How Iraq manufactures its own terrorism problem
July was an atrocious month for Iraqi human rights, even by the country’s usual abysmal standards.
Against the backdrop of the protest movement that is gripping Shia-dominated southern Iraq, international human rights organisations released a seeming barrage of reports detailing how the government was silencing dissent using repression, ignoring Iran-linked militia violence, disabling access to social media to lessen exposure of abuses and condoning torture.
Perhaps the most frightening report unveiled how Baghdad was using what essentially amounted to black sites to detain suspects without due process.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report in which authorities admitted they had been running black sites, including a facility — visited by HRW investigators — in eastern Mosul where terror suspects were being held. The story of how HRW gained access is interesting itself because the organisation cleared major hurdles and applied significant pressure on security forces to verify the existence of the facility.
HRW said it interviewed a former detainee who said he had been held at the facility in April. Faisal Jeber, a 47-year-old archaeologist, said the prison had more than 450 detainees packed into overcrowded cells. Prisoners were also denied family visitation rights, lawyers and medical attention, he claimed.
Jeber’s story is familiar to those monitoring Iraq’s human rights record since the regime was installed following the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist dictatorship in 2003.
When HRW raised Jeber’s case with authorities and the National Security Services (NSS), part of Baghdad’s intelligence apparatus, the NSS claimed that it had no authority to detain or interrogate suspects, as that was the remit of the federal police.
However, Jeber identified the two-storey building where he was detained in the Shurta neighbourhood of eastern Mosul. There hundreds of prisoners were crammed into four rooms.
HRW said it determined Jeber’s estimates were not far off with 427 prisoners being detained. Suspects under the age of 18 were sent to a different facility. Some prisoners said they had been transferred from facility to facility for two years pending trials that never materialised.
One would think Iraq’s leaders would have learnt their lesson after witnessing how Islamic State militants began on their path to radicalisation and violence through the sectarian excesses and repression of the state allowing people to be imprisoned with hardened terrorists and killers.
Those terrorists would prey on the feelings of injustice and oppression felt by those who had been held without charge, deprived of their liberty, tortured, abused and threatened with death and they turned them into the future foot soldiers of the caliphate.
Evidence is mounting that the Iraqi government has failed to learn those lessons and is repeating the formula that led to the birth of one of the most shockingly brutal terrorist organisations the world has seen.
Iraqi prisons are not correctional facilities; they are terrorist factories. There is no accountability and each militia, police unit and intelligence branch operates its own prisons, often off the books. In an environment such as this, is it any surprise that Iraq has produced some of the most bloodthirsty, vengeful terrorists of our generation?