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The Overloaded Prisons of Iraq

How the Fight Against ISIS Increases the Burden

At the prison in Nasiriyah, Iraq, September 2011. Atef Hassan / REUTERS

Almost every day, officials in Iraq arrest and imprison dozens of suspected Islamic State (ISIS) militants. According to Human Rights Watch, over the past two years, more than 9,000 have been sent to jail on ISIS-related charges, and most of them are housed in Iraqi Kurdistan because of its relatively tighter security. It might seem like good news that so many terrorists have been taken off the battlefield, but the number of prisoners is becoming a serious problem, especially as Iraqi and Western forces push deeper into ISIS' territory and make even more arrests. The vast number of inmates is putting enormous pressure on Iraq’s and Kurdistan’s economies and criminal justice systems and may create a whole new set of ISIS threats.

Housing an ISIS prisoner is expensive. In a region where the average teacher’s salary is $300 a month, incarceration costs about $250 per day per prisoner, according to

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