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[casi] Iraqi POWs

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A rare piece of decent reporting in the local press. - Bob Allen

Detention of Iraqis creates hostility, resistance
Prisoners of coalition forces allege mistreatment. Their relatives have
difficulty getting information.
By Maureen Fan
BAGHDAD - U.S.-led coalition forces raided Abdul Rahman Mohammed Saleh
al-Dulame's home in northern Baghdad three times this summer, then arrested the
low-level Ministry of Trade employee on a bogus tip that he had been a member of
Saddam Hussein's personal paramilitary force.
Dulame, 36, spent three months in detention, during which he said he was
poorly fed and beaten for leading prisoner demonstrations. His family didn't know
where he was until he was released in September. Since his release, he has
been unable to trace other detainees he met while imprisoned.
"I am not afraid to say it, frankly. I hate the Americans, my daughter hates
the Americans, my neighbors hate the Americans," said Dulame, sitting in his
living room in an olive brown traditional robe, his jet black hair and mustache
neatly trimmed, his eyes on a portrait of his late father, a tribal sheik.
With the Red Cross gone, detainees' families are increasingly unable to get
basic information about them, human rights agencies say. And as U.S. troops
crack down on armed opponents in Iraq, the growing number of detainees is
breeding more hostility and resistance.
"Ask my neighbors. When they saw me being arrested and they knew I am just a
simple man, they became angry," Dulame said. "Three times they [U.S. troops]
raided my house. Every time, they turned everything upside down. They broke the
doors and stole money and jewelry."
U.S. officials did not respond to requests over days for information about
detainees and the conditions of their detention. Much of the information about
them comes from aid organizations attempting, in the absence of the Red Cross,
to help Iraqis locate missing relatives.
Many detainees are Hussein sympathizers or were caught with weapons likely to
be used against U.S. and other coalition forces, officials say.
But others are guilty of relatively minor offenses such as breaking curfew
or, like Dulame, are victims of false accusations who eventually are released,
but not before months of frustration. Humanitarian agencies say they hear
repeated complaints of mistreatment and lack of information and respect for basic
human rights.
"These things add up," said Matthew Chandler of Newberg, Ore., a volunteer
with Christian Peacekeeper Teams, a small Chicago-based organization that has
about six volunteers in Baghdad. "Most people are not going to pick up a
[rocket-propelled grenade], but maybe they've made friends with soldiers and know
their routines. These sorts of things seem insignificant to the coalition, but
they really matter to Iraqis. The word gets out through large families and
A coalition official on Saturday told Reuters that about 11,000 detainees
were in custody, including at least 307 foreign fighters from Syria, Iran, Yemen,
Chad, Saudi Arabia and the West Bank.
The detainees are primarily at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, a
notorious penal facility under Hussein, and at Camp Bucca near the southern Iraqi
town of Umm Qasr, an eight-hour drive from Baghdad. A third penal facility,
Camp Cropper near the Baghdad airport, was closed last month after coalition
officials acknowledged that conditions there had become unacceptable, and Chandler
said he had been told Camp Bucca also may close.
The coalition bureaucracy for dealing with individual cases is overloaded,
aid workers say. Each case must funnel through a panel of three coalition
officials, meaning that even the innocent must wait months to be released. Family
visits are badly backlogged as well.
"Six families a day get to visit detainees on three days of each week,"
Chandler said. "If you want to go to Camp Bucca in Umm Qasr right now, the soonest
you can get a visit is February. When all the prisoners are transferred, it'll
be more like June."
The problems are exacerbated by the departure of the International Committee
of the Red Cross, which pulled out its foreign representatives after a suicide
bomber destroyed its Baghdad headquarters on Oct. 27.
Families seeking to visit or find their relatives crowd around the gate at
the Abu Ghraib prison. A makeshift sign in Arabic and English declares that no
prisoner information will be released, that a prisoner number is required to
make an appointment, and that numbers are being given out in a shopping mall in
the Mansour district. No one seems to know where, however.
"My son Aws Sami Azeez al-Obeidi has been here from the 27th of June," said
Intsar Galeel Ibrahim, 45, who has been waiting outside for days trying to get
an appointment to see him. "He has done nothing. He is a student. His father
is a colonel in the Iraqi army; his brother is a captain. We are a clean
Another woman clutched an unofficial photocopy of a judge's order that her
son, Nadam Adnan Karem, be released from prison. The document had a judge's name
from the courthouse in Karkh, but no date. A soldier refused to accept it.
A third woman, Nadema Kareem Hamid, 60, complained bitterly. "I am angry. I
have two sons here. I have not seen either," she said. "Bush said he would free
us, but the Americans have only taken away our children."
Even coalition connections don't help. A coalition translator, after weeks of
inquiries, managed to get a prisoner number for a neighbor, Muhanad Abdul
a'al Aboud, who was detained Sept. 14. But even with the number, the translator
was told to come back in December.
"It's sad and frustrating," said an American staff sergeant, who asked not to
be named because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media. "They just have
to be patient. With elections, with water, with electricity, with their
relatives. We're trying. There's a huge backlog, and there's nothing I can do."
When a woman complained to him that her appointment to see her son was a
month away, the sergeant told her: "It's two months, three months now before you
can get an appointment. To get one in one month, that's very good."
For Dulame, the Americans still can turn the hostility around. While he said
he hated the Americans, he also blamed Iraqis for passing around bad
information to settle grudges. And he wanted to thank an American soldier he met at
Camp Bucca.
"His name was Sergeant Bill. He was merciful; he helped the children, the old
people, the women detainees. Some of the soldiers wanted to have a
relationship with Iraqis. They said we are not responsible for this situation," Dulame
said. "They said, 'We want to go home to our families too.' "

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