Their rations were meager and often moldy. Sometimes the guards beat them, they said, and several inmates had disappeared. The entire inmate population had either been denied trials or had been held beyond the terms of their sentences, they said--lost in legal limbo in the Kurdish-controlled region of Iraq.
The prison strike here, on Dec. 4, ended when the local authorities agreed to transfer three unpopular guards and to allow copies of the Koran in the cells. But it exposed an intractable problem that has accompanied Kurdish cooperation with the United States in Iraq.
The Kurdish prison population has swelled to include at least several hundred suspected insurgents, and yet there is no legal system to sort out their fates. So the inmates wait, a population for which there is no plan.
Hania Mufti, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who has investigated the prison conditions and the absence of due process for the inmates, said that about 2,500 people are being held by the security services of the two ruling Kurdish parties. She estimated that two-thirds of them are accused of participating in the insurgency.
Seeing that Mufti is on the case, however, gives one a small glimmer of hope. --Isaac Chotiner