According to the New York Times on Sunday, one village north of Baghdad is now completely devoid of men – even grandfathers as old as 75 make it to the detention centres.

In Abu Sifa, it is only women who till the fields, care for children, guard their homes and carry the heavy sacks of grapefruit to market.

Few know where their relatives are being held.

A US move to post some names on the internet has proved largely useless, with few having access to a computer.

No rights

One villager, Fadil Abd Al-Hamid told the newspaper: "It took the Americans five minutes to take my son. It has taken me more than three weeks to find him."

"Iraq has turned into one big Guantanamo"

Adil Allami, 
lawyer with the Human Rights Organisation of Iraq

Adil Allami, a lawyer with the Human Rights Organisation of Iraq, said security detainees had essentially no rights.

None have lawyers, and most are denied visits.

"Iraq has turned into one big Guantanamo," Allami said, referring to the United States military prison in Cuba where hundreds of suspects are being held, mostly without charges.

Necessity of arrests

But military officials said some of the detainees had been accused of serious offenses, including shooting down helicopters and planting roadside bombs.

However, these same officials acknowledge that most of the people captured are probably not dangerous.
 
Of a recent batch of cases reviewed by military judges, they recommended that 963 of 1166 detainees be released.

Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, the deputy director of operations from occupation forces, agreed it was difficult for soldiers to do police work.

"We don't want to arrest an entire village and come out with one rifle", but with 10,000 arrested this is exactly what has happened in some regions.

Legal

Under international law, the US occupation authorities have the right to detain anyone who poses a security threat, even without enough evidence to prosecute.
 
But because the security threat did not end on 1 May, when major combat was declared over, detentions have continued long after the Iraqi army was routed.

Now the occupation is scheduled to end on 30 June, when sovereignty is to be handed to a US-sanctioned Iraqi government.

Officials say it is unclear how that will affect the status of detainees.