After WikiLeaks released its cache of U.S. military war logs, Iraq’s political parties were quick to put them to work in their internal struggle to form a new Iraqi government. Iyad Allawi’s Iraqi National Movement said that the documents gave proof that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki should not stay in office. They claimed that under his rule Iraqi security forces tortured prisoners, and that was a sign of Maliki’s abuse of power. They went on to say that having all the decision-making and security forces in the hands of one man was what led to the mistreatment in Iraqi prisons. In response, the prime minister’s office issued a statement saying that the timing of the WikiLeaks release might have been politically motivated, and that there was no proof of abuses under Maliki’s rule. The problem with playing this card is that almost all of the parties that have been involved in the government have committed acts of torture.
When Allawi was named the interim prime minister in January 2005 he focused upon security, and using an iron fist against the insurgency. The premier quickly played off a rumor that he shot and killed a prisoner in a Baghdad police station. In the next few months, the Human Rights Watch, the State Department and U.S. military units recorded human rights abuses by the Allawi government. In January 2005 Human Rights Watch reported misconduct by the Iraqi intelligence services and police forces. The organization said that abuses had become routine, and found no effort by Baghdad to stop it. In March the Department of State issued its annual human rights paper that recorded rape, torture, and illegal detention in Iraq. The next month, the senior tactical commander in Iraq ordered American forces to prevent any abuses by Iraqis, and in May the overall U.S. commander General George Casey sent a letter to the troops saying that they needed to make sure Iraqi forces treated detainees correctly. This came as a result of increasing reports by U.S. units of human rights violations by Iraqis. The 1st Cavalry Division collected more than 100 allegations of abuses by Iraqi police and soldiers over a six-month period that included beatings, electric shock, and choking, while the 3rd Infantry Division received 28 more allegations.
The Supreme Council’s militia, the Badr Brigade, was implicated in abuses through its control of local police forces after the invasion, and during its control of the Interior Ministry from April 2005 to May 2006 under Ibrahim al-Jaafari’s premiership. As early as 2003 the British recorded a special police force in Basra run by Badr members who were tracking down former Baathists and holding them in secret prisons in the city. Under Prime Minister Jaafari, Bayan Jabr, a Badr Brigade commander, was made Interior Minister. U.S. soldiers would later find a secret prison run by the Ministry in Baghdad in November 2005 that held 169 prisoners, most of which had been tortured. Jabr denied any wrongdoing. Today Jabr is the acting Finance Minister in Maliki’s government.
The two ruling Kurdish parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have been implicated in prison abuse since the 1990s. Each party has its own security force and intelligence agency that have been involved in running secret prisons, arresting not only terrorist suspects, but legitimate political opponents as well, and committing acts of torture. In September 2010 for example, Amnesty International came out with a report that noted that Kurdistan not only held suspected Islamist insurgents belonging to Ansar al-Islam, but also members of the legal Kurdistan Islamic Movement and Kurdistan Islamic Group political parties. Many of them were being held without trial because the authorities would rather have them stay in prison than go through the legal process.
Widespread abuse has also happened under Maliki’s rule. Human Rights Watch, the Interior and Human Rights Ministries, the State Department, and Amnesty International have all documented torture, disappearances, secret prisons, arbitrary arrests, overcrowded detention facilities, and torture by Iraqi forces since Maliki took power in 2006. In April 2010 for example, a secret prison was revealed in the Muthanna airport in Baghdad that was directly under the control of the prime minister’s office. The prison held hundreds of Sunni prisoners arrested in Ninewa province, most of which had been abused. Investigations of that incident and all others under Maliki have largely gone nowhere, with no senior official ever being held accountable.
Torture is common in the Middle East, but Iraq stands out because it has so many prisoners due to the on-going insurgency. Almost all of the major parties that have ruled Iraq since it got back its sovereignty in 2005 have been involved in these abuses. Some like the SIIC’s Badr Brigade have carried out sectarian and revenge attacks upon former Baathists and Sunnis. Others like the Kurdish PUK and KDP have clamped down on Islamic insurgents and opposition parties. Under Maliki, the security forces have carried on long-standing practices of beating and torturing suspects to get a confession out of them, as well as being accused of sectarian biases. The WikiLeaks papers document several specific cases of abuse by Iraqi police and soldiers from 2005 to 2009. Using them for political purposes in the struggle over forming a new Iraqi government could’ve been expected, but was not a smart move. Maliki is definitely implicated in abuses, but so are his accusers.
Agence France Presse, “Iraq probes torture complaints,” 6/7/09
Amnesty International, “Hope and Fear, Human rights in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq,” April 2009
- “New order, same abuses: Unlawful detentions and torture in Iraq,” September 2010
Anderson, Jon Lee, “A Man Of The Shadows,” New Yorker, 1/24/05
Associated Press, “Iraqi PM on the defense in WikiLeaks release,” 10/23/10
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, And Labor, “2009 Human Rights Report: Iraq,” U.S. State Department, 3/11/10
Fuller, Max, “State-Sanctioned Paramilitary Terror in Basra Under British Occupation,” Global Research, 8/8/08
Graham, Bradley, “Iraqi police accused of abuses,” San Francisco Chronicle, 5/20/05
Human Rights Watch, “The Quality of Justice, Failings of Iraq’s Central Criminal Court,” December 2008
Knowlton, Brian, “U.S. alleges rights abuses by Iraqis,” San Francisco Chronicle, 3/1/05
Miller, Greg and Finn, Peter, “Secret Iraq war files offer grim new details,” Washington Post, 10/23/10
Perito, Robert and Kristoff, Madeline, “Iraq’s Interior Ministry: The Key To Police Reform,” United States Institute of Peace, July 2009
Sengupta, Kim, “Secret Iraqi government prison was ‘worse than Abu Ghraib,’” The Independent, 4/29/10