According to government-owned As-Sabah, this year’s commemoration of Husain’s death will be “the largest congregation” ever seen in Iraq; with the paper expecting over 6 million faithful to gather in Karbala. The paper claimed that over 5 million visitors are already in the city, with “hundreds of thousands” arriving by the day. According to government sources, tens of thousands of security personnel have been dispatched to guard the roads leading to Karbala from Baghdad.
In political news, Al-Jazeera reports that the central government is requesting from all foreigners wishing to enter Iraq, “especially journalists,” to obtain visas from the Interior Ministry, proclaiming the visas currently issued by the Kurdistan Regional Government invalid. The news channel quoted Interior Ministry officials as saying that those who are in the country without visas, or through visas issued by the KRG, will be subject to legal prosecution. These measures, another attempt by Maliki to limit the power of the Kurdish autonomous, were viewed as “provocations” by Kurdish politicians.
A Kurdistan MP interviewed by al-Jazeera considered Maliki’s policy as part of “a war waged by Prime Minister ... against the authorities of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.” The MP, Muhammad Mulla Hama, affirmed that Kurdistan’s right to control its borders is guaranteed in the constitution and cannot be abrogated by a decision from the central government. On the other hand, an Iraqi police Colonel told the news channel that the Kurdish government has instituted its own visa system since 1991, and has been collecting dues from foreigners entering the country in contravention with Iraqi laws. Also, the officer claimed, the KRG has been collecting custom tariffs and entry fees from the cross-border trade with Iran and Turkey without forwarding these receipts to the central government.
The visa controversy is part of a long string of conflicts raging between the Premier and the authorities in Kurdistan. This crisis has fomented rumors to the effect that the Kurdish Parties, in alliance with the Sunni IAF and possibly al-Hakeem, are contemplating the removal of Maliki through a no-confidence vote in the Parliament. These rumors got increased credence when IAF MPs announced, according to al-Hayat, that he bloc intends to withdraw confidence from the Maliki cabinet.
Also in al-Hayat, the paper published a damning report on the state of Iraqi detainees in the US-controlled Bucca prison. Recently-released detainees told stories of routine torture, arbitrary arrests and extreme hardship. According to an ex-inmate, the prison camp is divided into three sectors: “Green” for tame detainees who have not been convicted, “Yellow” for those deemed by US interrogators as constituting a threat to US forces, and “Red” where al-Qa'ida fighters and leaders of extremist groups are held. In the red camp, allegedly, a makeshift justice system has been set by the leading inmates, dispensing sentences of lashings and beatings upon prisoners. The US forces administering the camp would transfer prisoners in the red sector as a form of punishment, the freed detainee said (a fate that he personally suffered.)
Another freed prisoner with a bandaged broken arm refused to speak to the journalist, asserting that he was arrested nine months ago for membership in the Mahdi Army: “I will not speak about anything, I could return to the detention camp with a sweep of the pen of the US officer, he warned us no to speak.”
A third prisoner, Ahmad Fadhil, said that he was arrested twice; the first time for three years due to a false report, during which he was tortured, and six months ago after he was accused of assassinations that, it turned out, took place during his first imprisonment. According to Fadhil, prisoners are only allowed to write their families in English, so that US soldiers can examine the material, and to the tune of one letter every four months. Since most detainees cannot write in English, they often prefer to smuggle their letters with departing inmates, despite the risk of punishment. According to Fadhil, he saw handicapped detainees, a mute who is accused of sniping US forces, and a man over 80 years of age who is accused of shelling US forces with mortars.