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In Iraq, the Methboub family waits – and copes

The Methboub family, which the Monitor has followed since 2002, work to free a son from jail and anguish over a daughter’s soured marriage. They had little hope Sunday's election in Iraq would change their lives significantly.

By Staff writer / March 8, 2010

(L. to r.) Widow Karima, Mahmoud (age 15), Duha (18), Zainab (21), grandson Fahad (3), and Hibba (18). Eldest son Ali has been jailed for 18 months; Fatima was wed in 2008.

Scott Peterson/Getty Images

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Expectations of good news have rarely been higher in the poor Iraqi household of Karima Selman Methboub, whose son Ali is due in coming weeks to be released from prison after more than 1-1/2 years.

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The widowed mother of eight children – whose Baghdad family dramas the Monitor has followed since 2002, when Saddam Hussein was still in control – has done everything in her power to bring home her son, who even police and court officials have told her was wrongly arrested during a joint US-Iraqi police raid on a coffee shop.

Ali’s saga began, according to what he's told his family, with beatings, burnings, and torture to force a false confession of kidnapping and a killing – supposedly of a cousin, who is still very much alive. (The Monitor could not independently corroborate his account, but it has reported on the culture of abuse that persists in Iraqi prisons.) The saga has devolved into a less violent but endless game of uncertainty about when he might be released, says the family, first contacted by Ali on phones smuggled into the jail. Later, they were allowed visits.

The family has paid thousands of dollars in bribes to police and judicial officials, lawyers, and others who promised – fruitlessly – to speed his release. Gold from one daughter’s marriage and Methboub’s own thinning stock was sold.

“This is what I am praying for, that God will set him on the right path [to freedom],” says Methboub, her eyes tearing up at the thought of her oldest son still behind bars. “Everyone knows he is a poor young man, and innocent.”

'Everything costs money'

Before his arrest, Ali had just completed a training course in Jordan as a security guard for a government ministry. He had no previous police record.

The family has been required to get certification letters from three local police stations saying that Ali is not wanted by them, as well as a similar document from the Baghdad operations center – just in case the local cops had been bribed.

“Everything costs money! There is nothing that does not,” laments Methboub, as she sits with several of her daughters beside a glowing heater as late winter dusk settles into darkness outside their modest apartment. “Now the officer responsible for the case wants a laptop computer. He told us: ‘This is our government, it’s a failure.’ So this is the government we have.”

The judge in Ali’s court case last week ordered him released from the stark conditions of the Major Crimes Unit prison, but he is not home yet. The Methboub son has instead been transferred to a local police lock-up, where there is a remaining complaint about burning shops that sell alcohol, but conditions are better. It was good news for the family, which has been told that this is the last hurdle, and one that should be easily resolved in coming weeks.