- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2005

The discovery of a secret Iraqi Interior Ministry torture chamber confirms what has been an open secret in Baghdad for months: Pro-Iranian militia have deeply infiltrated the ministry and are acting as a law unto themselves.

Iraqis have reported seeing men in Interior Ministry uniforms and vehicles at the sites of extrajudicial killings of Sunnis, and at least one reporter has been warned to keep his movements secret from the ministry for fear of being kidnapped.

It is widely thought that the ministry also is infiltrated by criminal networks linked to the insurgency.

Civilians and police in Baghdad have known about secret detention centers run by the ministry but have been too frightened of reprisals to say anything about them, one police officer said yesterday.

“I am more scared of the Ministry of Interior than I am of the insurgents,” said the young police officer, who was reached by telephone in Baghdad and spoke strictly on the condition of anonymity.

U.S. forces raided the ministry-run basement detention center in Baghdad’s upmarket Jadriyah neighborhood on Sunday, finding more than 160 malnourished prisoners, several bearing signs of torture. Most of them were Sunnis.

Asked whether there were other such prisons in Baghdad, the frightened police officer said it was “a very sensitive issue and would make big problems” if he spoke about them.

The Interior Ministry is headed by Bayan Jabr, a member of the pro-Iranian Shi’ite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The party’s military branch, the Badr Brigade, has been accused of running anti-Sunni hit squads out of the ministry.

Attorneys for Saddam Hussein, for example, have blamed the ministry’s security forces for the killing last month of defense attorney Saadoun Sughaiyer al-Janabi. The ministry denied any connection to the slaying.

Witnesses to the killing said about 10 armed men dressed in business suits identified themselves as Interior Ministry officials when they stormed Mr. al-Janabi’s Baghdad office and kidnapped him. His body was found on the sidewalk hours later.

Mr. Jabr has said that reports of torture in the detention center were exaggerated and that the prisoners were suspected of participating in a Sunni-led insurgency that routinely kills and maims civilians and security forces.

“I reject torture, and I will punish those who perform torture,” he said at a press conference yesterday. “No one was beheaded, no one was killed.”

Mr. Jabr added that “those who are supporting terrorism are making the exaggerations” about torture and that only seven detainees showed signs of abuse.

However, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad issued its toughest statement yet on the incident, saying the government “has assured us that it will take immediate action to investigate … and to undertake measures to ensure that no Ministry of Interior detainees would be subject to abuse anywhere in Iraq.”

The embassy also said, “There must not be militia or sectarian control or direction or Iraqi Security Forces, facilities or ministries.”

Detainee abuse would not be tolerated by either the Iraqi government or coalition forces, the statement said. Gen. Rick Lynch announced yesterday that five U.S. soldiers had been charged with beating and kicking Iraqi detainees last week and were awaiting judgment.

An Iraqi man described to the Reuters news agency how he was tortured with hundreds of other detainees in an Interior Ministry building similar to the bunker revealed this week.

“They had lists of people and lists of charges, and they tortured people to get confessions,” said the Sunni man, who wanted to be identified only by the initials H.H.

“I was not tortured as badly as others. I was hung by a ceiling hook by my hands, which were tied behind my back during three days, and they told me to confess to killing Shi’ites,” he said.

He told Reuters that the prisoners were under the control of the Interior Ministry special forces group known as the Wolf Brigade.

U.S. analysts with experience in Iraq said ordinary Iraqis have long been complaining about the Interior Ministry’s extrajudicial tactics.

“Iraqis were telling me that you had to be careful about the special police commandos and that they were Badr — these were Sunni and Shi’ite telling me,” said Paul Hughes, the Iraq program officer at the U.S. Institute of Peace and a retired army colonel who recently returned from Baghdad.

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