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
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
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
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
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)