BAGHDAD - Hopes are fading for early release of the large number of Iraqis
detained under the so-called surge.
The "surge" is the new effort by US-led coalition forces to crack
down on terror suspects.
The number of detainees held by the US military has increased by more than
50 percent since the US administration announced the surge six months ago,
bringing the detainee population to at least 24,500, according to US military
officers in Iraq. The officers have said the detainee population was 16,000
in February of this year.
The US military unit in charge of the detention centers in Iraq, Task Force
134, reported Aug. 24 that the average length of detention for all detainees
is about a year. It reported also that there are about 800 juveniles held in
Estimates of the total number of Iraqi detainees vary, but most Iraqis believe
the number is more than 50,000. According to Iraqi sources, as well as the US
military, the vast majority of detainees are Sunni Arabs from the western areas
of Iraq. Most of them are detained without any charge or court warrant.
John Sifton, researcher for Human Rights Watch, told reporters Aug. 24 that
"the allegations of abuse are far worse for Iraqi facilities than for those
detainees in US custody. It is difficult to know the Iraqi detainee population.
There are both official and unofficial Iraqi detention systems."
Sifton said Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations "have
concerns about a 50 percent increase in detainees because it is 50 percent more
people at risk of having been arbitrarily detained or, worse, of being handed
over to Iraqi officers who might subject them to torture."
Sifton added that there are no reliable numbers provided by the Iraqi government
on the number of detainees, and that the US military will not provide the
"My three sons were selling vegetables in Baghdad at the wholesale market
when Americans took them away over a year ago," 55-year-old Saadiya from
the Abu Ghraib area west of Baghdad told IPS. "We learned three months
later that they were taken to Bucca prison near Basra. They were only farmers,
and now they are listed as terrorists just because they are Sunni."
Stories like this are recounted all over the western areas of Iraq, where Sunni
Arabs are the dominant population.
"A roadside bomb exploded near our house and killed three Americans,"
Sumaya, a woman from the Dora area of southwest Baghdad told IPS. "Then
American tanks came with hundreds of soldiers and arrested over 30 men from
the neighborhood, including my husband. We were asleep when the blast occurred
at 5 am, and it was curfew hours, but they still wanted us to tell them who
did it. Now I have to work and feed my four children."
"A force from the Ministry of Interior took 45 men from our village nine
months ago and we still do not know their whereabouts," Farhan Abbas told
IPS. Abbas is from Youssufiya, 25 km south of Baghdad, and was visiting Baghdad
in hope of finding information about the people detained from his neighborhood.
"We lost hope for them because when we went to the ministry to ask about
them, they denied their arrest and told us it must be the militias dressed in
uniform," said Abbas. "We argued that the force came in the ministry's
vehicles, but they told us to get lost or else they would arrest us too."
Two vice presidents of Iraq, Adel Abdul Mahdi, a Shi'ite with the Supreme Iraqi
Islamic Council, and Tariq al-Hashimi of the Sunni Iraqi Accord Front, recently
visited Camp Cropper, a US military detention center near Baghdad International
Al-Sharqiya television reported that while Mahdi did not talk to detainees,
Hashimi talked with several of them at length and promised that their cases
would be looked into shortly.
"You are better off here than outside," Hashimi said to the detainees.
"It is much safer here than outside, believe me."
"What a wonderful deputy president we have," Ahmad Ali from Ramadi
who was visiting Baghdad told IPS. "He thinks people are better off in
jail than at home."
The Iraqi Accord Front withdrew from Maliki's government Aug. 1 because several
of their demands had not been met. The first was release of at least 80 percent
of the detainees who are believed to be innocent.
(Inter Press Service)