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Iraq: NGO Perusing Files It Says Detail Executions

An Iraqi nongovernmental organization says it is watching over large numbers of files that detail mass killings in the country and which provide clues to the disappearances of many people. With bureaucratic efficiency, the files record the names of those who were given death sentences and the dates the executions were carried out. The organization is working on making the names of the victims public so loved ones will finally know the fate of missing relatives. RFE/RL reports from Baghdad.

Baghdad, 26 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Najaf al-Arajee picks up a file at random from a large pile and begins to read.

"On the order from the presidential palace -- Number 778, Year 1984. A sentence of the Supreme Court of the Revolution, Case Number 944. The following persons were executed by hanging. The names follow..."

There are nearly 150 names on one sheet of paper. All were executed on 23 May 1984.

Arajee is an official with a nongovernmental organization called the Iraqi Free Prisoners Organization (JSA), based in the Al-Kadamya district of central Baghdad. The JSA is preserving thousands of such files, records allegedly kept by the Iraqi secret services that detail executions that took place during the rule of Saddam Hussein.

Twelve rooms at the JSA's headquarters are stuffed with such files, which it claims come from Iraq's internal, external, and military secret services.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Arajee says Hussein's government was very bureaucratic in recording all forms of repression but that the JSA has no exact number of how many people are missing. He says the goal of the organization is to use the information contained in the files to help friends and loved ones discover what happened to those who disappeared.

Arajee says the JSA was founded by former Iraqi political prisoners on 14 April, just after Baghdad fell to advancing U.S. troops and that it is not allied with any political parties or religious movements. He says it aims to defend the rights of former Iraqi political prisoners, collect information about the cruelties of the regime, and inform loved ones on the fate of those who are missing.

How did the group manage to save these secret files? Arajee tells RFE/RL that Hussein never believed he would be removed from power. When government ministries and departments were under serious threat of U.S. air attacks, Arajee says Hussein had the files moved out of official buildings to what he thought would be a safe place.

"Most of the files -- for example, the archive of the internal secret police service -- were hidden in the Al-Mansur shopping center. We received the information that the archives are located in this place, and we took them by force," Arajee says.

He says the files were transported by truck to the building that became the JSA's headquarters. Arajee says some members of the paramilitary Saddam Fedayeen were trying to burn the files at the Al-Mansur shopping center but that JSA members stopped them using force.

Some members of the JSA carry weapons. Two young men, armed with Kalashnikovs, guard the entrance to the headquarters.

Arajee says there have been several attempts to bomb or burn down the JSA's headquarters. He says the group would accept help from anyone who would like to protect the building and the files inside.

Arajee claims that some 100 JSA workers are studying the contents of the files, which he says number in the millions. While his statement could not be independently verified, an RFE/RL correspondent saw rooms at JSA headquarters stuffed with files, many of them still in the metallic filing drawers used by Hussein's ministries and departments.

Arajee says the files in the building are only the "tip of the iceberg." He says other files are kept elsewhere in the city.

Two torture devices that Arajee says were used by Hussein's secret services are also kept in one of the rooms of JSA headquarters. One of the devices looks like a bed and used electricity to extract confessions from prisoners. Arajee says Hussein used terror not as an end in itself but to sow fear in society.

Ordinary Iraqis gather during the day and into the evening near the headquarters of the JSA and wait for information about a brother, a father or a sister who disappeared during Hussein's regime. They hang pictures on the walls of the JSA, hoping someone will recognize a loved one and offer some information.

Muhaeed Hosni Abdel Rasool is looking for his brother, who disappeared more than 20 years ago for unknown reasons. He says he still has hope that his brother is alive or that someone will be able to tell him the circumstances in which he died.

"I have been looking for my brother since 1980, when he disappeared. We don't know what happened to him. We don't know why they took him. We don't know," Rasool said.

Rasool says this is his fourth visit to the JSA . On this day, as on his previous attempts, he left with no information about his brother.

Faiza Hadab Fehed al-Hasnavi is also looking for her brother, who disappeared shortly after the end of the 1991 Gulf War. "We know nothing. We know that he hasn't done anything. He was a soldier. He was on leave and disappeared," she says and adds that her brother did not desert the Iraqi army.

"Maybe he was killed together with those who took part in the uprising against Saddam after the war," she says. "Maybe he was killed in action. We don't know. I come here every other day, but we have received no information about him."