At the end of June 2011, the United States Department of State issued its annual report on human trafficking around the world. Iraq has had an explosion in trafficking people, sex slavery, and prostitution since the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, the government is barely dealing with the issue. It is for that reason that Iraq has received a low score for three years in a row by the State Department.
The State Department report placed countries into four categories. At the top was Tier 1, a country that acknowledged that it had a problem, was actively trying to deal with it, and also showed progress each year. Next was Tier 2, a country that didn’t fully meet the State Department’s standards, but is still working on the issue. Tier 2 Watch List was a nation that didn’t fulfill State’s standards, was making some effort to address the problem, but still had large issues to overcome. Tier 3 was a country that not only didn’t meet standards, but also wasn’t doing anything about it. Iraq was ranked a Tier 2 Watch List country for the third year.
Iraq is the source and destination for sex slaves. Iraqi women and girls are shipped off to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Iran, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia for prostitution and slavery. There are sex trafficking rings operating out of Kurdistan, although the regional parliament denies that it is a problem. Women are often told that they are going to get a job, and then find out they’re being forced into the sex trade. One non-government organization said that labor agencies would rape women on film, and then blackmail them with it to force them into prostitution. Gangs have been known to go to jails, bail out women, and then force them into the sex trade to repay their debt. Some women are driven into prostitution because of extreme poverty. Some are forced into fake marriages, where they are turned into prostitutes instead of wives. There are also reports that women from Iran, China, and the Philippines are being transported through Iraq to be used in the sex trade in other countries.
Iraq also has a large number of illegal, forced laborers. Workers from Bangladesh, Thailand, Pakistan, Georgia, Jordan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Nepal, and the Philippines are all present in the country. There are gangs that bring foreign workers from East Asia, but the most common culprits are labor agencies. They regularly tell people that they’re going to get a good job in Jordan or the Gulf States, or even within Iraq, but then end up with something quite different when they arrive in the country. They usually have their passports taken, don’t get paid, work long hours, are threatened with being deported, and face physical and sexual abuse. In March 2011 for example, over 100 Ugandan women were found working in Iraq. They were recruited by a Ugandan company in 2009, and told that they would be earning high wages on American army bases. Instead they ended up being maids in Iraqi homes. They claimed that they were given little food or water, were locked insides the houses, and some of them were raped. One woman was able to get out of her employer’s house, and came into contact with a Ugandan security contractor, who helped her and a few others get out of the country, and return to Uganda. Still, Iraq like other countries in the Persian Gulf seems addicted to foreign labor, so the practice continues.
These problems are widely known within Iraq, but the government is doing very little about it. The 2005 Iraqi constitution prohibits forced labor, slavery, the slave trade, trafficking, and the sex trade, but does not provide any punishments. The State Department did not find evidence that Iraq was punishing human traffickers or identifying victims. It does punish prostitutes however, many of which are victims. Baghdad doesn’t provide any aid to those that have been trafficked or forced into the sex trade. That’s because the government doesn’t recognize that illegal workers and some prostitutes have been forced into their line of work. The government doesn’t collect data on trafficking, and hasn’t investigated officials that might be involved. Overall, the report said that Iraq had a “negligible law enforcement effort,” which was the reason why it was ranked a Tier 2 Watch List nation for the third year.
The one thing that Iraq has moved forward with is a punitive anti-illegal labor measure. It is threatening to enforce a Saddam Hussein era law that bans illegal workers. Under the act, the laborers would be deported, and companies fined that employed them. The government seems to be mostly going after workers that outstayed their contracts, but it does included forced laborers as well. Baghdad claims that it is simply part of a plan to fight unemployment in the country, rather than combat trafficking however.
Baghdad does have a written plan to combat trafficking, and would be a major improvement if it were ever implemented. Unfortunately, it hasn’t enacted its draft anti-trafficking law because the country’s political parties are still arguing over how to finish off the ruling coalition, seventeen months after national elections in March 2010. The Kurdish regional parliament did try to enact a prostitution law that would impose fines, and shut down rings involved, but it was rejected because the ruling parties said it was not a big issue within the region. The draft law is the only reason why Iraq was not moved down to a Tier 3 country in 2011.
Iraq has fallen in line with some of the negative traits of other countries in the region. It is a destination for human trafficking. People are also shipped through the country on their way from Asia to Europe. Like other Persian Gulf states, it uses a large number of forced laborers. The sex trade is widely known, but not officially spoken about by the government. Illegal workers are abundant throughout the country, and largely accepted. Baghdad has dealt with neither effectively. In fact, the State Department found hardly any evidence that the authorities were doing anything about either even though the constitution bans both practices. It is just the latest example that the rule of law is lacking in Iraq, and may be hindered for years due to weak institutions.
Jakes, Lara, “Foreign laborers earn little payoff in Iraq,” Associated Press, 6/17/11
Mohammed, Muhanad, “Iraq’s foreign workers fret over labor crackdown,” Reuters, 7/6/11
Rudaw, “Debate Lingers Over Regulating Kurdistan’s Sex Trade,” 8/3/11
Al-Sharaa, Hazim, “Iraqi Crackdown on Foreign Workers Criticised,” Institute for War & Peace Reporting, 7/22/11
U.S. Department of State, “Trafficking In Persons Report 2011,” 6/27/11
Waladbagi, Salih, “Foreign workers treated poorly in Kurdistan,” Kurdish Globe, 6/25/11