Human Rights Watch has warned that Iraq is falling back into authoritarianism and headed towards becoming a police state, despite claims from Washington that the United States has helped establish democracy in the country.
The criticism from the New York-based rights group comes a month after U.S. forces completed their withdrawal from Iraq, handing over security to Iraqi forces nearly nine years after the invasion that ousted dictator Saddam Hussein.
In a statement accompanying its annual report, Human Rights Watch said: "Despite U.S. government assurances that it helped create a stable democracy, the reality is that it left behind a budding police state."
The nongovernmental group said that Iraqi authorities during 2011 cracked down on freedom of expression and assembly by intimidating, beating, and detaining activists, demonstrators, and journalists.
It also noted the discovery of secret prisons -- run by forces controlled by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office -- where detainees were tortured.
Meanwhile, security and medical sources say that at least nine people were killed on January 22 in three areas across Iraq.
Two police officers and two insurgents were killed in clashes in the town of Baquba, 57 kilometers north-east of the capital Baghdad.
The Iraqi news agency Al-Bughdadia reported that four soldiers were killed in an attack by unknown gunmen at a checkpoint in the western city of Fallujah.
Meanwhile, one person died and three were wounded when a car bomb exploded in the northern city of Mosul, security sources said.
with agency reports