Iraqi women who were held at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad have complained of rape by both US and Iraqi jailers, according to human rights groups citing alleged victims.
Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, chief military spokesman for the US-led coalition in Iraq, told AFP the prisons department was "unaware of any such reports at Abu Ghraib," and the cases were not confirmed first-hand by AFP.
Kimmitt said there were at present no female prisoners at Abu Ghraib, which has become notorious after evidence of abuse of male inmates by US military police guards.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Abu Ghraib held some 30 women in October last year. According to the prison management, there were five at the beginning of this month.
Iman Khamas, head of the International Occupation Watch Center, a non-governmental organisation which gathers information on human rights abuses under coalition rule, said one former detainee had recounted the alleged rape of her cellmate in Abu Ghraib.
According to Khamas, the prisoner said her cellmate had been rendered unconscious for 48 hours. "She claimed she had been raped 17 times in one day by Iraqi police in the presence of American soldiers."
Mohammed Daham al-Mohammed said the Iraqi group he heads, the Union of Detainees and Prisoners, had been told of a mother of four, arrested in December, who killed herself after being raped by US guards in front of her husband at Abu Ghraib.
The account came from the woman's sister who said she had helped in the suicide.
According to the sister, the woman had told of "being taken into a cell where she saw her husband attached to the bars.
"An American soldier held her by the hair to force her to look at her husband while he stripped her," Mohammed said.
She was then raped, while her husband cried out "Allahu akbar" (God is greatest), he added, quoting the sister. After her release the woman had begged her sister to help her die so she would not have to face her husband when he was freed.
One former male prisoner, Amer Abu Durayid, 30, who was released from Abu Ghraib on May 13, told AFP he had seen women being taken into a room. "They had to pass in front of our tent and cried out, 'Find a way to kill us'" he said.
Human rights groups point out that in a conservative society like Iraq women feel that rape dishonours their whole family.
"A woman would prefer to die," Khamas said.
She added that one single woman, an economics teacher, had whispered her story of being raped at Abu Ghraib in Khamas's ear, even though there was no one else in the room.
"The next day, she came back with her brother and asked me to tear up her statement," Khamas said.
Khamas, Mohammed and Hoda Nuaimi, a politics professor at Baghdad University, all separately said that three young rural women from the Sunni Muslim region of Al-Anbar, west of Baghdad, had been killed by their families after coming out of Abu Ghraib pregnant.
Nuaimi said that in the case of another such woman, who was four months pregnant, her brother had been reluctant to kill his sister because he considered her a victim.
"He was extremely disturbed and went to see a tribal sheikh, who forbade him to kill her," Nuaimi said, while admitting that she did not know what had happened to the woman.
Khamas also said in a report that a middle-aged woman had been sexually assaulted after she was detained at Baghdad airport in September 2003.
Most of the women arrested by coalition forces are accused of holding senior positions in ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's Baath party or assisting the resistance against the occupation forces.
Kimmitt said the "total present female criminal population" in Iraq stood at 78, but there were none at Abu Ghraib.
While the coalition prisons department was "unaware" of reports of rape at Abu Ghraib, "there have been reports of abuses by Iraqi police in their jails," he said.
A spokeswoman for Amnesty International said the London-based human rights group had not received any such reports of rape, and added that the closed nature of Iraqi society made them very difficult to verify.