Even though Iraq is supposed to be a democracy, it lacks many prerequisites of that political system. One is that it does not have due process, and torture and abuse of prisoners is common. That has been documented again in again by human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch. That group’s most recent report, “Iraq: Mass Arrests, Incommunicado Detentions” went over two major arrest campaigns carried out by the government at the end of 2011 against alleged Baathists, and another in March 2012 before the Arab League Summit in Baghdad. In both cases, the security forces rounded up hundreds of people with no warrants, and held them incommunicado, often in secret facilities. This all goes to show that while Iraq has the trappings of a democratic system, it is not quite there yet, because it still does not respect its citizens’ rights.
At the end of 2011, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki launched a campaign against supposed Baathists who were allegedly plotting to overthrow the government. That started in October 2011. The prime minister originally said that 615 people were picked up, but three Iraqi officials estimated that around 1,500 people were rounded up in actuality. This led to a new crisis between the premier and his main opponents, the Iraqi National Movement (INM) and several provinces in northern Iraq who declared that they wanted to become autonomous regions. The INM called on Maliki to stop his crackdown, while provinces like Salahaddin threatened to not turn over anyone arrested there to Baghdad, calling the detentions illegal. The wave of detentions actually started as an internal rivalry within Maliki’s State of Law between him and the Higher Education Minister Ali al-Adeeb over who could be more anti-Baathist. The people arrested were simply pawns in this power struggle between two leading politicians.
In March 2012, there was another crackdown just before the Arab League Summit in Baghdad. At the time, State of Law parliamentarians denied that any arrests were being made, but that was refuted by people picked up, members of the Interior Ministry, and the head of the security committee in parliament. The head of that committee said that he had reports from the Baghdad Operations Command detailing 532 arrests. Two other members of the committee claimed that figure was low. In May, members of the security and human rights committees formed a special committee to look into the matter, but nothing was ever heard about it again. A common experience when the government claims it will look into abuses of power. Human Rights Watch found that the government seemed to focus upon five neighborhoods in Baghdad province, Abu Ghraib, Adhamiya, Furat, Jihad, and Rathwaniya, and seemed to go after people that were held by the United States before. Twenty people arrested said that none of them ever saw any warrants. A Justice Ministry official claimed that by April, some of the people had been released, 100 would be charged, and the rest were being held somewhere secret. Human Rights Watch believed that this campaign was simply preventive to try to secure the Arab summit by rounding up people that had been arrested before.
|An interrogation room at Camp Honor (Human Rights Watch)|
During October and March, people were taken to Camp Honor and two other facilities in the Green Zone in Baghdad. Camp Honor was supposedly closed in March 2011 after a report came out that it was being used as a secret prison where abuse was happening. Several recent prisoners however, told Human Rights Watch that they were taken to the camp. All the detention centers were used for interrogations and confessions, before people were switched to official prisons. All three were under the control of the 56th Brigade, also known as the Baghdad Brigade. That Brigade has been known to carry out arrests at the behest of the premier. It reports directly to the prime minister, and is outside the regular chain of command for the armed forces. It appears that Maliki is also running his own series of jails as well.
Human Rights Watch also documented on-going abuses of the security forces. Two Justice Ministry officials said that the security forces have often held people without turning them over to the courts. They said that the army and police also would shift prisoners around to different prisons to keep them away from their families, lawyers, and the judiciary. They claimed this was all done under the authority of the prime minister. The security forces often carry out mass sweeps of areas, by cordoning them off, and going door to door with wanted lists, and regular arrest campaigns in Sunni areas of Baghdad and other provinces. Some prisoners are treated fairly, but others are abused and tortured. Most released detainees told Human Rights Watch that they were forced to sign a pledge not to criticize the government publicly or a confession. If they didn’t, the guards threatened them with torture or indefinite detention. Some families were asked to pay bribes to get their family members released. Lawyers added that it was almost impossible to see their clients, and would regularly get the run around at prisons or be threatened by officials for trying to represent alleged insurgents or Baathists. These are all common practices documented in other reports by human rights groups. They point to the failure of Iraq to follow its own laws, and implement due process.
At the heart of the matter is the failure of Iraq to reform its justice system and security forces after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The United States originally wanted to rebuild both from scratch, but never committed the necessary personnel or funds to do so. When the Iraqis regained their sovereignty in 2005, the political parties took control of the security and justice ministries, and placed personnel in office that had no experience in those fields, and often followed what they knew best, which was Saddam’s practices or the authoritarian regimes that they had lived in exile under such as Syria and Iran. That is why Iraq still arrests people without warrants, holds them incommunicado, hides prisoners, maintains secret prisons, abuses and tortures people, and gains false confessions to convict people with. It’s unlikely that this will ever change until someone at the top decides to tackle the issue. Such a politician does not appear on the horizon, so Iraqis will continue to have to live under this unjust system.
Aswat al-Iraq, “615 baathists arrested – Maliki,” 10/29/11
- “Al-Iraqiya demands Iraq’s Prime Minister to stop detentions,” 10/26/11
- “Salah al-Din refuses handover of detainees,” 10/26/11
Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: Mass Arrests, Incommunicado Detentions,” 5/15/12
International Crisis Group, “Loose Ends: Iraq’s Security Forces Between U.S. Drawdown And Withdrawal,” 10/26/10