Baghdad's Medical Forensic Institute -- the mortuary -- is a low, modern building reached via a narrow street. Most days it is filled with families of the dead. They come here for two reasons. One group, animated and noisy in grief, comes to collect its dead. The other, however, returns day after day to poke through the new cargoes of corpses ferried in by ambulance, looking for a face or clothes they might recognize. They are the relatives and friends of the "disappeared," searching for their men.
And when the disappeared are finally found -- on the streets, in the city's massive rubbish dumps, or in the river -- their bodies bear the all too telling signs of a savage beating, often with electrical cables, and then the inevitable bullet to the head.
In a new twist to the ongoing brutality, Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence is escalating dramatically.
In June an investigation by the London-based Observer newspaper reported that Iraqi police commandos were running secret torture units. Last week there was international outrage when American forces found 173 half-starved prisoners being held in dreadful conditions in an Iraqi government bunker.
The new trend in violence is one Alaa Maki of the Iraqi Islamic Party is all too familiar with. A month ago his bodyguard, Alaa al-Azawi, was taken from his home with his two brothers by police at midnight. The family were told the men were being taken for investigation. The following day his body was dumped in the street.
Eight days ago one of Maki's friends was being treated in the Yarmouk Hospital, Iraq's second biggest, in the western suburbs of Baghdad. His relatives, Muamir Saad Mahmoud and Ali Mahmoud, went to visit him but when they arrived they found men in the uniform of Iraq's police waiting for them instead.
Ali was later released in the vast Shia slum of Sadr City after a violent beating. Muamir has not been seen. Maki and the family are now waiting for his body to turn up.
And it is not just in Baghdad. The home of Khalid Ahmad Harbood, a resident of the Alkadisia neighborhood of Madain city, was raided at midnight on Oct. 13 by the Alkarrar brigade, commandos of the Ministry of the Interior. Harbood was detained at their base.
Transferred to the "Panorama building" in the town, he was tortured so badly over the period of a week that he died and his badly battered body was dumped in Sadr City.
As so often is the case in Iraq these days, the details are difficult to corroborate, but they undeniably fit a pattern.
According to human rights organizations in Baghdad, "disappearances" -- for long a feature of Iraq's dirty war -- in recent months have reached epidemic proportions. Human rights workers, both international and local, who asked not to be identified to protect their researchers in the city and their organizations' access to senior government officials, spoke last week of having hundreds of cases on their books. They described the disappearances as the most pressing human rights issue in a country in the midst of a human rights disaster.
The crisis was underlined by last week's uncovering of the secret Ministry of the Interior detention facility in the well-to-do neighborhood of Jadriya. Of the 173 largely Sunni detainees, most were emaciated and showing signs of torture.
It led to the US embassy in Baghdad forcefully to condemn the new Iraq's culture of torture and killing -- a statement that many believe has been too long in coming.