In the beginning of December 2008 the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) released its human rights report covering the first six months of the year. The paper documented the continuing violence and casualties in Iraq, as well as the situation of women, minorities, the press, the internally displaced, and detainees. The U.N found that there are still mass casualty attacks in Iraq, although not at previous levels. Women are also targeted, especially in Kurdistan in honor killings, minorities continue to be threatened, the press, especially in Kurdistan continues to be limited, and the situation of the country’s internally displaced is deteriorating. Iraq’s prisons are also overcrowded with reports of torture and abuse, as the legal system is overloaded. Overall, while security is improving in Iraq, the U.N. agency noted that there are still widespread abuses and human rights concerns.
Violence is down, but not over in Iraq. On January 23, 2008, for example, there was a bombing in Mosul that killed 15 and wounded 132. There continue to be attacks on civilians, security forces, government officials, politicians, educators, professionals, members of the judicial system, and the press. The U.N. no longer reports on total casualties for the country however. In its January 2007 Human Rights report, the U.N. recorded almost three times as many deaths as the Iraqi government. Baghdad then stopped issuing official death counts claiming that it couldn’t accurately keep track of deaths, but also to conceal the increasing killings due to the sectarian war that was taking off at that time.
Instead of total deaths, the report covered mass casualty attacks. The U.N. found that these declined from January to June 2008. There were eight such attacks in January compared to only 4 in June, while the number of killed and wounded went down from 330 to 206 for those same months. From March to June however, the total number of casualties actually increased going from 161 to 206.
Large Scale Attacks
January – 8 attacks resulting in 330 casualties
February – 6 attacks resulting in 253 casualties
March – 5 attacks resulting in 161 casualties
April – 6 attacks resulting in 177 casualties
May – 3 attacks resulting in 205 casualties
June – 4 attacks resulting in 206 casualties
Government employees, religious figures, activists, judges, lawyers, professionals, and academics all continue to be targeted. Attacks on security forces not only resulted in they being wounded and killed, but civilians as well. There were 11 such incidents resulting in 274 civilian casualties from January to June 2008. There were 22 attacks on government officials, politicians and civil servants. In June for example, two members of the Sadr City Council were killed and ten wounded in a bombing of the council building. Kidnappings are also common, especially in Diyala province. Large numbers of unidentified bodies were found in Diyala, Ninewa, Anbar, Qadisiyah, but mainly in Baghdad. Mass graves have also been found, particularly after insurgents have been cleared from an area.
Deaths due to foreigners were also a concern. There were two high-profile cases of Iraqis being wounded and killed by security contractors in the first six months of 2008. In January 5 a car fleeing an attack hit five students, aged 6-10. In February Blackwater contractors trying to clear traffic killed one civilian. There were also six Coalition air strikes that resulted in civilian casualties.
The U.N. received many complaints about the rights of women being limited by conservatives in their neighborhoods, in the government, and in schools. The Major concern was in Kurdistan where there were reports of honor killings. A women’s group in Irbil found 145 cases of violence against women in just the first two months of 2008. In May, the Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister held a meeting on violence against women promising action on this issue. England’s Guardian also just reported on honor killings in Basra where authorities were turning a blind eye.
Iraq’s minorities, consisting of Shabaks, Yezidis, Christians, and Turkomen in Ninewa and Tamim continue to worry the U.N. There were 17 reported kidnappings of Christians in those two provinces, along with nine attacks on Shabaks, mostly in Mosul, 2 Turkomen leaders were killed in that city in June, and Sabean Mandeans were threatened.
Journalists continue to be attacked in Iraq. The Kurds were singled out in the report for their restrictions on the press as well. Many reporters and editors have been arrested in Kurdistan, with the Committee to Protect Journalists issuing a report in May calling for the end of their persecution. The KRG claims that they are only going after those that are guilty of libel and lack professionalism, but UNAMI doubts these claims. The results have been that many papers are intimidated by the regional government, and practice self-censorship.
The U.N. counts 2.8 million internally displaced Iraqis. 1.2 million were forced out of their homes before 2006, and 1.6 million afterwards. Displacement has slowed in 2008, and over 100,000 Iraqis have returned to their homes since 2007. There were new displacements in the Dora, Jamia, Sulaik, Adhamiya and Karkh districts of Baghdad however. The U.N. is also concerned about the fact that eleven of Iraq’s eighteen provinces have restricted the movement of refugees into their areas. Overall, the internally displaced suffer from a lack of services and jobs, resulting in deteriorating living conditions.
The plight of Iraqi detainees was a major concern. At the end of June 2008 there were a total of 50,595 prisoners. The highest number was in March when there were 56,320.
Detainees - 2008
January: 23,800 held by Coalition, 26,676 held by Iraq, TOTAL: 50,476
February: 23,862 held by Coalition, 26,854 held by Iraq, TOTAL: 50,791
March: 23,862 held by Coalition, 32,458 held by Iraq, TOTAL: 56,320
April: 23,862 held by Coalition, 28,283 held by Iraq, TOTAL: 52,145
May: 23,229 held by Coalition, 28,028 held by Iraq, TOTAL: 51,257
June: 23,229 held by Coalition, 27,366 held by Iraq, TOTAL: 50,595
The jump in numbers in March coincided with the security operation in Basra
These numbers revealed two things. First, the February 2008 Amnesty Law has had no real affect on prisoners. Most of those affected by the act were actually people on wanted lists or on bail with only 2,000 detainees and convicts let go. Second, the U.S. setup a new program in its prison facilities during the Surge, aimed at increasing the number of those released. They claimed that they were discharging more prisoners than taking in new ones, but for the first six months of 2008 there as no real change in Iraqis held by the Americans. A May 19, 2008 report by the USA Today quoted U.S. military officials who said that the number of detainees they were holding dropped from 26,000 in 2007 to around 22,000 in May. UNAMI’s numbers show only a slight decline from 23,800 in January 2008 to 23,229 in May, only a 571 decrease. This brings into question the U.S. claims of successful rehabilitation and increased releases of Iraqis.
The major problem with the U.S. and Iraqi systems has been overcrowding and a lack of capacity by Iraq’s courts. Most prisoners are held for months, sometimes years, before they are ever charged, receive legal aid, or go before a judge. The courts simply cannot handle the number of prisoners. The detainees are therefore overcrowded with horrible conditions. Reports of abuse and torture are also common. Kurdistan is no better than the rest of Iraq. There are reports of secret detention facilities there, and the Kurdish Regional Government often moves prisoners when U.N. officials come to inspect sites.
The United Nations Mission had several recommendations for the Iraqi government. First, the Health Ministry needs to release official numbers of casualties in Iraq. Reports today are based upon leaks from various ministries and officials or the U.S. military. The government also has to protect vulnerable groups like minorities and the displaced, and investigate attacks on women. The legal system needs to deal with the large number of detainees, who are usually held without ever being processed, and address torture. That would begin to alleviate some of the problems in the overcrowded detention facilities. The U.N. also wants Iraq’s parliament to pass a human rights law to give legal standing to protecting against some of these abuses.
Babylon & Beyond Blog, “IRAQ: U.N.’s Iraq report still missing casualty count,” Los Angeles Times, 12/3/08
Michaels, Jim, “Military retools detainee releases,” USA Today, 5/19/08
Reilly, Corinne, “As clock ticks, U.S. letting thousands of Iraqi prisoners go,” McClatchy Newspapers, 10/27/08
UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, “Human Rights Report 1 January – 30 June 2008,” United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq