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While Baghdad improves, a family's hopes still arrested by war

The Methboubs, a family the Monitor has followed since 2002, have been devastated by the imprisonment of one son who says he's being held on false charges.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 30, 2008

Moments of joy: Four of Karima Selman Methboub's eight children (from left, Mahmoud, Amal, Duha, and Hibba) kept vigil last month for the release of their arrested brother.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images

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This was supposed to be the year that their hopes soared beyond the war's violence and uncertainty.

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Karima Selman Methboub and her family moved into a larger apartment in a safer neighborhood back in January and the oldest daughter, Fatima, was married in a noisy festival.

But optimism has turned to despair for this widow and her eight children whose saga the Monitor has followed since late 2002, before the fall of Saddam Hussein.

One son was recently jailed after being swept up in a joint US-Iraqi raid on a coffee shop, and Mrs. Methboub is coping with an illness that led to one costly operation and requires another.

While security has improved in Iraq and the killings are down across the board, the horror of this conflict still shapes the daily lives for many ordinary families like the Methboubs.

On a recent day in their Baghdad home, reminders of his tearful, pleading phone calls elicited wails from his mother and tears from his ashen-faced sisters. Methboub is all too aware what can go on inside Iraqi prisons – torture, rampant abuse, and worse.

The raid

The oldest Methboub son has been imprisoned now for more than 90 days. On a cellphone smuggled in by another prisoner, he told them he had been abused and forced to make a false confession on murder and kidnapping charges.

"There is no accusation against him. They just took him from the street," says Methboub, who does not doubt her son's innocence. "If [he] is not released, I will die," she says. "If my son is still with them, he will die."

Methboub says her son, whom the Monitor is not naming due to concerns for his safety, has never been in trouble or involved in political or sectarian issues in the past.

Senior US military officers and United Nations officials – including the top UN Human Rights official for Iraq – have been made aware of the case.

Good news came in recent days: Iraqi court officials visited to say that they knew the son was innocent, but that the process of his release would take more time. In Iraq, innocent prisoners are often arrested and held, in an attempt to extort money from desperate families.

The Methboubs were told that they'd have until Thursday to pay $9,500 to secure the son's release. If they didn't have the money, he would be held longer. So far they have cobbled together almost half that amount by selling daughter Zainab's wedding gold and what remains of the mother's jewelry and other items.

Another Methboub son was at the coffee shop on the day of the raid but escaped arrest.

"We were drinking our tea and suddenly we see pistols over everyone's heads," Mohamed recalls. An informant wearing a mask pointed out to the Iraqi police many young men.

They were fingerprinted by US forces, Mohamed says, before being handed back to Iraqi police units. Nearly all have since been released.

Despite this family's poverty, they are making every effort to pay their way out. They say they have already given $500 to a court lawyer who promised she could do something but did not. Then they cobbled together a $1,700 (2 million Iraqi dinar) loan from a shop owner to pay off a police officer who said he could act in exchange for the money.

Another family has been able to buy the freedom of their son who was nabbed in the same raid.