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More than 4,000 have disappeared in secret prisons in Iraq

Secret Iraqi government prison

The Iraqi authorities have been unable to determine the fate of more than 4,000 people who have been “forcibly disappeared” since 2014. They have also been unable to reach the secret prisons where they have been kept, as organised crime in the capital Baghdad and other Iraqi provinces increases at a phenomenal rate. Such prisons are run by terrorist and other groups unknown to the Iraqi state. “Disappeared” people are not kept in state-run prisons.

Zana Said is a member of the Iraqi parliament’s legal committee and responsible for the enforced disappearance portfolio. “According to delegates from the western and central provinces, of the 4,000 forcibly disappeared since 2014, most are from the Baghdad area,” Said told Al-Quds Al-Arabi. “There are officials who are preparing lists of those who have disappeared, and dealing with the complaints from their relatives as they search for them.” There must be some information about the places where they are imprisoned, he suggested, but the government cannot take any practical measures to rescue them.

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Said blamed “security chaos” in Iraq for the rise in forced disappearances. “Iraq’s exposure to brutal campaigns by terrorist groups, the weakness of the Iraqi state and the emergence of armed groups and militias under the state,” he explained. “All of these things have made the state unable to control the spread of arms, and engendered groups of people who exercise power on the streets, especially in Baghdad.” There are streets in the capital where he, even as an MP, would be unwise to go, he pointed out. “The streets are not controlled by the government and groups of outlaws attack citizens, kidnapping and killing whoever they want.”

He noted that the Ministry of the Interior is making serious efforts in this field, but as long as so many arms are outside of state control, and as long as there are outlawed armed groups operating under official banners, organised crime will remain. His greatest fear, he said, is that the groups will return to the cities when the war against Daesh ends, because they are used to spread violence. Sectarian war is also a major concern, as it might lead to yet more people simply disappearing.

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“There is no official security authority which would deal with these armed groups,” claimed Said. “These groups operate under the cover of the security forces, with their weapons, military uniforms, cars and their offices… All are exploited for the benefit of organised crime.” He confirmed that “most” of the kidnappings and arrests take place using official uniforms, cars and official names, but the victims are not sent to the authorities. “They simply disappear.”

With organised crime now the main funding source of the mafia and gangs in Iraq, said Said, official cover is essential for these crimes to be committed. “How can any armed group move freely in Iraq without the support and cover provided by officials?” he asked.

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