BAGHDAD — An Iraqi general formerly in charge of special Interior Ministry forces said yesterday that a senior Iranian intelligence officer was in charge of a network of detention centers where suspected insurgents were routinely tortured and sometimes killed.
Gen. Muntazar Jasim al-Samarrai spoke to The Washington Times just as Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said he had widened an urgent investigation into complaints of abuse and torture in the country’s detention facilities.
The prime minister, who has been pressured by Washington and United Nations officials to end prisoner abuses, promised at a press conference a “very quick” public announcement on the findings.
Gen. al-Samarrai said the Iranian intelligence officer, Tahseer Nasr Lawandi, works directly under the Kurdish deputy minister, Gen. Hussein Kamel, and is known throughout the ministry as “The Engineer.”
“The Engineer was behind the torturing and killing in the ministry and was also in charge of Jadriya prison,” said Gen. al-Samarrai, who left the ministry after a dispute with superiors and is now living in Jordan.
U.S. troops raided the secret Jadriya facility in mid-November and found 166 prisoners, many emaciated and bearing obvious signs of torture.
An American raid on Thursday on another facility in Baghdad found 625 prisoners huddled in overcrowded and degraded conditions, including at least 13 who required hospitalization. The existence of that prison was first reported by The Washington Times on Saturday.
On Sunday, The Times in a joint investigation with World News & Features identified the locations of at least four other detention centers where torture was said to be routine. Gen. al-Samarrai said yesterday that he knew of 10 such facilities.
Mr. Lawandi, who had been a colonel in the Iranian Mukhabarat intelligence service, was granted Iraqi citizenship May 12, 2004, and awarded the rank of general, Gen. al-Samarrai said by telephone from Amman, Jordan, where he moved his family after two attempts on his life.
The Iranian officer not only masterminded interrogations, tortures and executions at the prisons, but also would take part in torture sessions, often using an electric drill, Gen. al-Samarrai said.
Some of the tortured prisoners were found in morgues with drill holes in their legs and eyes, according to another security source, who declined to be identified.
The general said Mr. Lawandi had worked with the minister and deputy minister to form a special security service to run the detention and interrogation operation and a separate group called the Wolf Brigade to capture suspects and bring them to the secret locations — usually under cover of darkness.
Gen. al-Samarrai, a 46-year-old career officer, was ousted from the Interior Ministry in a purge of about 600 staff in July. Many were replaced by hard-line loyalists to new Interior Minister Bayan Jabr Solagh and his allies in the Badr Brigade, a militia affiliated with Iraq’s largest Shi’ite religious party, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.
The general said the minister had brought 17,000 Badr organization fighters into the ranks of Interior Ministry forces after Iraq’s militias were officially disarmed. Most had received military training in Iran and were infiltrated into Iraq soon after the defeat of dictator Saddam Hussein.
Gen. al-Samarrai said he had angered his superiors by replacing the members of an ineffectual 14-member inquiry commission and by releasing 124 detainees from a facility north of Baghdad.
That jibes with remarks by religious leader Abdel Karim Abdel Razzak, who recently told an Arab television station that Gen. al-Samarrai had freed him from prison.
While in the ministry and on visits to detention facilities, Gen. al-Samarrai said, he often heard the officers and jailers speaking among themselves in Farsi, the Iranian language, echoing previous statements to The Washington Times by businessmen who visited the ministry. Iraqi Shi’ites, although adherents of the same branch of Islam, speak Arabic, not Farsi.
Gen. al-Samarrai also said that salaries for many of the ministry’s employees came from Iran.
“Most of the torturers were either Iranians or were Iraqis who had lived in Iran and had come to Iraq after the invasion” in 2003, he said.
Gen. al-Samarrai listed in detail a number of secret detention and interrogation facilities that had been set up apart from the Jadriya prison.
Four were in the Iraqi capital, including the one raided by American forces Thursday, he said.
Another three are in largely Shi’ite regions of the country, the general said. He said there are also two detention centers for women in Baghdad, where “female prisoners are tortured and raped.”
Distributed by World News & Features (www.worldnf.com)