Iraqis gather at smoking ruins of torture centre

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of Iraqis gathered at the charred remains of the secret police headquarters in Basra yesterday to pay their last respects to friends and family who had suffered there.

Hundreds of Iraqis gathered at the charred remains of the secret police headquarters in Basra yesterday to pay their last respects to friends and family who had suffered there.

For 30 years, local people avoided the building, too scared even to walk in the surrounding streets. "This place was known as the White Lion – the most horrible, severe building in all Basra," said a man called Emin. "Most of the people who were taken here did not come out."

The building's imposing sandstone facade hidthe secrets of Saddam Hussein's regime. Now smoke billowed through the crumbling building after locals had set it on fire.

Hamed Fattil spent eight months here after the 1991 uprising. His brothers, Ali and Assam, are still missing. "They used to strap a cord around our head, hands and shoulders and hoist us two feet off the ground," he said. "Then they would beat us. They did unthinkable things – electrocution, immersion in a bath of chemicals, ripping off people's fingernails and toenails. It was a place of evil."

The ground and first floors were cluttered with wreckage and scattered documents. Below lay a dark, smouldering, maze of dungeons. A torch picked out a cockroach, a gas mask half-eaten by insects and a small bottle of chemicals on the mud floor.

In the back yard was a set of cells, surrounded by red mesh. The stark box rooms, Hamed said, were used to imprison women and children. On the other side the men were held, hundreds in a cell the size of an average living room.

There was just one rusted window, with two wires protruding through it. Hamed held them to his neck and shuddered. They were used to electrocute prisoners, he said. His eyes showed no anger, just a sad, blank stare.

Between the men and the women's cells was a long mesh cage where prisoners were beaten and scalded in front of everyone.

As we left, we saw a large red book lying in the rubble. Emin picked it up and read the names and places of men and important buildings in Kuwait – the prisoners and targets of the 1991war. He said: "After this new war, we hope all of this will be destroyed for ever. Then Iraq can make a new start."

This a pooled dispatch from a correspondent of the 'Western Daily Press'

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