In February 2008 Iraq’s parliament passed an Amnesty Law, which was part of the reconciliation process. On March 27, the Presidential Council ratified it, making it official. The Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front and the Sadrists were the main supporters of the act because up to 80% of those detained are Sunnis, and the Sadrists have faced a wave of arrests by government forces. At the time, most reports said that Iraq held 26,000 prisoners. In fact, the true number was two to three times that. It turns out the government was holding thousands of Iraqis that were never officially arrested or were just waiting for a court date, while others had been found guilty but never given a sentence.
On July 22 Baghdad announced that 109,087 people had been pardoned under the Amnesty Law. There was no breakdown given, but some specifics were publicized in June and May. On June 29, the Voices of Iraq reported that the courts had released 13,199 people that had been found guilty but not sentenced, and 46,371 had been given bail. An additional 33,273 had been pardoned that were wanted, but had never been captured. In May, Iraq had pardoned a total of 55,053 people. 5,636 were convicted criminals, 24,472 were given bail, 11,476 were being held awaiting trial, and13,469 were wanted persons that had not been arrested. The government said they wanted to provide job training for those released to keep them out of trouble.
The huge number of those released, far past the official number of 26,000, shows the dysfunctional nature of the Iraqi justice system. While the U.S. has worked to improve the top court in the country, the rest of the legal system barely works. The United Nations has said that many times Iraqi forces arbitrarily arrest anyone suspicious in an area after an incident. Suspects are then suppose to be assured of due process, where the government can only hold suspects for 48 hours, and then they need to be brought before an investigative judge. The system is so overwhelmed by the number of cases however, that rarely happens. Police often hold people even after their cases have been dropped. Even those that actually go to court and are found guilty rarely get sentenced as the numbers above point out. A U.S. adviser on a Provincial Reconstruction Team told the New York Times that Iraqi courts lack basic necessities and the government doesn’t care about them. Baghdad now has the money to pay for basic services because of the oil boom, but the legal system is not one of its priorities. It will probably take years for this to be fixed, and until then the Amnesty Law will continue to release tens of thousands that should have never been held in the first place, and some that are probably guilty, but the system simply can’t process.
Abdul-Zahra, Qassim, “Iraqi Lawmakers Pass 3 Key New Laws,” Associated Press, 2/13/08
Alsumaria, “Iraq Amnesty Law forging ahead,” 2/19/08
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Colvin, Ross, “Iraqi police raid Mehdi Army strongholds,” Reuters, 3/12/08
Cordesman, Anthony, “Iraqi Force Development,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, July 2008
Gluck, Jason, “From Gridlock to Compromise: How Three Laws Could Begin to Transform Iraqi Politics,” United States Institute of Peace, March 2008
Moore, Solomon, “Thousands of New Prisoners Overwhelm Iraqi System,” New York Times, 2/14/08
Stone, Andrea, “Iraq frees, pardons detainees,” USA Today, 4/22/08
Voices of Iraq, “3245 prisoners released under pardon law – source,” 3/17/08
- “8229 detainees released – judicial source,” 3/20/08
- “55,000 wanted encompassed by amnesty law – Supreme Judicial Council,” 5/6/08
- “More than 100,000 detainees released under pardon law,” 7/22/08
- “MP unleashes details of agreement to pass key laws,” 2/13/08
- “Two opposition parliamentary blocs slam implementation of Amnesty Law,” 6/29/08
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