Old, dilapidated buildings, homes and schools, where the 19 year old was kept, are known as ‘Iraq’s forgotten prisons’ by the few that have escaped.
This growing informal prison network that is managed jointly by militia outfits that form the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and local police — are the latest weapons used against male youth in towns liberated from Islamic State terrorists.
“When news about these make-shift prisons reached the International Committee of the Red Cross or other organisations, militias would move us on. After searches were carried out we would be returned to where we were.”
The locations of these secret cells, though kept hidden, were eventually uncovered by inmates as they exchanged information about where they came from and the areas between where they were shuttled.
“These are not prisons sanctioned by the government. They are privately managed by militiamen licenced to kill. They form a network of secret cells, professionally organised, with a clear chain of command” exclaimed Omar.
“Three particular prisons worth mentioning here — Diyala, Kut and Burka (north of Samarra) — are known as the forgotten three. There, you will find no official register of detainees. As far as the state is concerned, they do not exist”.
“We were forced to live in conditions not even suitable for animals, enduring acts of violence and revenge. They accused us of belonging to armed groups, or IS. But none of Keishifa’s men had any of these alleged connections.”
Other than a few scant references to the problem of secret prisons on state television, state officials have remained tight lipped.
The few comments that have been made — superficial at best — have amounted to very little.
The three men, including the 19 year old who broke his silence to FRB, secured their release after each family paid 50 thousand dollars to their captors.
These families are typically kept in the dark, unaware of their whereabouts and never sure if their men were kept alive. The equation only changes when money enters into it.
Keishifa is not the first town whose men have fallen victim to law-defying militias. The whereabouts of an estimated 700 villagers and townsmen from Saqlawiyah and Garma in Anbar Province remain unknown.
Those fighting to liberate western provinces of lethal terrorists, have become the captors of those they promise freedom to. Men and women are separated following the initial liberation of former IS-held territory. The men are herded onto trucks and blind folded, and the women are left behind. The actions of these gangs show little consideration towards consequences, as they put vigilantism above the law.
Even in refugee encampments the families of missing men, are not safe. “Our families were targeted by unashamed militias throughout the duration of our arrest. They taunted and blackmailed them, and at times fed them false information or simply withheld it” said one of the released men.
In naming some of the actors involved, the 19 years old male identified several Popular Mobilization Force (PMF) militias: Badr corps, Asa’ib ahl al Haq, Saraya al Khorasani, Kata’ib Hezbollah, and others.
Two out of three released men have fled Iraq in search of a safer life, but each of them has agreed to a gagging order, promising never to speak of their time in these secret prisons.
“There are rumours that government forces are rounding up Sunni men and keeping them out of sight, out of fear of what may happen after the expulsion of IS in north western provinces. It may then use the promise of their safe return as a political bargaining chip”, Omar said.
He and the other men have verified the names and faces of 9 militia captors:
1. Saif Mujabal Khalaf (PMF fighter)
2. Saeed Khalil Haji (police)
3. Saad Rafeh Jassim (police)
4. Mohamad Mujabal Hussein (police)
5. Iyad Majid Lami (police)
6. Sarhan Diyab Ali Ward
7. Mahmoud Ismail Hassan (police)
8. Sabeh Majeed Hameed (AKA Abu Laila)
9. Saif Mahmoud Rasheed (Badr corps)
*Names of those released from prison have been changed to protect the identity of the men.