The emergence of a culture of pernicious violence at Iraq's interior ministry blossomed in the face of repeated warnings to US and UK officials over the last year and a half, under an apparently deliberate policy by Washington and London to avoid public criticism of the country's new institutions.
It is a silence that persisted despite compelling evidence provided by human rights organizations, journalists and Iraqi officials that, from the very moment of the hand-over of sovereignty, violent abuses were being committed in the Ministry of the Interior building -- the results of which have been witnessed by this correspondent.
Then, as in last week's discovery of the starving prisoners, the abuses were only uncovered during a raid by US military police who had been tipped off that prisoners were being beaten in a "guesthouse" in the ministry's grounds.
It was, in retrospect, the beginning of a pattern of behavior that would only worsen as the months went by.
This correspondent has gathered a catalogue of mistreatment by the elements of the very police forces that Washington and London have been counting on as the front line in the fight against insurgents and terrorists. Among those to be confronted early in the interim government with the way in which policing in Iraq was going was a senior British police officer, involved in mentoring the new Iraqi Police Force, who described to this paper how he had entered the room of a deputy minister and found a man with a bag over his head standing in the corner. In retrospect it would turn out to be a minor abuse in comparison with what would follow. Instead, the roots of the human rights catastrophe that has enveloped the ministry were to be found in the simmering sectarian conflict of tit-for-tat assassinations that had taken hold in Baghdad's vast suburbs.
There, the armed militia of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Badr Brigades, had begun a campaign of revenge attacks against former members of the largely Sunni secret police, the mukhabarat, tactics that would be imported wholesale into the Ministry of the Interior when SCIRI -- and the Badrists -- took control of it after the elections. By the early months of this year, a militia widely accused by Sunnis of a campaign of assassination had become integrated into the newly emergent Special Police Commandos under the command of the ministry, led by a senior member of SCIRI, Bayan Jabr. The Badr Brigade's campaign would become integrated into one of the Iraqi government's most powerful ministries.
"The origins of what is going on now go back to the period from April to May 2003," said a British security source. Then members of the Badr Brigades returning from exile in Iran began a vendetta against Baathists, largely former members of the mukhabarat. It is a campaign that has widened as it has continued and what is worrying now is the extent to which it is tacitly sanctioned.
By the spring and early summer of this year worrying reports were beginning to emerge of secret interrogation facilities where torture and extra-judicial killings were taking place at sites either directly controlled by the Ministry of the Interior or associated with police commando units under its command. Even then, with the accusations of abuse fully in the open, and with the British Foreign Office admitting it had privately relayed its concern about the abuses to the Iraqi government, the policy of the US and the UK was to keep up pressure behind the scenes.