Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat – Abdullah al-Anzi, aged 34, has returned to Saudi Arabia after serving 8 years in prison in Iraq for illegally entering the country. During his years in the Iraqi prison system, al-Anzi served time in numerous Iraqi jails including Sousse, Nasiriyah and al-Taji prisons, not to mention the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, al-Anzi reveals the true sectarian nature of Iraq’s prison system, adding that Iranian security forces, specifically the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp [IRGC] interrogated prisoners held in Iraq’s prison system.
Abdullah al-Anzi, then aged 26, began his prison sentence in Iraq’s Camp Cropper prison, where he spent 6 weeks in solitary confinement before being transferred to the infamous Abu Ghraib prison, where he was held for the next year. Camp Cropper was a US military-run holding facility for security detainees, although this facility was initially operated as a high value detention site, it has since been expanded, increasing its capacity from 163 detainees to 2,000.
He revealed that Iraq’s prisons house prisoners of various nationalities and sects, including Russians, Americans and Britons, as well as Arab prisoners from across the region, including Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Syria, Lebanon, UAE and Kuwait. He added that he had even met a Qatari “businessman” who has been accused of espionage, not to mention scores of Iranian prisoners affiliated to the Iranian opposition.
The Saudi former prisoner, whose prison number was 166396, added that he was unable to recall this number in Arabic, as he most often heard it in foreign languages, whether this was English or Persian.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat surrounded by his family in a guest house provided to him by the Saudi Interior Minister following his arrival in the capital Riyadh, al-Anzi stressed the poor living conditions and humanitarian situation in Iraq’s prisons. He asserted that prisoners are exposed to physical and psychological torture, and that he himself had been tortured. Al-Anzi also revealed that there is a lack of medical care for prisoners in Iraqi jails, and that he personally did not receive adequate medical care.
For his part, Tamer el-Balheed, head of the Committee for Saudi Detainees in Iraq, asserted that al-Anzi’s health deteriorated significantly in prison and no medical care was offered to him until he eventually contracted tuberculosis.
El-Balheed explicitly stated that al-Anzi had been tortured by members of the IRGC, as well as the Sadrist Madhi army. He stressed that “this is the case with all Saudi detainees in Iraq. The arbitrary detention of al-Anzi for eight whole years against the backdrop of absolute absence of law and sectarian conflict is just an example of the status of those prisoners.”
Abdullah al-Anzi informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Iraq’s prison system is extremely sectarian to the point that IRGC cadres were allowed to interrogate prisoners. He added that Iranian prisoners are held in high favor and that this sectarianism is not just limited to the Iraqi prison authorities but also to the prisoners themselves.
He revealed that he, along with other prisoners, were interrogated on a number of occasions by Iranian investigators who spoke Persian and who would use an interpreter to communicate with the prisoners, adding that this had primarily taken place in al-Rasafa prison.
He revealed that sectarian tensions in Iraq’s prisons reached their height following the 2006 and 2007 bombings of al-Askari Mosque in Samarra, Iraq; one of the holiest sites of Shiite Islam. Al-Anzi said that following these incidents Sunni prisoners had been forced to travel around in groups of no-less than 7 for fear of retaliation.
He added that a Sudanese prisoner had been burnt to death in al-Rasafa prison against the backdrop of the sectarian unrest in Bahrain.
The Saudi veteran of Iraq’s prison system revealed that many prisoners were keen to form good relations with Iranian prisoners and gain their sympathy due to the privileges that Iranian prisoners enjoy inside the Iraqi prison system.
Citing a specific example, he revealed that Hezbollah cadre Hassan Ali Daqduq lives like a king inside Iraq’s prisons, adding “Daqduq’s word is more important than the word of the prison warden.”
In contrast to the cliché that prison and prisoners are unaffected by what is happening in the outside world, al-Anzi told Asharq Al-Awsat that “any ministerial or presidential meeting, or any movement, particularly regarding the events in Syria, that can be read in a hostile manner quickly reflects on the reality of the situation facing prisoners.”
Tamer al-Balheed, head of the Committee for Saudi Detainees in Iraq, said that he estimated the number of Saudi detainees in Iraq at 60, adding that while they were being kept in different Iraqi prisons they were all staying in deplorable conditions and being exposed to various forms of torture.
Saudi Arabia and Iraq have opened discussions on the issue of prisoners, however Balheed stressed that “we were met with extreme intransigence on the part of the al-Maliki government.”
For his part, Abdullah al-Anzi concluded his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat by asserting the degree by which his views have changed. He revealed that when he was initially arrested, an American investigator questioned him about his illegal entry to Iraq, to which he replied “my entry [to Iraq] was illegal, as was yours”, whereas speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat following 8 years of imprisonment and in the warm embrace of his family, he said “perhaps the US presence [in Iraq] may be more merciful” asking “who is the real enemy in Iraq and who is the victim?”