BAGHDAD - The US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, on Tuesday issued a stark warning to Iraq's interior minister over the importance of impartiality, his second such rebuke within a week.
"For a police force to be credible it has to have the confidence of all the communities," he said. "You can't have someone regarded as sectarian as a minister of the interior," he said in his year end address.
Sunni Arabs have long accused the interior ministry, led by former Shiite militia member Bayan Jabr Solagh, of being used by militias to settle old scores with the Sunnis.
One week earlier, on December 13, Khalilzad criticized the ministry over the discovery of two detention facilities where predominantly Sunni detainees were tortured.
"This is unacceptable that this kind of abuse takes place," he said at the time.
Solagh had played down the abuse in the most recent case, admitting only that some of the detainees had been roughed up.
Khalilzad, however, publicly contradicted the minister.
"I can say that based on reports that I have received, in many instances it was far worse than slapping around," he said.
The US military also announced Monday that five US soldiers from an elite unit had been court martialed for abusing detainees, with sentences ranging from one to six months detention and two being discharged from the army.
Khalilzad also urged Iraqi leaders to form a broad-based cross-sectarian government after last week's general elections, with early results showing Shiite parties in the lead.
"For Iraq to work there's got to be cross-ethnic and cross-sectarian cooperation," Khalilzad told a news conference.
He expressed hope that once full results were known, Iraqi leaders would put together "a broad-based national unity government, a cross-sectarian and cross-ethnic government".
The outgoing transitional government was dominated by Shiites and Kurds, in part because the minority Sunni Arab community boycotted general elections last January.
Many more Sunnis took part in Thursday's poll for a full four-year government and overall voter participation increased from 58 percent in January to around 70 percent.
The exclusion of Sunni Arabs from much of the political process over the past year is seen as part of the reason for the ongoing insurgency, with Sunnis accused of providing much of the base support for the rebels.