Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Prison Abuses Add to Anti-US Feeling

Angry reactions to Abu Ghraib prison reports further erode confidence in the Coalition.
By Hussein Ali

Abuses by United States troops at the now notorious Abu Ghraib prison appear to have confirmed the belief of many Iraqis that the Coalition should play a much-reduced role or withdraw altogether.

Most people interviewed by IWPR in a straw poll in Baghdad rejected Coalition suggestions that the mistreatment of prisoners at the hands of US guards should be seen in context, relative to the massive scale of human rights abuses committed by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s government.

"That comparison is not acceptable," said 28-year-old engineer Ziyad Alawi. "Saddam's era is gone for good. America calls itself a caretaker of human rights and a liberator, not a torturer of Iraqis."

Amal Hussein, a 44-year-old gynaecologist, agreed, saying, "Both of them [Saddam and the Americans] are criminals. America is calling for democracy in Iraq, but its practices contradict democracy. Does democracy mean killing and abusing prisoners?"

Some people did feel that televised statements by US president George Bush condemning the behaviour of American guards at Abu Ghraib went some way to compensating for the pain and humiliation inflicted on detainees.

But many warned that such words of contrition were meaningless unless there were specific steps to prevent a repeat of such abuses. While some called for the Abu Ghraib to be demolished, others said only a complete withdrawal of Coalition forces from Iraq would do.

"It is good that the president of the world's sole superpower apologises for his soldiers' abuses," said Baghdad storekeeper Hassan Ali, 34. Still, Ali says, “Bush should translate his words into action if he is honest."

"If Bush were sincere, he would give a deadline for the withdrawal of US forces and releasing prisoners,” said carpenter Adil Hamid, 44.

"We hope his declarations are true [but] Bush always does the opposite of what he says," said grocer Kamel Assad, 40. "We Iraqis are fed up with the Americans. We can no longer bear their practices.”

Fifty-year-old Ahmed Kadhem fears that his son, detained at Abu Ghraib, may be missing or dead. Nonetheless, he would be willing to accept an American apology if there were guarantees that such abuses could not happen again.

Kadhem called for Abu Ghraib to be demolished to end the legacy of abuse – both Saddam-era and Coalition, "I wish that the Americans would destroy this notorious prison, which has inherited abuses and injustice.”

Others felt that the detention system should be placed in Iraqi hands. "Responsibility for prisoners should be given to Iraqis to avoid continuous contact between Americans and Iraqis," said Ahmed Minajid, 30, an employee of the ministry of health.

Minajid feels that US forces should pull out of urban areas to reduce the friction that can lead to conflict, "The gap [between Iraqis and US troops] is widening, and it's difficult to contain it unless the troops withdraw, at least [to areas] outside towns."

Other people called for a more comprehensive withdrawal.

"US withdrawal and the transfer of sovereignty [to an Iraqi government] would be the best way to apologise to Iraqis for what they have suffered," said high school teacher Sayf al-Sabagh, 40.

Hussein Ali is an IWPR trainee journalist in Baghdad.