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Rights group: Iraq 'budding police state'

BAGHDAD, Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Iraq's government has been developing an iron hand when it comes to dealing with political dissidents, Human Rights Watch said in a report Sunday.

The advocacy group said in its World Report 2012 that Baghdad began leaning on demonstrators, journalists and political activists last year and rounded up hundreds of accused former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party as the last U.S. combat troops were packing up to leave.

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A significant development was the discovery by Human Rights Watch of a secret detention facility by a unit that reports to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's military office, the organization said in a written statement.

"Iraq is quickly slipping back into authoritarianism as its security forces abuse protesters, harass journalists and torture detainees," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Despite U.S. government assurances that it helped create a stable democracy, the reality is that it left behind a budding police state."

Activists will be watching the Iraqi parliament this year to see if it passes or rejects a new law that would authorize the government to tighten the screws on dissent even further. If approved, the Law on the Freedom of Expression of Opinion, Assembly and Peaceful Demonstration authorizes officials to restrict the freedom of assembly to protect "the public interest" and in the interest of "general order or public morals."

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