Troops in southern Iraq focus on processing, care of Iraqi POWs
April 10, 2003
ARLINGTON, Va. — Instead of planning ways to kill their enemy, soldiers in the southeastern part of Iraq instead planned Wednesday on how to feed, house and make them comfortable.
In 21 days of combat, coalition forces have rounded up about 7,300 prisoners, former combatants who now will be housed in a makeshift tent city in the desert outside of Umm Qasr, said Army Col. John Della Jacono, deputy chief of staff for the Coalition Forces Land Component Command in Iraq.
“Most of the EPWs [enemy prisoners of war] are not hungry. They are well-taken care of, all the way from Baghdad to this location,” Della Jacono said Wednesday in a live videoconference linked to reporters in Qatar and at the Pentagon.
Of the mass, Wednesday, 236 were receiving medical treatment either on the U.S. hospital ship USNS Comfort, or in field hospitals set up in various locations in Iraq, said Della Jacono, who has been a military police officer for most of his 28 years of service.
On Monday, the Army’s 800th Military Police Brigade out of Uniondale, N.Y., took over the facility at Umm Qasr, originally erected by British forces with various tents and an impressive mess hall erected “in record time.”
The “quite extensive” compound of tents is set up in the desert and surrounded by constantina wire and even guard towers.
“It’s a mini-town, if you will,” Della Jacono said. Fifteen to 20 prisoners will be assigned per tent and the Umm Qasr compound, which could eventually house up to 24,000 if necessary, he said. Not all of the 7,300 prisoners have arrived yet at the Umm Qasr facility.
Coalition forces have had a hard time determining who is who among the prisoners because so few are clad in full military uniforms, he said.
But officials believe they might have two or three key regime general officers, though he provided no additional information as to how valuable those prisoners might be to the coalition campaign.
Some prisoners are speaking freely with U.S. forces, sharing information on enemy troop readiness and cohesion, he said.
At first, officials planned to house an estimated 50,000 prisoners, but with the war seemingly drawing to an end, it appears as if that number will be much lower. The figure also is lower than the more than 83,000 prisoners taken during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, he said.
“That was a different campaign. A lot of them from Desert Storm were out there weathering aerial bombardments for a significant number of weeks. A lot of the guys were in foxholes and not being fed. They were starving,” Della Jacono said.
They also had invaded Kuwait and were trapped in the country once ground coalition forces entered. In this campaign, they’ve had to ability to withdraw and go home, he said.
This week, military lawyers will begin the arduous vetting process to determine who of the prisoners should remain classified as prisoners of war, who are civilian combatants, who should be allowed to return home, and who, if any, should face criminal prosecution.
Once they arrive at the Umm Qasr facility, prisoners receive prayer blankets and Qurans and two hot meals a day — soup, tea and bread in the mornings, and rice, meats and vegetables in the evening. Iraqi prisoners prepare some of the evening meals, Della Jacono said. They also receive boxed meals, juices and water.
Representatives from the International Committee of the Red Cross are at the facility and have visited with prisoners, he said.
The United States has no plans to transport any of the holding facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, set up to house prisoners taken during conflicts in Afghanistan.
“This theater internment facility is the final home … for these EPWs … and all captured are expeditiously moved back to this location,” he said.