Foreign fighters against “Islamic State” have been subjected to heavy mistreatment in Iraqi Kurdish prisons. Karlos Zurutuza and Ferran Barber spoke with western volunteers, and recounted months spent in jail.
On a blank sheet of paper, Marcos sketches the plan of the Kurdish prison where he spent 95 days in captivity.
“Just picture more than a hundred people inside a 65-square-meter [700 square foot] cell! We had to lie on our sides against each other to sleep, or even remain seated,” the 47-year-old Spaniard told DW from his home in Rabanales, a village in northwestern Spain.
Marcos, whose codename was “Dr. Delil,” was one of three Spaniards imprisoned last August in the Irbil General Security Directorate, a huge compound in the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan (KRG). He had served as a paramedic in the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a Yazidi armed group set up to protect this minority against radical Islamists, namely the “Islamic State” (IS) group.
When IS began its massacre of the Yazidi population in 2014, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) intervened in order to save the locals from the “Islamic State” militants.
But in the midst of the fight against IS last March, clashes broke out between the YBS and KRG peshmerga forces. YBS often coordinates with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a multi-ethnic coalition backed by Washington, but which Ankara accuses of having links to the PKK. The PKK is banned in Turkey and considered a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU.
Close ties between Ankara and the ruling party in Iraqi Kurdistan, the PDK, have apparently resulted in closer scrutiny of YBS and SDF fighters.
Enemy fighters share cell
“Whether you’re Daesh or PKK doesn’t make any difference to us.” Marcos said his Kurdish captors in Irbil would frequently tell him, using the Arabic name for IS. Actually, the YBS volunteer claims, they shared their single-toilet cell with IS fighters during most of their stay. And it was a noisy one.
“The TV was on full time and at a brutal volume: verses of the Quran in the morning and Turkish music in the afternoon. I guess their main goal was to prevent us from sleeping,” he recalled.
The three Spaniards were not told how long they would be held, nor were they put on trial. They spent most of their time inside the cell, except for 20 minutes each day when they would walk in circles in a courtyard that was covered with wire mesh. The routine sometimes changed, but only for the worse.
“They put me in an isolation cell after a visit from a delegation from the Spanish embassy. After two days in complete darkness, a group of five men came inside and gave me my first beating,” recalled Marcos, adding that he and his cellmates could hear the cries of pain from those who were tortured, “even with the TV at full volume.”