Global Insider: Iraq’s Prisons Incubate Islamist Ideology

Global Insider: Iraq’s Prisons Incubate Islamist Ideology

Last week, al-Qaida’s Iraqi branch staged major simultaneous raids on two Iraqi prisons, afterward claiming to have freed more than 500 Iraqi detainees in the operation. In an email interview, Myriam Benraad, senior Middle East research fellow and Iraq specialist at Sciences Po Paris, explained Iraq’s detention system and the U.S. role in it.

WPR: What is Iraq’s system for handling fighters captured on the battlefield?

Myriam Benraad: Following the enforcement of the U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement in 2009, U.S.-run prison facilities were officially transferred to the Iraqi government. Specific “rehabilitation” and “deradicalization” programs were developed and implemented, intended to thwart the recruitment of new insurgents into al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) and other jihadist groups. Counseling with moderate Muslim clerics and psychiatrists has been offered and juvenile facilities opened to provide younger detainees—often the most radical—with educational and employment opportunities. In 2008, a “general amnesty law” was also adopted as part of the national reconciliation process aimed at drawing the alienated Sunni Arab community back into the political process and convincing former jihadists to renounce violence. While a number of prisoners have been successfully deradicalized and reintegrated into civilian life, the efforts to shape attitudes among the detainee population have met limits, as illustrated through the re-radicalization of numerous prisoners and the recent spectacular AQI-led prison breaks.

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