We call on those states responsible for the invasion and occupation of Iraq to terminate their illegal and immoral war, and express our solidarity with the Iraqi people in their struggle for peace, justice and self-determination.

In particular, we demand:

  1. An immediate end to the US and UK-led occupation of Iraq;
  2. Urgent action to fully address the current humanitarian crises facing Iraq’s people, including help for the more than three million refugees and displaced persons;
  3. An end to all foreign interference in Iraq's affairs, including its oil industry, so that Iraqis can exercise their right to self-determination;
  4. Compensation and reparations from those countries responsible for war and sanctions on Iraq;
  5. Prosecution of all those responsible for war crimes, human rights abuses, and the theft of Iraq's resources.

We demand justice for Iraq.

This statement was adopted by the Justice for Iraq conference in London on 19th July 2008. We plan to publish this more widely in future. If you would like to add your name to the list of supporters please contact us.

Sunday 31 March 2013

The scandalous underestimation of Iraqi civilian casualties

Brussells Tribual reports (March 27th): When considering the number of civilian casualties during the Iraq occupation 2003-2013, it would be a good idea to use the scientific studies of the Lancet, ORB or even BBC to estimate the number of victims of the Iraq war.

Sunday 24 March 2013

From Dahr Jamail

IDP's finding little refuge in Iraq
Dahr Jamail reports for Al Jazeera (March 19th): Haifa has been living as a refugee in a corner of the Adhamiyah district of Baghdad, a stone's throw from the Tigris River, since 2007 when she fled increasing sectarian violence in her native Nahrawan town.
And according to current figures from Iraq’s Ministry of Migration and Displacement (MoMD), she is only one of 1.1 million other Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Iraq today.
UNHCR estimates provided to Al Jazeera by Jessica Hyba, the Public Information and External Relations Officer in Iraq show that the greatest number of IDP’s to be in the Baghdad governorate, and puts the number at 200,000 Iraqis.
War's legacy of cancer
Dahr Jamail reports for Al Jazeera (March 15th): Contamination from Depleted Uranium (DU) munitions and other military-related pollution is suspected of causing a sharp rises in congenital birth defects, cancer cases, and other illnesses throughout much of Iraq.
Many prominent doctors and scientists contend that DU contamination is also connected to the recent emergence of diseases that were not previously seen in Iraq, such as new illnesses in the kidney, lungs, and liver, as well as total immune system collapse. DU contamination may also be connected to the steep rise in leukaemia, renal, and anaemia cases, especially among children, being reported throughout many Iraqi governorates.

Sunday 17 March 2013

More protest

Iraq: Investigate Fatal Police Shootings in Mosul
HRW reports (March 16th): Iraqi authorities should order an immediate, transparent, and independent investigation into lethal police and army shootings of anti-government protesters on March 8, 2013, and others in recent weeks. The authorities should also ensure that those responsible for unlawful killings or excessive force are brought to justice.
Police may have killed one person and wounded others when they fired on protesters in Mosul on March 8, 2013. Soldiers who opened fire on demonstrators in Fallujah on January 25 killed nine people. Human Rights Watch on March 9 interviewed witnesses to the Mosul shootings, who said soldiers also searched and harassed demonstrators as they approached the protest site and tried to prevent ambulances from carrying away wounded people.
Clashes mark Iraq anti-government protests
Al Jazeera reports (March 15th): Protesters have clashed with police in a wave of anti-government protests to hit at least three cities in Iraq, police officials say.
The protests took place in Ramadi, Samara and Baghdad against what the participants described as government sectarian policies that target Sunni Muslims.
Anti-riot police in Baghdad used batons and water hoses in order to prevent worshippers from crossing a bridge leading to the most venerated Sunni mosque in the capital, located in the primarily Sunni neighbourhood of Azamiyah

Thursday 14 March 2013

Iraq's pain has only intensified since 2003

The country of my birth, already so damaged, is now crippled by fear of all-out civil war. But in the people there is hope, writes Sami Ramadani

It has always been painful for me to write about Iraq and Baghdad, the land of my birth and the city of my childhood. They say that time is a great healer, but, along with most Iraqis, I feel the pain even more deeply today. But this time the tears for what has already happened are mixed with a crippling fear that worse is yet to come: an all-out civil war. Ten years on from the shock and awe of the 2003 Bush and Blair war – which followed 13 years of murderous sanctions, and 35 years of Saddamist dictatorship – my tormented land, once a cradle of civilisation, is staring into the abyss.
Wanton imperialist intervention and dictatorial rule have together been responsible for the deaths of more than a million people since 1991. And yet, according to both Tony Blair and the former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, the "price is worth it". Blair, whom most Iraqis regard as a war criminal, is given VIP treatment by a culpable media. Iraqis listen in disbelief when he says: "I feel responsibility but no regret for removing Saddam Hussein." (As if Saddam and his henchmen were simply whisked away, leaving the people to build a democratic state). It enrages us to see Blair build a business empire, capitalising on his role in piling up more Iraqi skulls than even Saddam managed.
As an exile, I was painfully aware of Saddam's crimes, which for me started with the disappearance from Baghdad's medical college of my dearest school friend, Hazim. The Iraqi people are fully aware, too, that Saddam committed all his major crimes while an ally of western powers. On the eve of the 2003 invasion I wrote this for the Guardian: "In Iraq, the US record speaks for itself: it backed Saddam's party, the Ba'ath, to capture power in 1963, murdering thousands of socialists, communists and democrats; it backed the Ba'ath party in 1968 when Saddam was installed as vice-president; it helped him and the Shah of Iran in 1975 to crush the Kurdish nationalist movement; it increased its support for Saddam in 1979…helping him launch his war of aggression against Iran in 1980; it backed him throughout the horrific eight years of war (1980 to 1988), in which a million Iranians and Iraqis were slaughtered, in the full knowledge that he was using chemical weapons and gassing Kurds and Marsh Arabs; it encouraged him in 1990 to invade Kuwait…; it backed him in 1991 when Bush [senior] suddenly stopped the war, exactly 24 hours after the start of the great March uprising that engulfed the south and Iraqi Kurdistan…; and it backed him as the 'lesser evil' from March 1991 to September 11 2001 under the umbrella of murderous sanctions and the policy of "containment"."
But when it was no longer in their interests to back him, the US and UK drowned Iraq in blood. That war has still not been consigned to history – not for the people of Iraq or the region.
We haven't even counted the dead yet, let alone the injured, displaced and traumatised. Countless thousands are still missing. Of the more than 4 million refugees, at least a million are yet to go back to their homeland, and there still about a million internal refugees. On an almost daily basis, explosions and shootings continue to kill the innocent.
The US and UK still refuse to accept the harmful consequences ofradioactive depleted uranium munitions, and the US denies that it used chemical weapons in Falluja – but Iraqis see the evidence: the poisoned environment, the cancer and deformities. Lack of electricity, clean water and other essential services continues to hit millions of impoverished and unemployed people, in one of the richest countries on the planet. Women and children pay the highest price. Women's rights, and human rights in general, are daily suppressed.
And what of democracy, supposedly the point of it all? The US-led occupying authorities nurtured a "political process" and a constitution designed to sow sectarian and ethnic discord. Having failed to crush the resistance to direct occupation, they resorted to divide-and-rule to keep their foothold in Iraq. Using torture, sectarian death squads and billions of dollars, the occupation has succeeded in weakening the social fabric and elevating a corrupt ruling class that gets richer by the day, salivating at the prospect of acquiring a bigger share of Iraq's natural resources, which are mostly mortgaged to foreign oil companies and construction firms.
Warring sectarian and ethnic forces, either allied to or fearing US influence, dominate the dysfunctional and corrupt Iraqi state institutions, but the US embassy in Baghdad – the biggest in the world – still calls the shots. Iraq is not really a sovereign state, languishing under the punitiveChapter VII of the UN charter.
Political ironies abound. We have a so-called Shia-controlled government, yet most of Iraq's Shia population remain the poorest of all. And we have an Iraqi Kurdistan that is a separate state in all but name. The Kurdistan regional government is in alliance with the US and Turkey, a ruthless oppressor of the Kurdish people. It also has growing links to Israel (which it is at pains to deny).
Meanwhile, conflict over oil and territory is aggravating relations between the centre and the Kurdistan government. Popular anger against corruption and human rights violations is growing; for weeks now, we have had large-scale protests in the west of the country.
To add to the increased tension within the country, the war in Syria is threatening to create a wider regional conflict, with Iraq and Lebanon being sucked in. Israeli-championed anti-Iranian moves further widen the war's scope. The north-western region of Iraq borders Syria and it is where General Petraeus funded the Sahwa "awakening" militias in order to crush resistance in that region. Al-Qaida-type terrorists are also active in the area. They are natural allies of the terrorist al-Nusra Front of Syria. The de facto alliance between the US, Turkey, Israel and militantsthat has appeared in Syria is being mirrored in Iraq, with the additional ingredient of Saddamist remnants. US pragmatism knows no bounds!
These are just some of the ramifications of the US-led war on Iraq. It has been an unmitigated disaster, with genocidal dimensions for the Iraqi people, and continues to fuel conflicts and sow discord in the region.
There was once a strong democratic unifying force in Iraq, but this was crushed by the CIA-backed Ba'athist coup of 1963, and Saddam's regime. The re-emergence of such a force is now the Iraqi people's only hope. Without that, how will we count and mourn the millions of innocent victims, heal those wounds, and then, finally, build a better, more peaceful tomorrow?
The immediate prospects are frightening, but I write with the image of a brave Iraqi child imprinted in my mind. I saw him in Baghdad in July 2003; he was shouting angrily, waving a clenched fist of defiance at a US soldier whose machine gun was menacingly aimed at him. With that free spirit, and with solidarity among the people, a democratic, free Iraq shall surely rise strong and prosperous.

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Iraq: A decade of abuses detailed in new report

Ten years after the US-led invasion ended the brutal rule of Saddam Hussein, Iraq remains enmeshed in a grim cycle of human rights abuses, including attacks on civilians, torture of detainees, unfair trials and widespread use of the death penalty, said Amnesty International in a new report today.
Amnesty’s 82-page report - Iraq: A Decade of Abuses (PDF) - catalogues years of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees committed by Iraqi security forces and by foreign troops in the wake of the 2003 invasion. It highlights the Iraqi authorities’ failure to observe their obligations to uphold human rights and respect the rule of law in the face of deadly attacks by armed groups.
One of the cases highlighted in the report is that of Ramze Shihab Ahmed, a 70-year-old dual Iraqi-UK national who last June was given a 15-year prison sentence by a Baghdad court after a hearing that lasted only 15 minutes. His conviction was based on three pieces of oral testimony - a pre-trial confession that Mr Ahmed had repudiated saying he’d been tortured into making it, the allegedly coerced testimony of a co-defendant in a previous trial, and information from a secret informant. Amnesty is currently making representations on Mr Ahmed’s case to the Iraqi ambassador to the UK.
Meanwhile, Amnesty’s report shows that since the Iraqi government restored the death penalty in 2005 (after it had been suspended following the 2003 invasion) at least 447 prisoners have been executed, including Saddam Hussein, some of his main associates and alleged members of armed groups. Hundreds of prisoners currently await execution on death row, and Iraq - where 129 prisoners were hanged last year - is now one of the world’s leading executioners.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:
“Ten years after the end of Saddam Hussein’s repressive rule, many Iraqis today enjoy greater freedoms than they did under his Ba’athist regime, but the fundamental human rights gains that should have been achieved during the past decade have signally failed to materialise.
“The removal of Saddam Hussein in 2003 should have been followed by a process of fundamental human rights reform but almost from day one the occupying forces began committing torture and other serious violations against prisoners, as the Abu Ghraib scandal involving US forces and the beating to death of Baha Mousa in the custody of British soldiers in Basra graphically demonstrated.
“Neither the Iraqi government nor the former occupying powers have adhered to the standards required of them under international law, and the people of Iraq are still paying a heavy price for their failure.
“Death sentences and executions are being used on a horrendous scale. It is particularly abhorrent that many prisoners have been sentenced to death after unfair trials and on the basis of confessions they say they were forced to make under torture.
“Iraq remains caught in a cycle of torture and impunity that should long ago have been broken.”
Amnesty’s report shows that torture is rife and committed with impunity by government security forces, particularly against detainees arrested under anti-terrorism laws while they are held incommunicado for interrogation. Detainees have repeatedly alleged that they were tortured to force them to “confess” to serious crimes or to incriminate others while held in these conditions. Many have repudiated their confessions at trial only to see the courts admit them as evidence of their guilt without investigating their torture allegations, and sentencing them to long-term imprisonment or death. Meanwhile, adding to the injustice, the authorities have paraded detainees before press conferences or arranged for their “confessions” to be broadcast on local television in advance of their trials or trial verdicts in gross breach of the presumption of innocence and of the right of every accused to receive a fair trial.
In the UK and the USA, despite investigations into individual cases, there has been a failure to investigate systematically the widespread human rights violations committed by forces from those countries, and to hold those responsible to account at all levels. Iraqi victims of US human rights violations have found the route to remedy in the US courts blocked. The Iraqi authorities have periodically acknowledged torture and other ill-treatment but they have generally sought to explain them away as isolated occurrences or, in a few high-profile cases, have announced official inquiries whose outcomes, if any, subsequently were never revealed.
Methods of torture reported by detainees include:
  • Electric shocks applied to the genitals and other parts of the body
  • Partial suffocation by having a bag placed tightly over the head
  • Beatings while suspended in contorted positions
  • Deprivation of food, water and sleep
  • Threats of rape or that female relatives will be detained and raped
  • Women detainees subjected to sexual abuse
Download and read the report (PDF)

Sunday 10 March 2013

More abuse

Revealed: Pentagon's link to Iraqi torture centres
The Guardian reports (March 6th): The Pentagon sent a US veteran of the "dirty wars" in Central America to oversee sectarian police commando units in Iraq that set up secret detention and torture centres to get information from insurgents. These units conducted some of the worst acts of torture during the US occupation and accelerated the country's descent into full-scale civil war.
The allegations, made by US and Iraqi witnesses in the Guardian/BBC documentary, implicate US advisers for the first time in the human rights abuses committed by the commandos. It is also the first time that Petraeus – who last November was forced to resign as director of the CIA after a sex scandal – has been linked through an adviser to this abuse.
Iraqi Prisons: New Torture Methods. Innocent, but Sentenced to Death
BRussells Tribunal reports (March 2nd): The Iraqi Ministry of Justice has installed electronic systems that send high frequencies and ultrasound waves which affect the human central nervous system. Without a defense lawyer an officer of Tareq Al Hashemi’s security team is sentenced to death for crimes he didn’t commit, but forced to confess after severe torture.
Torture taint hangs over Iraq death sentences
Al-Jazeera reports (March 5th): For three years, Nadiha Hilal has begun each day waiting to hear if she's become a widow. Hilal's husband has been awaiting execution since he was sentenced to death in 2009, along with 10 other people in a case that illustrates Iraq's deeply troubled criminal justice system.
International human rights groups said they believe 3,000 Iraqis have been sentenced to death since 2005, when capital punishment was reinstated. The figure gives Iraq one of the highest rates of death sentences in the world.
The day after he was arrested, Hilal said police came for her. "They put blank papers in front of him and told him to either sign it or they were going to put me in the women's prison and even arrest his daughters," she told Al Jazeera in an interview on the outskirts of Fallujah, about 70 kilometres west of the capital Baghdad.
In a room next to her husband, Hilal said she could hear him screaming as he was tortured. "They pulled out his fingernails, then they used electricity on him," said Hilal.
Iraqi prisoners with gunshot wounds received no pain relief, public inquiry hears
The Guardian reports (March 7th): British military doctors failed to give any pain relief to Iraqi insurgents with gunshot wounds – although they did check their pulses and breathing before they were sent for interrogation, a public inquiry into allegations of murder and the abuse of unarmed prisoners by UK forces heard.
One man who had three bullet wounds and several shrapnel wounds to his right leg and foot says he told an army doctor that he was "in agony", but his detention record showed that he received no analgesics. He later needed surgery.
Iraqis captured by UK troops 'were told they had been taken to Abu Ghraib'
The Guardian reports 9|March 6th): Iraqis captured by British troops were told they had been taken to the notorious Abu Ghraib prison, used by Saddam Hussein and after the invasion by US forces, and said recordings of screams as though someone was being tortured were played to scare them, a public inquiry into allegations of murder and abuse of unarmed prisoners by UK forces heard on.
The prisoners alleged they were abused and humiliated after they were taken from a camp north of Basra to a British detention centre at Shaibah further south, Jonathan Acton Davis QC, counsel to the al-Sweady inquiry, said.
Iraqis' death certificates recorded signs of severe mutilation, inquiry hears
The Guardian reports (March 4th): A public inquiry into allegations that British troops murdered up to 20 unarmed prisoners and tortured five others following a fierce battle with Iraqi insurgents has opened in London with evidence that some of their death certificates recorded what were described as signs of severe mutilation.
Several of the deceased were said to bear signs of torture after their corpses were handed back to their families by British personnel at Camp Abu Naji, while the Iraqi death certificates recorded that one man's penis had been removed and two bodies were missing eyes, the inquiry was told.

Tuesday 5 March 2013

Patrick Cockburn in Counterpunch

A Government of Institutionalize Klepocracy

How Baghdad Became a City of Corruption

Iraqis are not na├»ve. Grim experience of their country’s rulers over the past 50 years leads many to suspect them of being self-serving, greedy, brutal, and incompetent. Ten years ago, some had hoped Iraqis might escape living in a permanent state of emergency as the US and Britain prepared to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Others were wary of Iraqis returning from abroad who promised to build a new nation.
A few months before the invasion, an Iraqi civil servant secretly interviewed in Baghdad made a gloomy forecast. “The exiled Iraqis are the exact replica of those who currently govern us… with the sole difference that the latter are already satiated since they have been robbing us for the past 30 years,” he said. “Those who accompany the US troops will be ravenous.”
Many of the Iraqis who came back to Iraq after the US-led invasion were people of high principle who had sacrificed much as opponents of Saddam Hussein. But fast forward 10 years and the prediction of the unnamed civil servant about the rapacity of Iraq’s new governors turns out to have been all too true. As one former minister puts it, “the Iraqi government is an institutionalised kleptocracy”.
It is a view shared by Iraqis in the frontline of business in Baghdad. Property prices in the capital are high and there are plenty of buyers. I asked Abduk-Karim Ali, a real-estate broker, who was paying so much for houses. He replied with a laugh that there were investors from Kurdistan and Bahrain, but most purchasers he dealt with are “the thieves of 2003 who have the money”. “Who are they?” I asked. “I mean the officials in the government,” said Mr Ali. “They buy the best properties for themselves.”
“The corruption is unbelievable,” says Ghassan al-Atiyyah, a political scientist and activist. “You can’t get a job in the army or the government unless you pay; you can’t even get out of prison unless you pay. Maybe a judge sets you free but you must pay for the paperwork, otherwise you stay there. Even if you are free you may be captured by some officer who paid $10,000 to $50,000 for his job and needs to get the money back.” In an Iraqi version of Catch-22 everything is for sale. One former prison detainee says he had to pay his guards $100 for a single shower. Racketeering is the norm: one entrepreneur built his house on top of a buried oil pipeline, drilled into it and siphoned off quantities of fuel.
Corruption complicates and poisons the daily life of Iraqis, especially those who cannot afford to pay. But the frequent demand for bribes does not in itself cripple the state or the economy. The highly autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government is deemed extremely corrupt, but its economy is booming and its economic management is praised as a model for the country. More damaging for Iraq is the wholesale theft of public funds. Despite tens of billions of dollars being spent, there is a continuing shortage of electricity and other necessities. Few Iraqis regret the fall of Saddam, but many recall that, after the devastating US air strikes on the infrastructure in 1991, power stations were patched up quickly using only  Iraqi resources.
There is more to Iraqi corruption than the stealing of oil revenues by a criminalised caste of politicians, parties and officials. Critics of Nouri al-Maliki, Prime Minister since 2006, say his method of political control is to allocate contracts to supporters, wavering friends or opponents whom he wants to win over. But that is not the end of the matter. Beneficiaries of this largesse “are threatened with investigation and exposure if they step out of line”, says one Iraqi observer. Even those who have not been awarded contracts know that they are vulnerable to being targeted by anti-corruption bodies. “Maliki uses files on his enemies like J Edgar Hoover,” the observer says. The system cannot be reformed by the government because it would be striking at the very mechanism by which it rules. State institutions for combating corruption have been systematically defanged, marginalised or intimidated. Five years ago, a senior US embassy official testified before Congress that Mr Maliki had issued “secret orders” preventing cases being referred to the courts by the Integrity Commission (an independent government commission tasked with tackling and preventing corruption) “if the cases involve former or current high-ranking Iraqi government officials, including the PM… The secret order is, literally, a license to steal.”
Nothing much has changed since then. Blatant scams continue and receive official protection. In 2011 Rahin al-Ugaili, the head of the Integrity Commission, unmasked “shell companies” abroad used by senior officials to award contracts to themselves. Full payment was made to the companies even if the contracts were never fully implemented. A report by the International Crisis Group, a not-for-profit organisation established to prevent and resolve conflict says that “when the [Integrity] Commission sought to engage the courts to prosecute it found the government blocked all avenues, pressuring Ugaili to resign in protest”. His duly did on 9 September 2011, the same day that Hadi al-Mahdi, a prominent journalistic critic of the government and leader of street protests, was assassinated in his home. A few hours before he was shot he had written on his Facebook page that he was “living in a state of terror” and had been threatened by government reprisals.
Not all Iraqi officials are corrupt. But all are vulnerable to anti-corruption charges. This has a crippling impact. A US businessman explained that he was dealing with a ministry in which he thought only 10 per cent of officials took bribes. “But the other 90 per cent know they might be targeted for investigation and therefore the safest course for them is to take their salaries and do nothing. The ministry is effectively paralysed.”
There are other reasons why director generals in ministries do nothing. Kassim, a senior engineer in the Electricity Ministry, says “director generals get their jobs through political connections. They control the big projects, but they have no experience to plan for the future so they do nothing to avoid being fired.” He is derisive about official promises to end the electricity shortage, saying this will not happen for 20 or 30 years “because they are putting too much of the emphasis on electricity production and not enough on transmission and distribution”.
The new elite benefiting from the system lead a mysterious existence, hidden behind the ramparts of the Green Zone or sweeping through the streets of Baghdad in armoured convoys. Most of the money embezzled is believed to go abroad while the rest is kept in the bank or discreetly invested in property. In Erbil in Kurdistan, businessmen say the housing market is partly sustained by money laundering by investors from Baghdad. “They turn up here with suitcases filled with millions of dinars,” one said.
There is plenty of money in Baghdad but little conspicuous consumption. Violence is down but fear of kidnapping is real and nobody wants draw attention to themselves by appearing wealthy. Mr Ali, the real-estate broker, says: “I drive a poor car so people don’t know I have money.” Rich Iraqis lived sealed off behind walls and bodyguards.
When I visited the bird market in Shorja, central Baghdad, a shopkeeper asked if I would like to buy a tiger or lion cub and showed me a picture of them gambolling at his farm outside the city. I asked who was buying them and he said “mostly tribal leaders – there is quite a fashion for them at the moment.”
Why is the corruption in Iraq so bad? The simple answer that Iraqis give is that “UN sanctions destroyed Iraqi society in the 1990s and the Americans destroyed the Iraqi state after 2003”. Patronage based on party, family or community determines who gets a job. There are many  winners as well as losers and all depends on Iraqi oil exports going up and prices staying high. “I only once saw panic in the cabinet,” says an ex-minister, “and that was when there was a sharp drop in the price of oil.”

Sunday 3 March 2013

For Iraqi women, America's promise of democracy is anything but liberation

Iraq's jailers learned their abuses from the allied occupiers. And under today's sectarian regime, women are under assault

A decade on from the US-led invasion of Iraq, the destruction caused by foreign occupation and the subsequent regime has had a massive impact on Iraqis' daily life – the most disturbing example of which is violence against women. At the same time, the sectarian regime's policy on religious garb is forcing women to retire their hard-earned rights across the spectrum: employment, freedom of movement, civil marriage, welfare benefits, and the right to education and health services.
Instead, they are seeking survival and protection for themselves and their families. But for many, the violence they face comes from the very institution that should guarantee their safety: the government. Iraqi regime officials often echo the same denials of the US-UK occupation authorities, saying that there are few or no women detainees. An increasing number of international and Iraqi human rights organizations reports otherwise.
The plight of women detainees was the starting point for the mass protests that have spread through many Iraqi provinces since 25 December 2012. Their treatment by the security forces has been a bleeding wound – and one shrouded in secrecy, especially since 2003. Women have been routinely detained as hostages – a tactic to force their male loved ones to surrender to security forces, or confess to crimes ascribed to them. Banners and placards carried by hundreds of thousands of protesters portray images of women behind bars pleading for justice.
According to Mohamed al-Dainy, an Iraqi MP, there was 1,053 cases of documented rape (pdf) cases by the occupying troops and Iraqi forces between 2003 and 2007. Lawyers acting on behalf of former detainees say that UK detention practices between 2003 and 2008 included unlawful killings, beatings, hooding, sleep deprivation, forced nudity and sexual humiliation, sometimes involving women and children. The abuses were endemic, allege the detainees' lawyers, arising from the "systems, management culture and training" of the British military.
These same occupation forces trained Iraqi forces. Abuses often occurred under the supervision of US commanders, who were unwilling to intervene, as the Washington Post reported:
"Of all the bloodshed in Iraq, none may be more disturbing than the campaign of torture and murder being conducted by US-trained government police forces."
In the aftermath of Abu Ghraib, detainees were handed over to Iraqi forces. This enabled them to be tortured, while occupation troops could disclaim responsibility.
Today, Iraq can boast one of the highest execution rates in the world. In a single day, 19 January 2012, 34 individuals, including two women, were executed – an act described by UN High Commissioner for Human RightsNavi Pillay as shocking:
"Given the lack of transparency in court proceedings, major concerns about due process and fairness of trials, and the very wide range of offences for which the death penalty can be imposed in Iraq."
No wonder, ten years after the invasion, the Iraqi authorities are accused by US-based Human Rights Watch of "violating with impunity the rights of Iraq's most vulnerable citizens, especially women and detainees". HRW's account is echoed by a report by the Iraqi parliament's own human rights and women, family and children's committees, which found that there are 1,030 women detainees suffering from widespread abuse, including threats of rape.
Responding to these findings, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki threatened to "arrest those members of parliament who had discussed the violence against women detainees". Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Hussain al-Shahristani has acknowledged that there are 13,000 prisoners in custody accused of terror offences, but he only mentioned women detainees in passing:
"We transferred all women prisoners to prisons in their home provinces."
Al-Shahristani's statement is one in a long list of contradictory and misleading statements by the regime's most senior officials – from al-Maliki speaking of "not more than a handful of women terrorists", to his contradictory promise that he will pardon all "women detainees who have been arrested without a judicial order or in lieu of a crime committed by some of their male relatives". That assurance was followed by parading nine women, cloaked in black from head to toe, on the official state TV channel, al-Iraqiya, as a gesture of the regime's "good will".
Protesters and Iraqi human rights organizations estimate that there are as many as 5,000 female detainees. The truth is leaking out, drip by drip. A few weeks ago, 168 women detainees were released and there were promises of another 32 waiting to be released. No one accused of torture, rape or abuse has yet been brought to justice.
And it was all supposed to be so different. That was what Iraqi women were promised.
A political quota system, established in post-invasion Iraq, was designed to ensure that at least 25% of the members of the parliament were women. That was applauded as a great achievement of the "New Iraq" – compared with 8% female representation under Ba'athist regime. But this token statistic has repeatedly been trotted out to cover up the regime's crimes against women.
In reality, the al-Maliki government has since dispensed with the quota for government posts: there is only one woman minister among 44 positions. But even this appointment contains a grim irony: the minister for women's affairs, Ibtihal al-Zaidi, didn't hesitate to announce:
"I am against the equality between men and woman. If women are equal to men, they are going to lose a lot."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many women's organisations have demanded the abolition of the ministry of women's affairs after the minister adopted a position against, rather than for, women's rights.
Human rights, including women's rights, are a litmus test for democracy. Statements by senior officials, including the prime minister himself, show that – contrary to what some Iraqis had hoped for – the "liberators" have actually set the conditions for the continuity of injustice. And that, in turn, gives rise to extremism.