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KURDISTAN IRAQ: Kurdish Mullah Ali Bapir's Ordeal in Prison with Baathist Leaders

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Mullah Ali BapirLeader of "Komal Islam" -- an Islamic movement represented by 2 MPs at the Baghdad TNA elected last January, and by six deputies at the Kurdish parliament of Arbil -- Mullah Ali Bapir was thrown into prison in Baghdad by the Americans in July 2003, where he remained until April 2005. A total of "22 months or 650 days in jail", says a still furious Ali Bapir, who adds "I even counted the hours".


Kept in solitary confinement during the first days, Ali Bapir complains he was "physically tortured" and lost 15 kg. The Americans accused him of having planned attacks on the coalition forces; to have assisted the extremist islamist group Ansar al Islam against Jalal Talabani’s PUK, and to have maintained relations with Saddam Hussein’s government and with Iran.
Ali Bapir refutes these accusations as baseless.During his imprisonment he spent several months in a cell of just 2,5 meters by 2,5 meters, with a only small window and a bed. Initially, confined to his solitary quarters, things gradually improved, until he was spending three to four hours daily out of the cell. By this time the torture had also come to an end.


"At first, I did not know I was in the VIP quarter with the Baathist leaders. At the beginning we were not allowed to speak to the other prisoners during our exercise periods", Ali Bapir recalls. "We were forced to keep our distance from each other, or we were punished. After one year it was more relaxed, and the prisoners could speak together"..

Of course, I had never met these people before


Ali Bapir"At the beginning, I only saw the Baathist leaders with whom I was jailed -- there was Tarek Aziz (former minister of foreign affairs and deputy prime minister), Taha Yassin Ramadan (ex vice-president), Ali Hassan al Majid (nicknamed Chemical Ali , he supervised the bombing of the Kurds with toxic gas), Barzan Takriti (half-brother of Saddam Hussein and ex-director of Iraqi secret services), and Sultan Hachem (ex-minister of defence)..


"Of course", adds a laughing Ali Bapir, "I had never met these people before: I only had seen them on the TV. And I did not recognize some of the most recently appointed ministers".


Some bizarre exchanges took place between the Islamist leader and these former arch ennemies, Baathist officials who found themselves locked in the same prison after having fought each other for years. But, as the weeks went by he found himself in conversation with some of the once despised men: "At first our discussions were quite heated. I told them candidly, "It is the consequence of your actions and of your dictatorship that put us here". At the end, I was leading the prayer for them. All of them, except Barzan Takriti and Tarek Aziz (a Christian).

Sharing his prison with mass murderers


Ali BapirAsked how he felt at sharing his prison with mass murderers, Ali Bapir answers in plain language: "I was frank with them... If it was not for Islamic teachings regarding kindness, I would never have said "Hello" to them. I told them they were guilty of developing a dangerous personality cult around Saddam. Obviously, some of them sincerely regretted their actions. They turned to prayer and learned half of the Koran by heart. Some of them told me they had absolutely no idea about the Anfal campaign (which involved the extermination of the Kurds in 1988). When I mentioned the many tens of thousands of "disappeared" Kurds, they were horrified and said they had no knowledge of this. Some of them even blamed Iran for the chemical attack on Halabja, that claimed 5.000 victims on 16 March 1988, and said that as far as they were aware "only a few hundred people" had been killed".


Ali Bapir spent time conversing with the former Baathist leaders but he saw Saddam Hussein only from a distance, when he left his cell to visit the doctor
Once the period of torture and harsh interrogation was concluded, prisoners were reasonably well treated, Ali Bapir confirms. "We were all VIP, old people -- I was the youngest one -- we respected the rules, and there was no humiliation".


After seven months of detention, Ali Bapir was allowed a letter from his family, then, five months after that, he was given permission to make a phone call to them.
After six months he was interrogated by British agents, who were more humane, and who gave him a watch, and paper and a pencil to study the Koran. "They knew I was innocent but said I would be kept in jail as long as necessary for reasons of "national security".


One day, quite unexpectedly, an official visited Ali Bapir and told him that he was going home! "At first I did not understand... It was a surprise. I was free. But there were conditions: I had to sign a pledge saying that I should not "re-join"... the Baath party and that I would inform the authorities about any anti-government activities. Obviously, I refused to sign this damning document. The deputy minister of justice came to the prison, but I still refused to sign. Finally, they set me free anyway".


Ali Bapir tells of open discussions with his US interrogators and passionate arguments about the role of Islam: "I told them they should have good relations with the world of Islam, and not conflict... They asked me if I wanted to establish an Islamic state. I said I want to rule an Islamic state. I tried to explain that if you allow a spring to come out off the ground naturally, it will flow nicely, peacefully. But if you prevent it, if you oppress it, it will burst out".

To get rid of the Islamist extremists


"I told them I had preached in the Jihad mosque in Suleimania and said we should be grateful that this tyrant (Saddam) has gone. And I advised the Americans to negotiate with the moderate Islamist leaders to get rid of the Islamist extremists. If not, I said, you will face the consequences".


Asked about the suicide bombings devastating Iraq, Ali Bapir responds: "When there is something unnatural, it will lead to an unnatural method of defence. If there is tyranny, if there is no other method of self-defence except to martyr yourself, sometimes there is no other way -- as in Palestine".


"But", he adds, defending a point of view diametrically opposed to Zarkawi’s, "Islam does not allow you to kill your ennemy -- even if you kill 100 ennemies-- if it leads to the death of a single innocent... Those people who come from abroad do not have a good understanding of what is going on in Iraq. The masterminds of violence are based outside. The killing of innocent policemen, job seekers, and civilians is against Islam. This bloodshed in Iraq has no legitimate Islamic base".


And while he believes the problems between Sunnis and Shi’a could be solved by their ulemas, Ali Bapir fears the unforeseeable consequences of foreign interventions.
Standing clearly against the suicide-bombings which are claiming hundreds of innocent lives, Ali Bapir seeks to distance himself from the extremist Islamists and their actions. But he told a story which reveals how very seriously he follows an orthodox Islamic line: "In 1989, my young brother Omer, who was 16 or 17, gave information to the Baathist regime which led to the arrest of a comrade who was later killed. I had to do something. If I do not respect the Shari’ah (Islamic law) within my family, how could I seek to impose it on the outside world? We were in the mountain... I sent a commando to kill my brother".


And Ali Bapir feels the assembly in charge of writing the new constitution in Bagdad should not decide that Islam is only a source of law, but the unique source: "It would be dangerous to say that there are other sources", says the leader of Komal Islam, "How can one say that Man is a partner of God".


(The Middle East magazine, December 2005)
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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