NEW YORK - The United States may cut off funding for Iraq's police because of its failure to punish people responsible for torture, the US ambassador to Iraq said in an interview published on Saturday.
Zalmay Khalilzad told the New York Times that Washington has yet to formally notify Baghdad that funding may be cut, but officials are reviewing programmes because of a US law that forbids funding armies or police that violate human rights.
Khalilzad said he still had faith in Iraq's new Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, who oversees the police, and hoped he would punish those responsible for torture to avoid sanctions under the law, named for Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy.
"There is a Leahy Law that affects support if the terms of the law are not observed and implemented, and he has assured us that he will do so," Khalilzad said. "And we are still in discussions with him."
The United Nations said in a report earlier this month that torture was rampant in Iraqi detention centres and in the widespread sectarian killings seen across the country, based on the signs of abuse on victims' bodies.
The world body has demanded punishment of police responsible for abuse in Iraq after US and Iraqi inspectors uncovered evidence in May of systematic torture at a prison known as Site 4, run by the Interior Ministry's national police.
Some 1,400 inmates were kept at the site. No Iraqi officials have been arrested. Khalilzad said Bolani was waiting for written assurances that indictments had been handed down.
Several senior US military officials have briefed reporters this week expressing concern that the new government of Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has failed to crack down on Shi'ite death squads since taking office in May.
One of those officials said police units were continuing to cooperate with death squads as recently as the past few weeks, by allowing them to re-enter areas US forces had secured in a seven-week-old crackdown in the capital Baghdad.
Bolani, a Shi'ite engineer, is seen as having little clout among the powerful parties with their own militia that controlled the Interior Ministry in the government Maliki replaced. But Khalilzad said Bolani has the right intentions.
"He wants to do the right thing," he said.
"Not because of us, but because that's what Iraqi law would require him to do as well. That's a much better reason for him to do the right thing than for the US pressing him or the US threatening with some sort of a sanction."