BAGHDAD, Iraq, March 6 — Sabrea Kudi cannot find her son. He was taken by American soldiers nearly nine months ago, and there has been no trace of him since.
"I'm afraid he's dead," Ms. Kudi said.
Lara Waad cannot find her husband. He was arrested in a raid, too.
"I had God — and I had him," she said. "Now I am alone."
In Abu Sifa, a sunbaked village north of Baghdad, entire swaths of farmland have been cleared of males — fathers, sons, brothers, cousins.
There are no men to do men's work. Women till the fields, guard the houses and hoist sacks of grapefruit on their backs.
"Essam, come here," said Malaika Hassan, to her grandson. "Show our friends who is the new man of the house." Essam nuzzled in her skirt. He is 10 years old.
Iraq has a new generation of missing men. But instead of ending up in mass graves or at the bottom of the Tigris River, as they often did during the rule of Saddam Hussein, they are detained somewhere in American jails.
Although the insurgency has cooled, with suicide attacks against civilians now eclipsing armed clashes with American troops, American forces are still conducting daily raids, bursting into homes and sweeping up families. More than 10,000 men and boys are in custody. According to a detainee database maintained by the military, the oldest prisoner is 75, the youngest 11.
Military officials say some of the detainees have been accused of serious offenses, including shooting down helicopters and planting roadside bombs.
But the 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 1,166 detainees be released.
Part of the reason so many are being held is that soldiers' work is not police work. Tips are not as reliable. Artillerymen are not detectives. The troops cast a wide net and then sort through the catch, with much of the investigation coming after the arrest, not before.
"But we have to be careful about it," said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the deputy director of operations for the occupying military forces. "We don't want to arrest an entire village and come out with one rifle."
"There is an old Arabic expression," he added. "Don't do a good deed and then throw it in the river."
The detainee issue is increasingly contentious. Under international law, the American authorities have the right as occupiers to detain anyone who poses a security threat, even without enough evidence to prosecute. But in Iraq, unlike in postwar Japan or Germany, occupation has come without pacification. The security threat did not end May 1, when major combat was declared over, and detentions have continued long after Iraqi troops were routed.
But the occupation is scheduled to end June 30, when the American authorities plan to hand sovereignty back to the Iraqi people. American officials say it is unclear how that will affect the status of detainees.
The American authorities say they are trying to help people locate detained relatives, even posting prisoner lists on the Internet.
But computers are strange things to most Iraqis, and many families still have no idea where their men are. Often they were led away in the middle of the night, with bags over their heads and no explanation. Many people have said that when they asked soldiers where their family members were being taken, they were told to shut up. A few hundred women have also been detained. And complicating the families' searches, there are several major prisons and hundreds of smaller jails and bases across Iraq.
"It took the Americans five minutes to take my son," said Fadil Abdulhamid. "It has taken me more than three weeks to find him."
Adil Allami, a lawyer with the Human Rights Organization of Iraq, said security detainees had essentially no rights. None have lawyers, and most are denied visits.
"Iraq has turned into one big Guantánamo," Mr. Allami said, referring to the United States military prison in Cuba where hundreds of terrorism suspects are being held, mostly without charges.
Several men recently released from American jails in Iraq have said they were kicked in the head, choked and put in cold, wet rooms for days at a time. The American authorities declined to comment on the charges, pending the outcome of an investigation. Last month, they suspended 17 enlisted men and officers, including a battalion commander and a company commander, after abuse allegations surfaced at Abu Ghraib prison, where thousands of prisoners are being held.
The prison, west of Baghdad, is a nucleus of despair. Every day, crowds of women in black shrouds jam the front gates, squinting up at the guard towers, clutching worn pieces of paper, pleading with guards to see their missing men.
"Move! Move! Move!" an American sergeant shouted at them on a recent day.
Ms. Kudi, whose son, Muhammad, was detained nearly nine months ago, has been to Abu Ghraib more than 20 times. The huge prison is the center of her continuing odyssey through military bases, jails, assistance centers, hospitals and morgues. She said she had been shoved by soldiers and chased by dogs.
"If they want to kill me, kill me," Ms. Kudi said. "Just give me my son."
Ms. Kudi is a compact woman with tribal marks and the sorry story of modern Iraq tattooed on her face. She says she is around 50 years old. She looks much older.
Her first son died in the Iran-Iraq war, her second in Kuwait in 1991, her third during the American invasion last year. Two more boys have been crippled in battle. Her husband is dead.
On June 23, she said Muhammad, a 32-year-old furniture maker, was waiting in his truck at an American checkpoint in Ramadi when a gun battle broke out. Witnesses said Muhammad was lightly wounded in the cross-fire and then detained by American forces.
Three days later, American troops returned Muhammad's truck. But they did not know what had happened to Muhammad.
The other day, as she had done before, Ms. Kudi went to an assistance center in Baghdad to check the computer database of prisoners. Again, she stepped into a little office and sat down in a little chair. Again, she watched a woman behind a desk key in her son's name. Again, she was told there was no record.
A line of people waited behind her. Many got the same empty news.
The reasons for the detentions differ. The military authorities say they arrested Ms. Waad's husband because he may have played a part in shooting down a Chinook helicopter last year. Ms. Waad said that he was a taxi driver and that it was a case of mistaken identity.
Mr. Abdulhamid, who has been looking for his son for three weeks, said his son was arrested because he was at a wedding where guns were shot off in celebration. It is a common story.
In Abu Sifa, the farming village north of Baghdad, 83 people were detained in December during a raid for a high-level former member of Mr. Hussein's Baath Party. But people in Abu Sifa say everyone here was a Baathist.
"Even the dogs were Baathists," said Munther Haddam, a farmer. "What's the big deal?"
Ms. Hassan, who lives with her 10-year-old grandson, said American soldiers took her four adult sons. "Couldn't they have left me one?" she asked.
Most of the village teachers were led away, too.
Saba Muhammad, an Abu Sifa elder, began to count them on his hands: Salah, Faisal, Ahmed, Ayub, Emad, Raad.
Soon he ran out of fingers.
"Eleven," Mr. Muhammad said. "Eleven teachers. Now you tell me how we're supposed to feel about Americans."