BAGHDAD — Iraq has executed 21 prisoners convicted on terrorism charges and links to Al Qaeda, the Justice Ministry said Wednesday, setting off fresh criticism from a human rights expert over 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 Qaeda operatives who were involved in bombings, car bomb attacks, and assassinations, it 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 executioners in 2011, after China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Last year Iraq executed 129 people, triggering concerns among rights groups over whether defendants had received fair trials.
After the US-led invasion in 2003, coalition officials suspended the death penalty, but it was reinstated in 2004 by Iraq’s transitional government.
On Saturday, Iraqis vote in local elections, the country’s first vote since the withdrawal of the last US forces in December 2011. The country has seen intensifying violence in recent weeks, some of it directly related to the elections.