Saddam's Gulag: Behind the Scenes in Iraq Oppression and Fear Continue Unabated as the Population Struggle under the Double Yoke of UN-Imposed Economic Sanctions and the Repressive Regime of Saddam Hussein. (Current Affairs)

By Blanche, Ed | The Middle East, February 2002 | Go to article overview

Saddam's Gulag: Behind the Scenes in Iraq Oppression and Fear Continue Unabated as the Population Struggle under the Double Yoke of UN-Imposed Economic Sanctions and the Repressive Regime of Saddam Hussein. (Current Affairs)


Blanche, Ed, The Middle East


Every day, Iraqis are dying in Saddam Hussein's death camps, their tortured, mutilated bodies dumped in unmarked mass graves, or shipped back to their families in rough wooden coffins as a warning of the fate that awaits those who oppose the Baghdad regime or are simply suspected of doing so.

No one knows for sure how many Iraqis have perished over the years in Saddam's Gulag, the chain of detention and interrogation centres, prisons and concentration camps the regime operates across the country. But by even the most conservative estimate, the death toll has run into hundreds of thousands since Saddam became president in July 1979, and for years before that when he was the power behind President Ahmad Hassan Al Bakr, the man he ousted.

The United States, Britain and the Gulf states are insisting the UN Security Council must not lift the trade sanctions imposed on Iraq in August 1990 until Baghdad complies with all council resolutions, including Resolution 688 which demands Saddam halt the large-scale human rights abuses -- a term that hardly describes the brutality and torment the regime inflicts on the people of Iraq.

Perhaps of all the punitive Security Council resolutions imposed after the 1991 Gulf War, this is the one Saddam can never heed, because to do so would totally undermine his repressive regime, which remains in place, despite a decade of US efforts to bring it down, because it terrorises not only its domestic opponents but the whole nation of 20 million, into submission. Without the unbridled, systematic, institutionalised use of repression, the regime infamous for its medieval barbarity and genocidal savagery would collapse.

Much has been written and broadcast about the horrors of life under the Baathist regime. But, despite the international opprobrium it has attracted, little is widely known about the regime's network of prisons and killing centres, often disguised as innocent seeming office blocks or located in remote, military controlled areas, into which untold thousands have disappeared never to be seen again. Saddam has always employed cruelty and terror to achieve his ends. But since he seized power, he has refined it into an instrument of state policy.

During his younger days, when he operated underground with the Baath before it seized power, Saddam was notorious as an assassin and a street thug. He took over the Baath's security apparatus in the early 1960s and transformed it into his own personal instrument in his pursuit of power. It remains so today, except that it is now a monstrous, many tentacled organisation employing thousands of people that reaches into every corner of the nation, creating a world of fear in which informers lurk everywhere; children are even encouraged to inform on their parents.

Once the Baath was in power, Saddam presided over the notorious Qasr al Nihayyah, "the Palace of the End," in Baghdad, an interrogation and torture centre in the basement of the palace where King Faisal, his family and senior aides were machine-gunned to death in the 1958 coup that toppled the Hashemite monarchy. It remains a torture centre to this day.

In the November 1963 coup that overthrew the Baathists, the full horror of Qasr al Nihayyah was discovered. Iraqi historian Hanna Batatu has written that army officers found there "all sorts of loathsome instruments of torture, including electric wires with pincers, pointed iron stakes on which prisoners were made to sit, and a machine which still bore the traces of chopped-off fingers. Small heaps of bloody clothing were scattered about and there were pools of congealed blood on the floor and bloodstains all over the walls." Saddam is reputed to have personally tortured and killed prisoners there, including one he is said. to have flung into a tub full of acid.

Western governments and human rights organisations were, for years, aware of what was on in Iraq. But the US administration, and others, chose to ignore these horrors for reasons of political expediency. …

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Saddam's Gulag: Behind the Scenes in Iraq Oppression and Fear Continue Unabated as the Population Struggle under the Double Yoke of UN-Imposed Economic Sanctions and the Repressive Regime of Saddam Hussein. (Current Affairs)
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