Sunday, April 08, 2007

Cropper as insurgent recruitment center

The LA Times reports that islamic militants are recruiting and operating within Camp Cropper, one of two large US prison camps in Iraq. Camp Cropper's population has swelled to 18,000 with the "surge" operations of 2006-7. The Iraqi government's Human Rights Liaison to the US prisons claims he has warned the US of these growing problems for over a year now. Militants have attempted to control life in the camps, stoked tensions between Sunni and Shite detainees, and have brutally killed suspected informers in the Camp. The Times story quotes a handful of ex-prisoners, and the Iraqi government's Human Rights Liaison. From the Times' Ned Parker:
Extremists conducted regular indoctrination lectures, and in some cases destroyed televisions supplied by the Americans for use with educational videos, banned listening to music on radios, forbade smoking and stoked tensions between Sunni and Shiite detainees, they said.

Iraqis swept up in security operations and held indefinitely while the Americans try to determine whether they have any links to the insurgency are susceptible to the extremists' message, former detainees said.

Their accounts of life in Camp Cropper, the main U.S. detention center at the Baghdad airport, indicate that three years after the abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison, the U.S. is still struggling to find a balance in the way it runs its detention system.

Prisons have long served as an incubator for radicals, and mass roundups by the U.S. military after the 2003 invasion are now blamed for antagonizing Iraq's Sunni Arab population and feeding the insurgency.


U.S. military officials acknowledge that they are battling militants for the hearts and minds of detainees, but deny accusations that they have lost control inside the prisons, or that detainees are treated harshly. They say they have instituted counterinsurgency and educational programs, and are gearing up to launch a more direct effort to confront extremists next month.

Iraqi officials also struggle with a crowded system where prisoners can languish as long as two years before getting a trial. But they say the Americans have allowed militants to flourish in their facilities.

"It looks like a terrorist academy now," said Saad Sultan, the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry's liaison to U.S. and Iraqi prisons. "There's a huge number of these students. They study how they can kill in their camps. And we protect them, feed them, give them medical care.

"The Americans have no solution to this problem," he said. "This has been going on for a year or two, we have been telling them."

A former detainee at Camp Cropper, where Hussein and other high-profile prisoners have been held, said he once watched Sunni militants attack a former police officer they suspected of being an informer. He said six men, their faces hidden by towels, gathered around the victim in a dormitory at 2 a.m.

Two kept a lookout for U.S. soldiers while one man swung a sock stuffed with rocks at the inmate's head, he said. The man tried to get up, but another pressed him down with a foot to the chest. The attackers pummeled his head, spattering themselves with his blood, until he lost consciousness.

Other prisoners then dragged the victim to the front of the hall, where the U.S. guards would find him.


Abu Tiba said he felt caught between the militants and the Americans.

"It was a psychological war from both the Americans and the religious extremists," he said. "It was terrifying." He said he worried about the U.S. soldiers who shouted at him, and the militants who stowed razor wire to use in fights.

The most powerful figure was a young imam known as Abu Hamza, who they said had pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden. The Americans had allowed a dangerous cleric to stay in a barracks with ordinary Sunnis, they said.

"He used to give lectures in the morning and night," Abu Usama said. "Anyone who didn't attend the lectures would have a mark against him."

In his lectures, the young radical denounced the Iraqi government, U.S. soldiers, and the entire political process, he said. He also banned smoking in the hall.

"The problem was the Americans didn't know what was going on. They allowed him to preach because they believed in religious freedom," said Abu Usama, 43. The preacher's core supporters were young men who had been radicalized in the ferment after Hussein's ouster.

"Abu Hamza's followers tried to win people over by offering them money and cars when they got out of camp," he said, adding that he had used the prestige his age gives him to rebuff a recruitment effort from a younger member of his tribe, the powerful Dulaimi clan.

The radicals preyed on men who were being held indefinitely, without knowing whether they would be charged. "You'd spend three months not charged with anything and you were innocent — they could get you," Abu Usama said.

Adnan Nabi, a 42-year-old cleric loyal to radical Muqtada Sadr, presided over the Shiite side of the camp, said another of the ex-detainees, who identified himself as Abu Mustafa. He said Nabi banned listening to music on radios and forbade Shiites from talking to Sunnis.

At prayer services, he said, the cleric urged detainees to join Sadr's Al Mahdi militia, which has fought U.S. forces on several occasions. When the Americans transferred Nabi to Camp Bucca, a riot broke out and U.S. guards had to use rubber bullets and tear gas, he said.

Abu Mustafa said he and the other Shiites slept in shifts to guard each other after word spread that they had worked for a secular political party. They were forced to swear on a copy of the Koran that they had only been gardeners on the grounds of the party headquarters, he said.

"Prison is the best place to organize an army to destroy the country," Abu Usama said. "Even someone who is innocent … they will brainwash him to do whatever they want, including becoming a suicide bomber."

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