said on Thursday it is willing to probe allegations that its forces had abused ethnic minorities, but rejected claims by Human Rights Watch of widespread abuse.

The New York-based rights group on Tuesday said the autonomous region had used "heavy-handed tactics, including arbitrary arrests and detentions, and intimidation" against "anyone resistant to Kurdish expansionist plans" in Iraq's disputed areas.

A government statement described the main thrust of the HRW report as "seriously misleading" because the Kurdish authorities had "made greater efforts to protect minorities than anywhere else in Iraq."

"The regional government and the Peshmerga did not create the mess in the disputed areas, but on the contrary, the Peshmerga sacrificed their souls to protect the residents of those areas from terrorists," the statement said.

The Peshmerga are fighters who fought against the forces of now executed dictator Saddam Hussein for a free Kurdish state.

However, officials are "ready to work on those issues, according to Kurdish and Iraqi law, raised in the HRW report, the government said.

"The regional government will accurately investigate all the information in the report, and there might be some mistreatment or negligence," it said. "The government is not pretending virtuousness."

Iraq's disputed provinces include Nineveh, of which Mosul is the capital, the oil-rich province and city of Kirkuk, and Diyala, and lie immediately south of the Kurdistan region.

They were the focus of Saddam's "Arabisation" policy under which hundreds of thousands of Kurds and minorities, such as Assyrian and Chaldean Christians, Turkmens, Yazidis and Shabaks, were expelled.