Iraq's human rights under critical threat

As Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki strives to alter the result of Iraq’s March 7 parliamentary election with the aim of regaining the top job, he is being assailed by rivals, US officials and human rights organisations. Since the election commission announced that his State of Law bloc, which won 89 seats in the 325-member assembly, had been edged out of the lead by Iyad Allawi’s Iraqiya, with 91 seats, Maliki has desperately searched for means to come out in front. He arrested an Iraqiya winner from a restive northern province. A panel affiliated with Maliki disqualified Iraqiya candidates accused of belonging to the outlawed Baath party. The election commission, which insists that the poll was credible, has been compelled by Maliki to recount 2.4 million votes in Baghdad.

Allawi has charged Maliki with besieging his bloc and creating a ‘dangerous situation’ and vows to take legal action. But Allawi also warned that Iraq’s political process has been handed over to a judiciary appointed by the parties in power.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Iraqi politicians to ‘speedily’ form a new government while US Ambassador to Baghdad Christopher Hill has expressed impatience with Maliki’s machinations.

Reluctance for alliance

So far, the Shia sectarian Maliki and secular Allawi blocs have failed to convince potential coalition partners to join a government. Maliki’s former sectarian Shia allies have expressed unwillingness to cooperate with him. They favour a national unity government including Allawi, anathema to Maliki.

The Obama administration is concerned that the political vacuum could give rise to fresh violence which could slow the withdrawal of US forces, scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.

According to the Minority Rights Group, Iraqis are third on a 2010 list of peoples most under threat. Somalis are first, Darfuris second, and Afghans fourth. Publication of the ranking coincided with the release of a report by Amnesty International which says civilians are not only slain in random attacks staged by al-Qaeda-linked Sunni jihadi factions but also targeted by sectarian militias and government forces.

In its 28-page document entitled ‘Iraq: Civilians Under Fire’, Amnesty points out that the largest number of fatalities are caused by Sunni jihadis opposed to the US occupation and the Shia-dominated government. Since last August these attacks have killed more than 850 people, including at least 163 in April.

Iraqis belonging to the small Christian, Sabean-Mandaean and Yezidi communities are forced to hide their identities. A disproportionate number of members of these minority communities are being driven from their homes and country.

Hijab is back

Iraqi women and girls, once the most liberated in West Asia, are compelled to wear the hijab (headscarf) and stay at home. Women are killed by relatives for violating conservative codes of behaviour; gay men are slain for their sexual orientation. Human rights workers, feminists, journalists, and political activists are abducted and murdered. Candidates for the March 7 parliamentary election, who were attacked during the race, remain at risk. Many of the 2.7 Iraqis displaced within the country “face economic hardship and lack basic services”, eviction from temporary accommodation and camps, and violence. Exiles returning to their homes are assaulted. Criminal gangs kidnap Iraqis and hold them for ransom.

Amnesty holds community, political and religious leaders responsible for failing to prevent such attacks and bring those guilty to justice. Some leaders even incite violence. A ‘climate of impunity’ has been “entrenched by the involvement of the authorities themselves in numerous incidents of intimidation of and attacks on critics, including journalists reporting on alleged corruption and misconduct by officials”.

Amnesty argues that both random and specific attacks on civilians are war crimes and crimes against humanity. The organisation calls on the US, the Iraqi government and the international community to take action against perpetrators of violence and deal with impunity. Amnesty argues that countries of asylum, the UK in particular, should not forcibly send Iraqis back to their home country.

A third organisation, Human Rights Watch chimed in with the revelation that Iraqis detained in the northern city of Mosul last November and held by Maliki’s military office were brutally tortured at a secret prison in Baghdad. The post-war Iraqi regime was meant to put an end to such prisons and treatment. However, Iraqi sources with knowledge of prisons tell Deccan Herald that torture and abuse are common in Iraqi prisons.

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