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Othman al-Mukhtar

Banged up and forgotten: life inside an Iraqi jail

Thousands of Iraqis are held in unregistered prisons [AFP]

Date of publication: 15 May, 2015

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Feature: Tens of thousands of Iraqis are being held in jails run by Iraqi intelligence and militias. Few know if they will ever see their day in court.

Prisons run by the Iraqi government, and secret jail facilities operated by militias, are common in cities across Iraq.  

There are more than 50 prisons in Iraq, including seven run by  the Shia-dominated Popular Mobilisation militias.

Conditions in these are abhorant. Some human rights groups have described the Iraqi prisoners they have met as "the living dead".

Human rights groups have reported that Iraq is one of the worst offenders in the world for locking people up without trial.

One government official said that there were 140,000 people in prisons supervised by either the ministries of justice and interior, intelligence, defence, and national security departments, and militia groups.

Outside the system

More than 43,000 people are inside jails run by the interior ministry, some of whom are being held for three years without trial.

But it is the ministry of defence that holds the largest number - the minster reported that up to 56,000 people were held at military bases, barracks, and command headquarters that belong to the army, although they are not officially registered. 

These prisoners are held and released according to the whims of the field commanders or after a bribe has been paid.

     Relatives of the detainees are known as 'families in limbo'.


It is also claimed that 3,000 people are being held in prisons run by the intelligence services. These are officially registered, and conditions are better than in other jails.

In cities, repurposed factories and military bases in Baghdad and Erbil, the Popular Mobilisation Militias are holding more than 5,000 people.

More than 400 are non-Iraqi Arabs - mostly from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Kuwait, and Yemen. 

Corruption is rife in the Iraqi prison system. Relatives of prisoners are known as "families in limbo" and are known to bribe officials so their loved ones get their day in court.

Crime and corruption

Hamid al-Hayes, the president of the Anbar Salvation  Council, said Shaker Wahib, the IS commander is Anbar, was released after payment of a $50,000 bribe.

"Prisoners in Iraq are a major source of revenue for some Iraqi officials," said Mohammed Ali, head of the al-Salam Human Rights Organisation.

Even prison officers pay bribes to be transferred to certain prisons.

Prisoners are also subjected to systematic torture, which often leads to death. For many prisoners the only way out of this hell is in a body bag. 

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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