ANBAR, Iraq — Families and the local government in the Iraqi province of Anbar are demanding for Baghdad and the Shiite militias to release some 2,000 people who were arrested fleeing the ISIS conflict
"My sons were arrested at the Razaza checkpoint. There were taken one by one. We don't know whether the checkpoints were installed to protect people or to make them disappear," said Talal Sabaawi.
They don't know where to turn for help.
"I have visited just about every institution. I also went as far as Baghdad, but it did not yield any results," Sabaawi added.
People claim there are children, youth and the elderly among those arrested.
"Since my husband was taken, I myself have to provide for my children. They want their needs to be met including clothes, but I have nothing," Lamia Awad said.
"May God reward our neighbours who are offering a helping hand. I want to meet my husband again, dead or alive. I want him to be freed," she added.
Anbar is Iraq's largest province by area and the Sunni heartland. Its capital is Ramadi.
Abu Mahdi, age 70, says he was recently released after being beaten by metal and sticks.
He claimed militiamen poured cold water on them during the winter.
"They were forcing children age 5 to get confessions. They separated the detainees and put them in groups of two. They were torturing and beating us," said another man, Haji Salih Khalaf.
He says they were given salt water to drink.
"They were giving us water from a well. When I washed my face and hands I realized that my skin became white. We said the water is salty, but they shouted to us saying, ‘Stay silent and don't say it is salty!’ " said Khalaf.
Most were arrested at Razaza checkpoint set up by Hashd forces when they were trying to flee southward.
Anbar Governor Ali Farhan has reached out to various entities.
"We have tried various ways to find those people, but so far the efforts have been fruitless. We have all their names and details documented, and these have been delivered to the commander-in-chief the prime minister, and the joint operations," he said.
More than 1.8 million Iraqis remain displaced because of the ISIS conflict. Many are Sunni Arabs. They increasingly complain of political disenfranchisement and Iraqi's security institutions becoming dominated by Shiite Arabs.
Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, a secular Shiite politician, is the commander-in-chief of all Iraqi armed forces. Baghdad's control of Shiite paramilitias and militias was a concern under his predecessor.
Reporting by Hiwa Husamadin