By Ahmad Al-Rikaby and Charles Recknagel
Kuwait has long accused Baghdad of holding some 600 people who disappeared during Iraq's seven-month occupation of the emirate in 1990-1991. And Baghdad has consistently denied those charges. Now, RFE/RL's Iraq Service has spoken to one former Iraqi official who says he personally has seen the Kuwaiti prisoners.
Prague, 6 December 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Captain Khalid Sachit Aziz Al-Janabi served almost 20 years in Iraq's Mukhabarat intelligence service, a position which gave him intimate knowledge of Baghad's security apparatus and its prisoners.
Al-Janabi defected last year after his brother, Staff Lieutenant-General Kamil Sachit, died at the hands of the Iraqi president's son, Qusay Saddam Hussein. Al-Janabi is now a member of the Iraqi opposition and lives in Amman.
The former captain told RFE/RL's Iraq Service in a recent interview that he saw 50 Kuwait prisoners in early 1998 while working for one of the Mukhabarat's investigative offices -- called the Judicial Bureau.
His statements could not be independently confirmed but they are viewed as well-informed and credible because of his former position in the Iraqi government.
Al-Janabi says the 50 Kuwaitis were temporarily relocated to the Judicial Bureau during a campaign to clear out Iraq's prisons -- a campaign which saw mass executions in jail of thousands of Iraqi political prisoners.
He says the Kuwaitis arrived at the Judicial Bureau under tight security, transported in vehicles with heavily tinted windows and accompanied by a detail from the special Iraqi force that protects President Saddam Hussein.
He also says that as the Kuwaitis arrived, his commanding officer told the staff that nobody was allowed to enter the area where they would be detained. But despite the secrecy, he was able to glimpse the men.
Al-Janabi told our correspondent that the men were in pitiful condition.
"In 1998, when they brought the 50 prisoners to our bureau, I saw them. When I say that they are sick and that their condition is pitiful, I mean that they had obviously experienced various means of torture and it was pathetic to hear them chant, 'God is Great, God is Great.' Their interrogators used torture to extract information from them. All those I saw had been badly mistreated because it was very hard to get them to say anything."
Al-Janabi says that the 50 Kuwaiti prisoners stayed at the Judicial Bureau for three months. Before they were sent elsewhere they left their names etched on their cell walls. But he says that evidence of their passing was immediately covered over.
"The prisoners etched their names on the walls of their cells, and the supervisory teams had the walls painted more than three times, in order to cover these etchings. If an inspection team is ever able to enter the Judicial Bureau, they would find the names of all those prisoners etched into the walls. They were there for three months, from April to July, during my stint at the Judicial Bureau."
The former captain estimates that there are 600 Kuwaiti prisoners inside Iraq, held at different secret locations. He says the secrecy surrounding their whereabouts is so tight that many high Iraqi officials do not even know for sure that the Kuwaiti prisoners are there.
Al-Janabi says the Kuwaitis are held at places ranging from special houses operated by the intelligence services to detention facilities in some of Saddam's presidential palaces. He says some of the prisoners are also held by the Iranian armed opposition group, the Mujahedin e-Khalq -- which is supported by Baghdad and has a headquarters in the Iraqi city of Al-Udhaim.
Al-Janabi also says that the prisoners are under the direct charge of Saddam's son Qusay, who oversees the country's intelligence and security agencies. In the interview aired by RFE/RL's Iraq Service, the former captain listed the names of the officers responsible for the Kuwait prisoners as well as some of the places the Kuwaitis are confined.
With the Gulf crisis now a decade past, there has been considerable speculation over why Baghdad continues to keep Kuwaiti prisoners. Al-Janabi says that Saddam Hussein regards them as hostages which he can use as bargaining chips to influence his relations with Kuwait.
Al-Janabi says the prisoners include Kuwaiti officials, members of the country's security services, and people close to the Kuwaiti ruling family. He says Baghdad believes that by keeping the hostages under a constant threat of execution it forces Kuwait to modify its criticisms of the Iraqi regime.
"As far as I know, and as far as my brother knew, there were 600 of them. About 450 were military personnel, security personnel, and those close to the Kuwaiti ruling family. The rest were civilians, and civilian tribal members. Yes, there are 600 in Iraq. But Iraq will not hand them over, because as you know, they represent the winning card. Even the Kuwaiti media are reluctant to say anything against Iraq, fearing the execution of all those prisoners being held inside Iraq."
The Kuwaiti government is a sworn opponent of Saddam's regime and is one of the strongest voices in the Gulf for keeping Iraq under sanctions until it proves it has no more weapons of mass destruction. Kuwait -- and Saudi Arabia -- refuse to have any direct contacts with Baghdad, although other Gulf Arab States have revived ties with Iraq.
Al-Janabi told RFE/RL's Iraq Service that he is quite sure the prisoners remain alive today and he called on Kuwait to press Baghdad to release them.
"Yes, I am certain 100 percent [certain they are alive]. Before I left Iraq, up until July , they were there at the Judicial Bureau. Throughout their time in Iraq they were moved from prison to prison. I would like to tell the Kuwaiti people that the prisoners are still there, that their sons are still there, and that they should put pressure on Saddam to hand them over."
So far, efforts by Kuwait to learn the fate of the prisoners have been consistently rebuffed by Baghdad, which in turn accuses Kuwait of failing to disclose information about some 1,150 Iraqis who disappeared during the Gulf crisis. Kuwait denies it holds any Iraqi detainees.