In early December 2018, after hours of negotiations, a unit of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF or Hashad, nominally under the control of the prime minister) finally let me into the infamous camp in Salah al-Din governorate. Unlike other camps, it had no presence or services from international or local organizations. The fighters themselves were the camp’s “management.” Most organizations that tried to enter the camp had been turned back by the fighters, who ran the site as a prison. Of the more than 400 residents, I saw only about 30 men, all older than 60.
At one point I was able to slip away from the fighter assigned to monitor my interviews. The moment he was out of earshot, women stopped talking about the horrific camp conditions, including the lack of fuel and the chronic diseases, and instead started rapidly firing names at me -- dozens and dozens of names of men. They said that a month after security forces brought them to the camp there was a nearby bombing. Afterward, the fighters promptly rounded up all 52 men in the camp between the ages of 17 and 57, accusing them of some link to the bombing, and took them away, along with a few younger boys. Their family members never heard from them again or knew their fate.
For 30 minutes, all I did was write down names, including of boys as young as 10. Before I left, at the request of the women, I tore the filled pages out of my notebook and hid them in my pocket so that the guards would not find them if they searched me.