Rape, beatings and bribery: Iraqi police out of control
James Hider in Fallujah
The brief film is deeply disturbing, even in a country famed for its al-Qaeda beheading videos and sniper snuff movies. The young woman, evidently drugged, vomiting and occasionally calling for her mother, tries weakly to stop the grinning man in a white T-shirt and boxer shorts from pulling off her underwear.
She fails. The man, instructing the cameraman to shoot the scene with his mobile phone from various angles, rapes her.
That is not the only shocking aspect of the film, according to Jassim al-Bidawi, former Mayor of Fallujah and now a human rights activist. He has identified the rapist as an Iraqi police officer, and says that the cameraman is one, too. They are thought to have drugged the woman as she visited her husband in a detention centre in Ramadi. Since the rapist's uncle is a senior policeman in the city the attacker is all but untouchable, Mr al-Bidawi says.
In the desperate rush to drag Iraq back from civil war, sweeping powers were granted to its new security forces. Human rights workers, MPs and American officials now believe that they are all too often a law unto themselves: admired when they defeat terrorists but also feared for their widespread abuse of power.
n this vast and largely unaccountable security apparatus, with almost a million people in uniform, corruption is rife. One of the most common ploys is to arrest innocent people and then charge hundreds or even thousands of dollars for them to be released.
Abu Aliya, 35, was arrested with 15 other men in a Baghdad park last September. They were having a picnic after a day of manual labour when a unit of Iraqi soldiers handcuffed and beat them, demanding to know whether they recognised any of the people on a list of suspected Shia militiamen. The men said that they did not. They were locked up and whipped with electrical cables to force them to confess to being militiamen.
After three months a soldier told them that they needed a lawyer. Fearing that they would never get out, they each paid $3,000 - a huge sum to day labourers earning about $10 a day - and were sent to court. The judge asked why they had been detained when there was no evidence, then dismissed the case.
“The Iraqi security forces are out of control,” Abu Aliya said. “If you quarrel with a simple soldier, even one out of uniform, he will arrest you and your family. This is happening everywhere, all the time.”
Muhammad, in his early twenties, was arrested in a raid on his west Baghdad neighbourhood in 2007. He says that he spent 18 months in jail, where men were dragged off every night for questioning, returning to overcrowded cells in the morning battered and semi-conscious. Muhammad lost several teeth during the beatings meted out to him and was hung by his arms until he consented to put a thumbprint on a document that he could not read because he was blindfolded. His family paid $800 and he was released, even though he had apparently confessed to a crime.
Sawsan al-Barrack, an official at the Ministry of Human Rights, said: “There are many cases of abuse of power coming to us, especially of police officers in temporary detention centres. There are many women complaining they are raped or beaten.”
In many cases rape is seen as a stain on family honour and the victim is killed. Mr al-Bidawi said that was believed to have been the fate of the young woman filmed by the Ramadi police officer.
According to tribal sources in Ramadi, the rapist in the film, who apparently recorded his crime to make his victim keep her mouth shut, was detained briefly before being mysteriously freed. He is believed to have fled to Syria.
Amel al-Qaadi, a member of the Iraqi Parliament's Integrity Committee, said that she had met a young male student who had been detained and had confessed to membership of a terrorist cell because his jailers threatened to rape him. “There were many others who told me they were actually raped at the headquarters of various security force units,” she said.
Ms al-Qaadi warned that random arrests were exacerbating the surge in violence. “Most current attacks on the armed forces are the results of earlier arrests by the security forces. Eventually they become terrorists because we forced them into it,” she said.
Azhar al-Samarrai, a Sunni MP from the Committee for Displaced Persons, said that, facing defeat at the hands of militias and terrorist groups, the US and Iraqi authorities hastily recruited “substandard people, with no education or moral values” into the security forces. Often the officers were former militiamen or insurgents. She said that the Government had been trying to weed out corrupt elements but was wary of destabilising security.