Iraq holding more than 19,000 because of Daesh, militant ties

Iraq said it has detained or imprisoned at least 19,000 people accused of connections to Daesh or other terror-related offenses. (File photo: AFP)
Updated 21 March 2018
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Iraq holding more than 19,000 because of Daesh, militant ties

BAGHDAD: Iraq has detained or imprisoned at least 19,000 people accused of connections to Daesh or other terror-related offenses, and sentenced more than 3,000 of them to death, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.
The mass incarceration and speed of guilty verdicts raise concerns over potential miscarriages of justice — and worries that jailed militants are recruiting within the general prison population to build new extremist networks.
The AP count is based partially on an analysis of a spreadsheet listing all 27,849 people imprisoned in Iraq as of late January, provided by an official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Thousands more also are believed to be held in detention by other bodies, including the Federal Police, military intelligence and Kurdish forces. Those exact figures could not be immediately obtained.
The AP determined that 8,861 of the prisoners listed in the spreadsheet were convicted of terrorism-related charges since the beginning of 2013 — arrests overwhelmingly likely to be linked to Daesh, according to an intelligence figure in Baghdad.
In addition, another 11,000 people currently are being detained by the intelligence branch of the Interior Ministry, undergoing interrogation or awaiting trial, a second intelligence official said. Both intelligence officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the press.
“There’s been great overcrowding ... Iraq needs a large number of investigators and judges to resolve this issue,” Fadhel Al-Gharwari, a member of Iraqi’s parliament-appointed human rights commission, told the AP.
Al-Gharwari said many legal proceedings have been delayed because the country lacks the resources to respond to the spike in incarcerations.
Large numbers of Iraqis were detained during the 2000s, when the US and Iraqi governments were battling Sunni militants, including Al-Qaeda, and Shiite militias. In 2007, at the height of the fighting, the US military held 25,000 detainees. The spreadsheet obtained by the AP showed that about 6,000 people arrested on terror charges before 2013 still are serving those sentences.
But the current wave of detentions has hit the Iraqi justice system much harder because past arrests were spread out over a much longer period and the largest numbers of detainees were held by the American military, with only a portion sent to Iraqi courts and the rest released.
Human Rights Watch warned in November that the broad use of terrorism laws meant those with minimal connections to Daesh are caught up in prosecutions alongside those behind the worst abuses. The group estimated a similar number of detainees and prisoners — about 20,000 in all.
“Based on all my meetings with senior government officials, I get the sense that no one — perhaps not even the prime minster himself — knows the full number of detainees,” said Belkis Wille, the organization’s senior Iraq researcher.
Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, who is running to retain his position in national elections slated for May, has repeatedly called for accelerated death sentences for those charged with terrorism.
The spreadsheet analyzed by the AP showed that 3,130 prisoners have been sentenced to death on terrorism charges since 2013.
Since 2014, about 250 executions of convicted Daesh members have been carried out, according to the Baghdad-based intelligence official. About 100 of those took place last year, a sign of the accelerating pace of hangings.
The United Nations has warned that fast-tracking executions puts innocent people at greater risk of being convicted and executed, “resulting in gross, irreversible miscarriages of justice.”
The rising number of those detained and imprisoned reflects the more than four-year fight against Daesh, which first formed in 2013 and conquered nearly a third of Iraq and neighboring Syria the next year.
Iraqi and Kurdish forces, backed by a US-led coalition, eventually rolled the group back on both sides of the border, regaining nearly all of the territory by the end of last year.
Throughout the fighting, Iraq has pushed thousands of Daesh suspects through trials in counterterrorism courts. Trials witnessed by the AP and human rights groups often took no longer than 30 minutes.
The vast majority were convicted under Iraq’s Terrorism Law, which has been criticized as overly broad.
Asked about the process, Saad Al-Hadithi, a government spokesman, said, “The government is intent that every criminal and terrorist receive just punishment.”
The largest concentration of those with Daesh-related convictions is in Nasiriyah Central Prison, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Baghdad, a sprawling maximum-security complex housing more than 6,000 people accused of terrorism-related offenses.
Cells designed to hold two prisoners now hold six, according to a prison official who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. The official said overcrowding makes it difficult to segregate prisoners charged with terrorism and that an inadequate number of guards means Daesh members are openly promoting their ideology inside the prison.
Though prisoners at Nasiriyah were banned last year from giving sermons and recruiting fellow inmates, the official said he still witnesses prisoners circulating extremist religious teachings.
In wards holding mostly terror-related convicts, high-ranking Daesh members have banned prisoners from watching television. Many refuse to eat meat from the cafeteria, believing it hasn’t been prepared according to religious guidelines, the prison official said.
The relative free rein for extremists is reminiscent of Bucca Prison, a now-closed facility that the US military ran in southern Iraq in the 2000s.
The facility proved a petri dish where militant detainees mingled — including the man who now leads Daesh, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who spent nearly five years there, joining with other militants who became prominent in the group.
Iraqi officials say they have taken steps to prevent a repeat of the Bucca phenomenon.
“We will never allow Bucca to happen again,” said an Interior Ministry officer overseeing the detention of Daesh suspects in the Mosul area, also speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
“The Americans freed their captives; under Iraq, they will all receive the death penalty,” he said.
Cellphone signal jammers are installed at prisons holding Daesh suspects. But in Nasiriyah, the prison official said inmates appear to remain in contact with the outside.
He recounted how just days after a guard disciplined a senior Daesh member in the prison, the man threatened the guard’s family, listing the names and ages of his children.
The imprisonments hit hard among Iraq’s Sunni Arab minority, threatening to worsen tensions with the Shiite-dominated government. The community was both the pool that Daesh drew recruits from and the population most brutally victimized by its rule.
Mass incarcerations under former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki led to widespread resentment among Sunnis, helping fuel the growth of Daesh.
The head of the International Red Cross, an organization that regularly visits prison and detention facilities in Iraq, warned that mass detentions often incite future cycles of violence.
“It’s the tortures, the ill treatments, the continuous long-term bad conditions in detentions which have radicalized a lot of actors which we find again as armed actors on the battlefield,” ICRC President Peter Maurer said during a recent visit to Iraq.


Gaza field hospitals prepare for another day of bloodshed

Updated 19 April 2018
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Gaza field hospitals prepare for another day of bloodshed

  • At least 33 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the ‘Great March of Return’ began last month
  • Gaza suffers from a lack of medical facilities and supplies as a result of an 11-year land, sea and air blockade by Israeli forces

GAZA: A tent consisting of nine beds and some basic medical equipment is all that will serve as a field hospital in the Zeitoun area of Gaza when Palestinians gather at the Israeli border to take part in a mass protest against the occupation on Friday.

Eleven doctors and 12 nurses work at the facility during what has become a weekly ritual of defiance and bloodshed for the people of this besieged coastal enclave. With access to only rudimentary supplies, the staff must deal with injuries caused by live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas.

When Arab News visited the hospital southeast of Gaza City last week the sound of ambulances rushing back and forth was almost non-stop as the medics worked tirelessly amid the chaos. But no one expects any respite in the month ahead, with the protesters due to return every Friday until mid-May.

“In one hour we have received more than 30 injuries, about 26 of which are to the lower limbs and from live bullets,” said Khalil Siam, a doctor who works at the hospital from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m.

Gaza’s “Great March of Return” began on March 30, when tens of thousands of protesters traveled in buses from across the strip to five locations along the Israeli border. 

The demonstration was timed to coincide with “Land Day,” an annual event when Palestinians remember the deaths of six Arab citizens killed by Israeli forces during demonstrations over land confiscations in northern Israel in 1976. It is due to continue until May 15, when Palestinians commemorate the Nakba, or catastrophe — the creation of
Israel.

On the first day of the protest at least 17 Palestinians were killed and more than 1,000 were injured as Israeli troops opened fire on the huge crowds, causing the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to call for “an independent and transparent investigation.”

Then on April 6 several more Palestinians were killed as protesters threw stones and set fire to piles of tires at the border, sending thick clouds of black smoke spiralling into the air.

A handful of field hospitals run by both volunteers and government doctors have been set up to deal with the constant stream of casualties each Friday, but they struggle to cope. Protesters critically wounded in the upper part of the body are rushed straight to Gaza’s main hospitals but staff here also find themselves increasingly overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the bloodshed.

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, a total of 33 Palestinians have been killed and 4,300 have been injured between the start of the protests last month and April 14. Thirteen of the casualties have required amputations.

Even before the demonstrations began, Gaza suffered from a lack of medical facilities and supplies as a result of an 11-year land, sea and air blockade by Israeli forces and ongoing divisions between the two main Palestinian political factions, Fatah and Hamas.

Ashraf Al-Qidra, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Gaza, told Arab News that all hospitals were facing a situation of “severe attrition.”

“A large number of drugs and medical items have been drained from emergency departments, operating rooms and intensive care units due to the large number of casualties,” he said.

The Israeli government initially refused to allow injured protesters to be moved to the occupied West Bank until Israel’s High Court ruled unanimously on Monday that Yousef Al-Karnaz, a 19-year-old Palestinian, should be allowed to receive urgent medical care in Ramallah.

Al-Karnaz was shot and wounded by Israeli troops on March 30 but was not allowed to leave the strip. As a result, his left leg was amputated.

Ismail Al-Jadbah, director of the vascular department at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, told Arab News that the strip had enough doctors to cope with the casualties but lacked the necessary resources to give them the best possible care.

“In addition to a shortage of medicine, the large number of injured has put a great burden on us. Treating injuries in the right way, and in the right time, is very difficult,” he said.