December 10, 2005
BAGHDAD -- Sunni leader Saleh al-Mutlaq said yesterday that a second and possibly a third secret prison had been discovered in an upscale Baghdad neighborhood, charges that threaten to ratchet up Sunni-Shi'ite tensions just days before Thursday's election of a new parliament.
"More than 1,000 people were kept in one place like sheep, worse then sheep, they could not sleep except by lying on top of one another," Mr. al-Mutlaq told The Washington Times.
"One was blinded, another had his hand broken, some were even sexually abused," said Mr. al-Mutlaq, leader the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, one of three major Sunni Arab alliances with candidates running Thursday.
Mr. al-Mutlaq said he plans to release photos documenting his charges to Iraqi television as early as today.
U.S. and Iraqi troops last month uncovered a secret detention center in the Jadriya district of Baghdad filled with undernourished prisoners, some showing signs of having been tortured.
Shi'ites dominate the Interior Ministry, and for months reports had circulated in Baghdad of ministry-backed hit squads to target Sunnis, and a network of secret prisons filled with Sunnis who had disappeared.
Interior Ministry officials have denied the reports and said that none of its prisoners has been mistreated.
Mr. al-Mutlaq did not say when his images were taken or whether the newly discovered prison, located in the Baghdad neighborhood of Mansour, remains open.
"Most likely they shut it down, but we have now been informed of a third [prison] just one kilometer away," he said, sitting on elaborate gold-colored furniture in a borrowed office.
He said that most of those detained were Sunnis.
His grim assertions come just days before national elections that will be a factor in the balance of power in Iraq for the next four years.
Political leaders have been campaigning hard, and accusations of abuse have been flying.
Earlier in the week, secular Shi'ite leader Ahmed Chalabi accused rival Shi'ite politician, former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, of having led a corrupt government last year.
At times the campaigns have become deadly. Several party supporters pasting posters on walls have been shot, and Sunnis accuse the police of rounding up their followers and detaining them.
Former dictator Saddam Hussein gave preference to Sunnis during his 35-year rule, and Shi'ites regularly suffered from his brutality.
Sunni Arab clerics took the opportunity of Friday prayers yesterday to urge a big Sunni turnout next Thursday, saying that voting was a "religious duty" that could hasten the departure of American troops.
Also, Sunni clerics and residents of a Baghdad neighborhood where four kidnapped Christian humanitarian workers had aided people appealed yesterday for their release, one day before a deadline set by their abductors to kill them.
The hostages include an American, two Canadians and a Briton. A group known as the Swords of Righteousness has set a deadline today, threatening to kill the four unless U.S. and Iraqi authorities free all prisoners.
During prayers in the al-Imam al-Aadam mosque in Baghdad's predominantly Sunni Arab neighborhood of Azamiyah in north Baghdad, cleric Ahmed Hassan Taha demanded that the four charity workers be released, the Associated Press reported.
"I stress on the necessity to release the four kidnapped foreigners who have helped the residents of Azamiyah," he said. "We ask those who have authority and power to do their best to release the four European people who work in Christian peace organization. In fact those activists were the first who condemned the war on Iraq."
Residents gathered outside the mosque, also known as Abu Hanifa, and held aloft banners demanding their release, according to the AP.
"The people of Azamiyah will not forget the honest positions peacemakers," read one. Another said, "We demand the release of the abducted peacemakers."
There was no word yesterday on the fate of an American hostage, Ronald Allen Schulz, after an Internet statement in the name of the Islamic Army in Iraq claimed to have killed him.
Terrorist attacks are expected to increase ahead of Thursday's vote.
Nevertheless, Sunnis are expected to vote in large numbers in contrast to elections in January, which they largely boycotted.
Despite the violence, the campaign has been marked by lively political debates on television and sophisticated advertising campaigns.
Some politicians have even traveled throughout the country to explain their platforms.
There have been complaints that Shi'ite militias are intimidating potential voters, and reports of police and other security forces endorsing candidates in violation of election rules.
Even the Iraqi guards at the entrance to the U.S.-fortified green zone in Baghdad have posters of the Shi'ite alliance 555 -- the main religious grouping of Shi'ite candidates who back an Islamist government -- pasted on their sandbags and in their guard boxes.
"It is going on," acknowledged Election Commissioner Farid Ayar. However, he said, the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq had not received any formal complaints about the practice.
"If we receive something written, we will deal with it," said Mr. Ayar. The lack of properly delivered complaints, he said, was probably the result of people being too scared to say anything, and not understanding the complaint process.