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21 men executed in Iraq for terrorism

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:24 p.m.

BAGHDAD — Iraq has executed 21 prisoners convicted of terrorism charges and links to al-Qaida, the Justice Ministry said on Wednesday, setting off fresh criticism from a human rights expert about Baghdad's insistence on enforcing capital punishment.

The prisoners were executed by hanging in the Iraqi capital on Tuesday, according to a statement posted on the ministry's website. All the convicts were Iraqi al-Qaida operatives who were involved in bombings, car bomb attacks and assassinations, the statement said.

The hangings brought the number of prisoners executed in Iraq so far this year to 50, according to Deputy Justice Minister Busho Ibrahim. The latest group was the biggest this year, Ibrahim added.

According to the London-based Amnesty International, Iraq ranked fourth among the top five executioners in the world in 2011, after China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United States. Last year, Iraq executed 129 people, triggering concerns among rights groups over whether defendants had received fair trials.

After the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, coalition officials suspended Iraq's death penalty, but it was reinstated in 2004 by Iraq's transitional government. Since 2005, Iraq's government has executed 422 people, including women and foreigners convicted on terrorism charges.

Erin Evers, a Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the number of those executed and the timing of the latest announcement are cause for concern.

The country has experienced intensifying violence in recent weeks, some of it directly related to the elections, in an apparent attempt by terrorists to derail the voting. On Monday, at least 55 people were killed in a wave of bombings and other killings across the nation.

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