News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqRelatives clamour to find loved ones held in clandestine...

Relatives clamour to find loved ones held in clandestine prison

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The Times: Scores of families flocked to the offices of Iraq’s main Sunni party yesterday in the hope that their missing relatives could be among the prisoners found in a secret underground jail raided this weekend. The Times

17 November 2005

From Catherine Philp, Ali al-Khafaji and Ali Hamdani in Baghdad

SCORES of families flocked to the offices of Iraq’s main Sunni party yesterday in the hope that their missing relatives could be among the prisoners found in a secret underground jail raided this weekend.

The clandestine prison, run by members of the Interior Ministry with alleged links to Shia militias, was discovered in a bunker underneath a building close to the ministry compound by US troops searching for a missing teenager.

More than 170 starving and beaten Sunni men and teen- agers, some showing signs of torture described by the deputy interior minister as among the worst he had ever seen, with at least two prisoners paralysed and others with their skin peeled from their limbs.

The Iraqi Islamic Party, the country’s main Sunni party, has long alleged such abuses by Interior Ministry commandos belonging to the al-Badr Brigade, charges largely dismissed by the Government.

But the flocks of relatives turning up seeking the party’s help yesterday after news of the prison became public supported suggestions that the revelations were merely the tip of the iceberg in a wider abuse scandal.

The scenes were a painful reminder of those after the fall of Saddam when thousands besieged government offices seeking documents detailing the fate of their missing loved ones.

Ahmed Jassim came to the party offices to check for news of his father, Abdul, missing since he was arrested by Interior Ministry commandos along with eight neighbours in a raid on their neighbourhood.

“They told us we should ask the Interior Ministry if we wanted to know anything about our relatives but they have denied any knowledge of them,” he said. “I came here today because I heard that the secret prison had been discovered and I thought maybe my father was one of those held in it.”

Ahmed al-Samarie was taken from his house one night in August by commandos, blindfolded and taken to a secret location where he was tortured and then released without explanation after three days. “He is still unable to move because of the severity of the beating he was given,” Umm Said, his aunt, said.

The Shia-led government ordered an investigation into the discovery but Sunni leaders said they were unsatisfied by the proposal. Suspecting the involvement of senior members of the Government, they have called on the UN to lead the investigation. They demanded an international inquiry to examine allegations that the torturers were members of the al-Badr Brigade, trained in Iran during the rule of Saddam Hussein to plot his downfall. Bayar Jabor, the Interior Minister, is a former member of the militia.

Al-Badr leaders have denied involvement in the running of the facility and claimed that the disclosure had been timed by the US to damage the Shia political bloc in elections in four weeks’ time.

American troops involved in the raid, however, insisted that what they found was unexpected, despite continued complaints from Sunni leaders that the Shia-led ministry was being used as a weapon in an undeclared civil war against the Sunni minority, who make up the backbone of the insurgency fighting to oust coalition forces.

All of those discovered in the raid were said to be Sunnis, an assertion likely to inflame tensions between the groups.

“It is not the only place where torture takes place,” said Omar Hujail, a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, which has called for the ministry to be purged of militia elements. “We have been telling them for ages that there are people wearing the uniforms of the Interior Ministry raiding houses at night and arresting people,” he said.

The Islamic Party has demanded that the Government should publish the names of the men so their families can trace them. They are said to be in US custody where they are receiving treatment.

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