A U.S. government report says violence, political oppression and limitations on free speech were among the major human rights violations committed in the Middle East last year.

The State Department's annual report on human rights, released Tuesday, says deepening sectarian violence in Iraq undercut human rights and democratic progress in 2006.

The report also says Iran's "poor human rights record worsened," noting the government's restrictions on freedom of speech and the use of excessive force against dissidents.

On Egypt, the report says the continued imprisonment of former presidential candidate Ayman Nour raises serious concerns about political reform. It also mentioned the detention last year of more than 500 protesters demanding judicial independence, and the arrests of members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

On Israel, the U.S. report notes serious abuses of Palestinian detainees and continuing discrimination against Arab citizens of the Jewish majority state.

The report also says the conflict in Lebanon last year between the militant group Hezbollah and Israel hampered Lebanon's progress towards reform. It said Hezbollah maintains significant influence over parts of the country.