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Iraq: Rare testimony of abuse by the Iraqi Security Forces

Torture in Iraq, says the UN, is “out of control”, and “worse than it has been in the times of Saddam Hussein”. So it was especially timely for Brian Conley at Alive In Baghdad to e-mail us to say that he had an interview with a man who claims to have been beaten and abused by Iraqi security forces in Ramadi:

Click on the image to play video


The man in the video, referred to as “Majed”, talks of being arrested without charge by members of the Iraqi National Guard – now known as the New Iraqi Army – on 13 July 2006. The abuses he alleges include arbitrary detention, persistent beating and kicking, and whipping with an electric cable. He shows the camera the physical scars of his ordeal.

There are some questions about this case that the video interview doesn’t answer: did Majed make a complaint to any official authorities? If he did complain, did the Iraqi Security Forces deny the allegations or agree to investigate them? If the allegations are true, and the perpetrators are identified, is there any prospect that they will be punished? What about the US officer whom Majed refers to?

Nonetheless the alleged maltreatment described in the interview should be enough to make us all sit up and take notice.

Majed's testimony also gives an insight into the unpredictability and insecurity of life in Iraq, and particularly in Ramadi, which lies about an hour west of Baghdad and is reported to be one of the cities most beset by violence in post-Saddam Iraq. Brian Conley himself reported in June that large parts of Ramadi had become no-go areas. Later that month, the American military adopted a new tactic to try and take back control of the town. According to Majed, he was picked up by Iraqi soldiers just a couple of weeks later in what appears to have been part of a security “sweep”.

In the now-daily bulletins about their security situation, nothing is quite as simple as it seems for the residents of Iraq. Riverbend wrote earlier this year about a Ministry of Defence announcement on Iraqi TV requesting that “civilians do not comply with the orders of the army or police on nightly patrols unless they are accompanied by coalition forces working in that area”. Yet Majed alleges that in his case, the appearance of a US officer on the scene led merely to an order for the Iraqi soldiers to “continue” beating him up. Elsewhere there have been claims that state security units need to be purged of militias who have infiltrated their ranks. Depending on the city and region of the country, Iraqi police and security forces sometimes appear to use force beyond any bounds of accountability.

Building the capacity of the Iraqi military and police is a frequently stated priority of the Multi-National Coalition. So, with a gradual transition to local and provincial responsibility for security underway across the country, how accountable are the Iraqi Security Forces? The UN Report stated that:

“The inability of State institutions to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice and to provide adequate protection to ordinary citizens […] risks polarizing Iraqi society to a previously unknown degree and result in a self-reinforcing pattern of sectarian confrontation.”

And when confrontation erupts, human rights violations like the ones alleged by Majed become part of a larger pattern of suffering and death. The UN Mission in Iraq estimates that over 6,500 civilians died violently during July and August, at the hands of either security forces, militias, terrorist attacks or organised crime syndicates. The bodies in the dilapidated Baghdad morgue give indications of an alarming degree of brutality, as they

“often bear signs of severe torture including acid-induced injuries and burns caused by chemical substances, missing skin, broken bones — back, hands and legs — missing eyes, missing teeth and wounds caused by power drills or nails.”

These ghastly injuries inflicted on the silent dead of Iraq’s war will be left to speak for themselves. But with reports of over 13,000 people detained at present in Iraq, how many more testimonies like Majed's might eventually emerge? And what can be done to prevent the same kind of stories from becoming a hallmark of Iraq’s future?

Author info: this post was co-written by Gavin Simpson

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