AMMAN – An Iraqi general formerly in charge of special forces said on Sunday he witnessed horrific scenes of torture in Iraqi prisons and accused a Shiite militia of being responsible.
"It was horrific. Thousands of detainees, often teenagers, beaten, burned, receiving electric shocks, then the majority killed," Muntazar al-Samarrai, who fled Iraq for Jordan five months ago, told AFP.
In video footage Samarrai said he filmed at one detention center, men show whip marks and acid burns. One of them has lost an eye. Another’s legs are broken. Still another has nails driven into his body.
The video also shows the mutilated corpses of three men who Samarrai said died as a result of torture.
Samarrai, 45, a Sunni Arab with a long career in the military, left Iraq for Jordan in July after two attempts on his life, yet said he remained convinced he had to tell of the abuses he had witnessed in numerous clandestine prisons, which he had visited as part of his work.
He said Iraq’s Interior Minister Bayan Jabr Solagh had named as ministry policemen 17,000 fighters from the Badr organization, the disarmed militia of the pro-Iranian Shiite fundamentalist Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI).
The ministry forces "continued to receive salaries from Tehran," and "spoke amongst themselves in Farsi," he said.
Samarrai said the interior ministry chiefs were all members of SCIRI or the Shiite Dawa party and that the prisoners were "all Sunnis."
"The torturers were all Iranians or Iraqis who had lived in Iran and had come to Iraq after the (US-led) invasion" in 2003, he added.
Samarrai said he began to encounter problems with his superiors in the interior ministry after he fired a 14-member inquiry commission and replaced it with what he called "men of integrity," and also freed 124 "innocent" detainees from a facility north of Baghdad.
Last month, the US military said it dismantled one of Iraq’s secret detention facilities in Baghdad, but Samarrai said nine other such facilities are lurking throughout the country.
Three are located in the Iraqi capital, the largest of which holds 600 detainees, and at least three more are in largely Shiite regions of the country, he said.
He also said there are two detention centers for women in Baghdad where "female prisoners are tortured and raped."
The testimony given by a Shiite woman during ousted dictator Saddam Hussein’s trial last week "could have been the testimony of a female prisoner in one of these centers. Nothing has changed," he said.
Samarrai was making reference to "Witness A," who testified on December 6 with a chilling account of how she was tortured by intelligence agents and flung into Baghdad’s notorious Abu Ghraib jail in the early 1980s for four years.
US forces announced on December 2 that they would conduct surprise inspections on Iraqi prisons to assure that detainees are not victimized by Iraqi guards.
Samarrai said US forces "should be aware of what is happening. Arrests are made during night-time raids when a curfew should be in effect, and vehicles used by the interior ministry are clearly visible."
Samarrai, a father of four, said he plans to move to another undisclosed location shortly, though he would never have left Iraq had he not realized his life was in danger.
He said he was proud to have been able to free some detainees before he left, the last of whom was a Muslim religious leader Abdel Karim Abdel Razzak, who recently told Arab television of how Samarrai liberated him.