Iraq's Underworld.

I was at a friend's place the other night, and whilst this friend was busy preparing dinner, I was left to zap the TV at my convenience...It is not often that am given this privilege of zapping as I please. I really made up for it, that night and zapped my head away... Engrossed in my nervous hobby, fate or luck had it that I land on Al-Sharqiya - an Iraqi TV channel.

As a rule of thumb, I try avoid watching Iraqi TV altogether. It just depresses the hell out of me. In particular the Iraqi Shiite channels where permanent, chronic, non stop "latmiahs" are aired live. Latmiah is the act of pounding one's breast with one's fist or hand...usually followed by scenes of wailing and ultimately by scenes of heavy self flagellation - a 24/7 Ashura. (Ashura is a Shiite religious day characterized by mass hysteria in the "new" Iraq)

The other Iraqi TV channels, I find them as dodgy as the Shiite ones. You have Al-Baghdadia (where Muntather Zaidi - the shoe thrower used to work). One is never sure who Al- Baghdadia works for. Some say it supports the chief Driller of the Mahdi Army - Muqtada Al-Sadr. Others say it is a patriotic channel. Go figure...

Then you have the all Assyrian channels, the all Kurdish channels, a couple of channels from Al-Anbar where they are always reciting poetry of which I understand nothing. And you also have the official Iraqi puppet channels who praise Maliki non stop and of course the Arabic version of Fox news, funded by the Americans.

The only two channels I watch if I have to, are Al-Babylia and Al-Sharqiya both of which are anti-occupation and secular, praise to God.

As I was saying before opening the above parenthesis -- my friend was in the kitchen chopping away and I could smell some wonderful, mouth watering, scents emanating from there, tipping me into a world that made my palate anxious to taste some good, wholesome stuff for a change...

Meanwhile, Fate decided that I was to watch the program aired by Al-Sharqiya called Al-Aghlabiya Al-Samita -- The Silent Majority.
And here I was stuck with the silent majority.

The program was solely devoted to the gross Human rights violations and abuses in "liberated" Iraq with particular reference to the plight of prisoners/detainees in Iraq's Gulag.

Many called in. Some were ex-prisoners, other relatives of someone who is still in prison or reported dead while in prison.

The stories were harrowing. I felt as if I was watching a horror film. Truly, I still have not fully recovered from what I heard that evening.

People were calling in from ALL of Iraq - Baghdad, Basra, Diwaniya, Suleymania, Erbil...Some were exiled and calling from outside of Iraq and they had escaped a similar ordeal, a similar ordeal as that of the still lingering prisoners. Some were very close relatives of someone still imprisoned in some Iraqi dungeon.

That evening, I had forgotten my writing pad at home, so I just scribbled some of the important information on the blank edges of an old newspaper.

I cannot recall the full exact numbers and locations but I do have the overall stories well stored in my mind as well as few cases that cannot and will never be forgotten. So help me God not to omit or forget anything.

ALL of the stories shared similar characteristics and details - a common thread, if one may call it that.

- What am about to tell you does NOT cover American run prisons/detention camps, nor does it cover official Iraqi prisons. I say official because this program and all the testimonies it bore, made it clear that there are 600 SECRET/SHADOW prisons in Iraq besides the official ones.

- Prisoners, both men and women are arrested on identity/sect basis or because they are relatives of someone who is wanted for "insurgency". The term insurgency is used very loosely by the Iraqi authorities. I shall explain how later.

- Prisoners are usually caught after a "Mukhber Seree", a mouchard in French, I am not sure what the term is in English. Basically someone charged of spying on people for anything he considers as "subversive". So the Mukhber Seree has full authority and 10 times out of 10, he either works for the Police, a Militia or a particular Ministry, or the Mukhabarat - secret service or the official Government.

I say official government because you have to know that today in Iraq there are several mini governments within the government. And that is important to remember, because it transpired from the stories that each prison belongs to a party, a militia, or some government mafia clan member...

Moreover prisoners who make it out alive, and I personally know of two cases who have been released, stay in hiding and keep changing houses, because the Mukhber Al-Seree would not let go of them. So, in fact they are never free.

- All the prisoners have not been formally charged with any "crime" and none has had access to any legal council or trial. An example : someone drew an anti-occupation graffiti on the wall of one neighborhood, all of the men in the age range of 15 to 45of that same neighborhood were arrested the following day and imprisoned.

- All of the stories report widespread use of horrific torture methods. Common torture methods across the country are : electrocution, being hanged by hooks from the ceilings, sleep deprivation, food deprivation, isolation, made to listen to torture from other cells, beatings, crammed space - one example 150 inmates in one cell of 3 by 8 meters, amputating fingers, amputation of limbs following torture, pulling nails and teeth, burning with cigarettes and acid, blinding one eye, drilling extremities...and rape including gang rape of male prisoners was commonly reported. One example given was in the space of one day 45 policemen raped around 100 detainees. Rape includes the forcing of bottles in the anus. This was a common theme that came up in every single story. I will devote a separate paragraph to the secret women's prison.

- The age range of the prisoners is from as young as 13 to as old as 70. As I said the great majority are not charged with anything and have had no access to any formal trial. Huge ransoms are always asked to release the prisoners. I know that to be the case since we experienced the same thing with my relatives. And this was confirmed again in the testimonies that I heard that night.
Families would pay the extortion money and the prisoner would not be released and more money is requested... It is the police prison guards right up to the highest echelons who do the bidding for the money. Just to show how deep the corruption has seeped in the new "liberated" Iraq.

I am trying not to forget anything here and my little pieces of newspaper are scattered in front of me and my head is spinning with bits of stories...

- Many relatives of ex-prisoners, ex-prisoners because these prisoners died under torture, said that they were called by anonymous people telling them that the body of so and so, was found in some street. One prisoner after a brutal torture session managed to give the phone number of his family to his cell mate, this latter engraved it on the sole of his rubber slippers. He called the family two days later to inform them that their son died from torture.

- Usually those who die from torture and if they are not dumped in some street, are given fake death certificates by an official hospital. It seems that there is an agreement between those who run those prisons and some of the hospitals in Iraq to fabricate death certificates stating - cause of death : natural. And the usual reason given is heart attack. But when the families do manage to recuperate the body, they see that it has been deformed beyond recognition because of torture.

- Now for the women's secret prison. This is how it happens and this what takes place. The police, militia or some other party is looking for an "insurgent" - as I said the word "insurgent" is used loosely by the current Iraqi mafia to denote just about anyone they don't like and mainly for sectarian or political reasons or because he was affiliated to the previous regime in particular the army. So if they can't find this person, they usually go for the female member of his family. Usually his wife or sister.
These female relatives are then placed in a secret prison -- a women only prison.
Nidal Shibib, an Iraqi woman human rights activist reported during the course of this program the following -- and I want you to read this carefully.

Torture and gang rape are common daily occurrences in this secret female prison. Not only that, but when "Firaq Tafteesh Amerkiya" - meaning American teams for Prison supervision - go to visit these secret prisons, one of which is the women's, the police in charge of this particular prison invite this American team "to do as they please with the female prisoners." And I quote - "they unbolt the doors of the cells wide open and tell them - take them all for your pleasure." These female prisoners find themselves raped again but this time by the Americans who supervise the Iraqi prisons- supervise them for "good conduct".
Some of the women who are eventually released are killed in "honor" by their families to wash away the shame of rape. Nidal Shibib rightly asked - "the male prisoners who are raped are not killed in honor, why do they kill the women? " (This is another parenthesis, I will not go into right now.)

- The IRANIAN connection : Many of the prisoner's relatives confirm that their relative was/is held in Iranian run prisons IN IRAQ and their torture was done by Iranians or that it was done under Iranian order and command. Some of these detainees happen to be ex-army officers. Many of them have died under torture.

Those who are not detained in Iraq, were arrested in 2003 by Iranian special forces and transferred to KARON prison in IRAN where their fate is still unknown.
Again, another Iraqi human rights activist by the name of Mohamed Al-Sheikhly has a whole dossier of the names of those Iraqis who disappeared in Iranian prisons in IRAN, and he has been active in finding their whereabouts/release, in vain...

On the same subject, I was told recently that President Ahmadinejad, in the 80's, then member of the Iranian revolutionary guards, was in charge of supervising the torture of Iraq soldiers during and in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war. (yet another parenthesis. So many sub-chapters in the Iraqi tragedy.)

- Yalla Layla, the food is ready...
- Yes, am coming, just one second
- Ya Layla, the food is getting have been complaining that am slow cook and that you are so hungry...yalla...
- Yes am coming, hold on one more second please...
- What are you doing for God's sake?
- Here I am.
- See, I cooked your favorite stew with Bamia (Okra) and rice... what's the matter aren't you hungry anymore ? Layla are you okay ?
- Yes I will be fine, give me a few minutes...
- What happened to you all of a sudden ?
- Give me a few minutes, I need to re-emerge from the Underworld...

I re-emerged, but a part of me is still the secret prisons of Iraq.

P.S: Please circulate this post widely. As far and as wide as you can. The truth about Iraq new found "freedom and democracy" must be shown to the whole world.
For more complete information you may contact the Silent Majority.
Alternatively, you may write to:

Painting : Iraqi artist, Ziad Bakury.

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