School of Torture
March 4, 2008

Recently, the Iraqi military and the coalition forces have discovered torture houses run by Al Qaeda in Iraq.

To obtain an accurate picture of the level of atrocities committed by this band of thugs, it is first necessary to review what the American military rightly calls the "atrocity sites." I saw pictures of the bodies of victims found in these houses showing burned feet, open wounds, cut limbs, dislocated shoulders and joints which were the grisly results of hanging and beating and other horrific methods of torture.

I have researched and spoken with several American military officers concerning these torture houses. Here is a brief description of these houses which were discovered:

• Baquoba, June 2007: Discovery of the first torture house. Victims had drill holes in their bodies and deep gouges caused by blow torches; an Al Qaeda flag was in the torture house; many of the torture wounds were in the bottom of the feet of the victims. Torture equipment included: Drills, blow torches, chains hanging from the walls and ceiling, blood trails, saws, drills, knives, weapons, masks, and handcuffs. An execution site outside of building where Iraqi victims were lined up and shot.

• Khan Bani Saad, August 2007: Discovery of rooms filled with torture tools and murdered Iraqi victims.

• Arab Jibour, near Dora, south of Baghdad, August 2007: Blood splattered on the walls. Piles of corpses found outside the house.

• Tarmiyya, September 2007: Nine prisoners were freed; many victims had been chained in place.

• Muqdadiyah, December 2007: Beds wired for electrical shock with electricity still on. Masks, whips, bloody knives, and chains hanging from ceiling on the site. Twenty-six bodies found buried on site: most had hands tied and were shot in the head. Locals said Al Qaeda was intimidating the area with threats of torture and execution.

I am an Iraqi who has suffered under Saddam's harsh dictatorship and who actively fought Saddam for many years before the liberation in 2003. In addition, I participated in the reconstruction efforts in the new Iraq after the liberation, and therefore have a unique perspective to offer in understanding the progression of events in modern day Iraq. I had my first taste of Saddam's brutality when I was imprisoned by Saddam's Military Security in 1987 along with my brother. In spite of my relatively short stay in a horrifying cell, I witnessed torture and humiliation first hand in what seemed to be an underworld in which pain and degradation have no end.

For Iraqis, these torture chambers and "atrocity sites" are a confirmation of the links between the terror of the Baath regime and that of Al Qaeda. In 1991, during the uprising in Iraqi Kurdistan, Iraqis and the outside world were able to see torture cells from the inside and bear witness to the gruesome acts performed within them for the first time.

After the liberation of Iraq in 2003, the world was finally able to obtain an unprecedented glimpse into the Baath torture chambers and the vast security apparatus which served to maintain order and cement Saddam's power over Iraq.

If you enter a torture house, you would think it is almost identical to a mechanical workshop: it contains drills, blow torches, hammers, and electrical wiring. For Saddam's agents, these houses of torture contain all the necessary hardware to extract information from the brains of detainees and very creative ways to punish and extract victims. Thus torture cells established by Saddam's agents were a horrific instrument of spreading terror and maintaining the iron grip of the regime over the country.

The old ways of the Baath regime have carried over into the present. Information on one of the Al Qaeda computers confiscated by the American military contains a manual illustrated with what almost appear to be children's school drawings on how to use drills, gouge out eyes, use blow torches to burn the bottom of victim's feet, suspend people in chains, cut limbs, and enact other gruesome ways of torture.

Initially, torture houses were an effective way to threaten Iraqis locally and to consolidate the power of Al Qaeda in the zones of its operation. These houses served as a painful reminder of the 35 years of the brutality and suppression of the old Baath regime. But Iraqis are not willing to go back to the old days of Saddam's regime. These practices by Al Qaeda and other methods of oppression, totalitarianism, and humiliation towards the population resulted in what we see today as the "awakening."

It began with members of the Sunni population who thought that their future would be better with the insurgents like Al Qaeda — the same people who invited Al Qaeda into their areas, who provided help to foreign fighters coming to areas such Al Qaem, Fallujah. These people were the first to discover the misery and horror the insurgents were truly offering to them behind an attractive façade, and began to take steps to retaliate and unite against groups like Al Qaeda in Iraq. I appreciate their honesty in calling the movement an "awakening" because it shows a level of responsibility and acknowledgment for past errors.

In places other than Iraq that have been struggling with an Al Qaeda presence for years, such as Afghanistan, there is no record of the discovery of torture houses. Despite the many years of brutal fighting against Muslim extremists and Al Qaeda in Algeria, to date no discovery of torture houses has been made in that country either.

Reports from battle grounds in Iraq tell of strong resistance and deadly fighting by Al Qaeda operatives around these houses. The commonplace assumption that Al Qaeda will not work with Saddam's Baathist elements because the first are religious and the latter are purely secular is simply not true. Thus the marriage of convenience between these two groups is to obtain information from victims and kill a common enemy — America — and any perceived local supporters. This aim achieves goals that are in the interests of each party; terrorists do not discriminate to achieve their goals and principles come second to power.

What has made Al Qaeda in Iraq so different from Al Qaeda in the rest of the world? The answer is simple. Baathists and Saddam's former security elements taught Al Qaeda members certain methods of fighting and torture.

I am not underestimating Al Qaeda operatives in their capabilities to fight and practice extreme brutality. However, in Iraq, Al Qaeda operatives found that Saddam's elements were ready to teach them new techniques of fighting and provide them with necessary logistical and operational support. This led to a sharpening of the capabilities of Al Qaeda in Iraq. The combination of young Arab fanatics with the techniques and the experience of the Baath elements has resulted in the emergence of a new breed of Al Qaeda.

Over the past 12 years, I have observed many good days and numerous setbacks in Iraq, yet I have never lost hope in a positive outcome for the future of my country. We are witnessing the last phase and the end of terrorism in Iraq on a large scale.

The foreign fighters who were able to stay alive are migrating back to their own countries of origin and elsewhere in the world. Intelligence information shows these foreign fighters, although small in number in Iraq, are lethal and ruthless. Many of these young fighters came to Iraq and are now leaving well-trained in all types of fighting, having acquired methods and techniques from Saddam's former Republican Guard, Intelligence, and Security members.

These fighters have learned valuable techniques in Iraq, such as how to perfect the art of making improvised explosive devices, in addition to gaining expertise in constructing car bombs and organizing combat leadership. These highly-trained fighters are leaving Iraq as the war on terror is nearing its end in my country.

They are certain to go to back to their countries and other fields of battle at the peak of their energy armed with extensive first-hand knowledge. I expect that they will become leaders of terror organizations and they will take terrorism in their countries and elsewhere to a higher and more sophisticated level. Much of the world has overlooked what has happened in Iraq and has regarded the war on terror as a failure. Now things are changing, and those who have overlooked the development of such events in Iraq must subsequently alter their perceptions if they are to combat the influx of these fighters and prevent the outbreak of violence beyond Iraq's borders.

Mr. Qanbar, an Iraqi politician, served as spokesman of the Iraqi National Congress and as the deputy military attaché for Iraq in Washington, D.C.

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Updated: 2 October, 2011
March 2008
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