This is the other side of the surge: as thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops flood Baghdad’s neighborhoods, the jails are also filling up. According to figures from the Ministry of Human Rights, the number of Iraqis detained nationwide from the end of January until the end of March—a period that includes the first six weeks of the new Baghdad security plan—jumped by approximately 7,000 to 37,641. U.S. forces swept up 2,000 prisoners a month in March and April, almost twice the average from the second half of last year. Iraqi arrest numbers are roughly equivalent. Some of these detainees are falling into a kind of legal limbo, held for weeks without a hearing.
….The long-term question is whether mass arrests are actually counterproductive. According to former detainees, community leaders and even Iraqi officials, many prison facilities have become breeding grounds for extremists. New prisoners are quickly won over by, or bullied into joining, militants in the jails. “The biggest school for Al Qaeda is prison,” contends Zaidan al-Jabri, an influential sheik from Anbar province who’s lived in Jordan since 2005 to escape the instability back home. “All these banned books are allowed in. Speeches and lectures by Al Qaeda terrorists are let in.” Omar Jubouri, the head of the human-rights organization in the Sunni-dominated Iraqi Islamic Party, is even more explicit. “These detainees will come out in the form of car bombs and suicide bombs,” he says.