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IRAQ: Iraqi prisons see a few improvements
The third in IRIN's series of articles on the Iraq government's 24-point reconciliation plan
BAGHDAD, 6 October 2006 (IRIN) - The third in a series of IRIN stories examining the obstacles Iraq faces in implementing its government’s plan to reconcile different sections of Iraqi society. Click on the following link for an overview of the series: Iraq reconciliation series overview
Though Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has promised to crack down on those held responsible for perpetuating alleged human rights violations inside Iraqi prisons, Iraqis who have only recently been detained, say prison treatment and conditions are still harsh.
Al-Maliki’s promise is part of a 24 point reconciliation plan, released by the Iraqi government on 25 June. The plan lays out means to curb sectarian violence in the country by addressing a diverse range of aspects of Iraqi society, such as human rights, compensation to victims, democracy, the judiciary and the economy among others.
While former prisoners welcome the government’s new initiatives, fresh memories of their experiences haunt them.
"I saw in that year  what I have never seen in whole my life. I was badly beaten with sticks, and we were tied to chairs or the cell's bars," said Ahmed Jabre Essa, a 33-year-old taxi driver arrested in March 2005 in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, and accused of distributing pamphlets inciting a jihad (holy war).
"They were threatening me during the interrogation to arrest and bring my wife, my sisters or my old father in front of me if I didn't confess," he said.
Nadhim Ismaiel Khadim was held in three Iraqi prisons from March 2005 to August 2006, but says he knew nothing of the Prime Minister’s promise until after his release.
"We had the same ill-treatment and same dirty prisons, in contrast to what I just heard about this reconciliation plan," said Khadim, the 45-year-old owner of a seeds and agricultural business, who was accused of supplying militant groups with chemical materials for their bombs.
“They were beating us with sticks almost every day to force me to say things that have nothing to do with me," he said.
However, human rights groups say that since the plan was announced, conditions in some prisons have improved, and confirm that some Ministry of Interior officials have been fired.
Brigadier Abdul-Karim Khalaf, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said that dozens of police officers and Interior Ministry officials were fired in June 2006 on charges of corruption, bribery and human rights violations.
Interior Ministry officials say they have started to improve prison conditions by rehabilitating buildings and supplying generators for power, and decent beds.
"The ministry's high-ranking officials visit the prisons almost four times a month, while prison directors themselves supervise the quality of the food given to the prisoners," said Major General Abdul-Abbas Sahalal of the Interior Ministry.
The New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) has repeatedly asked for access to Iraqi-run detention facilities, especially those of the Ministry of Interior.
Response from Iraqi officials was initially negative. "Within the last six months, however, HRW was told it could visit facilities run by the Ministry of Justice, as well as selected Ministry of Interior facilities," said an HRW official
Though HRW has not yet carried out these visits because of the current security situation in Iraq, the New York-based non-governmental organisation has been able to interview detainees at the criminal courts in Baghdad, the official said.
On improved conditions of detention and treatment of detainees, the HRW official said; "very little has been done to implement any measures in this respect. HRW continues to receive numerous reports of the torture and ill-treatment of detainees in facilities run by the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry Of Defence, and conditions of detention remain dire."
However, some Iraqi human rights groups says conditions in prisons - as opposed to detention facilities run by security agencies - have got better.
"We recently visited a number of Iraqi-run prisons in three provinces - Diyala, Salaheddin and Anbar - and prisoners’ conditions are very good," said Dr Abdul-Rahman al-Mashhadani, head of the Baghdad-based Hamourabi Organisation for Observing Human Rights.
“No human rights violations or torture cases were reported," he said. "But some buildings are in real need of rehabilitation, especially toilets and air conditioning systems."
He said prisoners were fed the same quality of food as their guards.