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Saddam-Era Prisoners Want Better Deal

Ex-political prisoners form self-help group after receiving little state assistance.
By Mahmood Hussein

Former prisoners who were incarcerated during the Saddam Hussein regime have formed an organisation to lobby for compensation and to provide support for one another.

The Political Prisoners League, which has a branch in each of Iraq’s 18 governorates and more than 80 members, has recently been meeting with government officials to ask for money for families of dissidents killed by the former regime.

Hamid Faraj Hafidh, head of the league, said former prisoners and their families still need support.

"We were tortured and many people were tortured to death," said Hafidh, who spent 18 years in jail.

Jalal Ibrahim al-Badri, a senior official in the organisation, said after the fall of the regime, the league received files and other information about the security apparatus of the Saddam government. The group also acquired a list of names of people who were executed, he said.

“We tried our best so that the blood of the martyrs is not wasted and the people who spent most of their lives in prison are taken care of,” said al-Badri, who spent five years and six months in prison under Saddam. “But so far, the authorities have not supported us.”

Representatives of the league met President Jalal Talabani and showed him prison files from the Saddam era. In response, Talabani provided a stipend for league staff members.

The group also had talks with former president Ghazi al-Yawer, who is now vice president, and Human Rights ministry officials. Although the latter expressed sympathy for their efforts, they didn’t offer monetary aid.

Ali al-Dabbagh, a National Assembly member and spokesman for the United Iraqi Alliance, said the government is trying to help those who suffered in the Saddam era. The Alliance, made up of the two main Shia political parties, came in first place in the January elections.

“Such organisations are to be supported so they can expose the facts for government officials to see,” he said.

Hachim al-Hasani, head of the National Assembly, noted that the Transitional Administrative Law calls for political prisoners and victims of the Anfal campaign, in which 182,000 thousand Kurds disappeared in 1988, to be compensated.

But without much help from the government, the league has set up its own projects to help its members. In the southern city of Basra, the organisation asked civil servants to donate 1,000 Iraqi dinars - equivalent to just under one US dollar - every month, to a bank account, which was then distributed to families of prisoners at the hands of the previous regime.

Each family has received 75,000 Iraqi dinars every month for the last seven months. “We hope we will be able to provide more services to families and to political prisoners,” said al-Badri.

Mahmood Hussein is an IWPR trainee in Baghdad.

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