Sunday, July 25, 2004

Human Rights in Iraq

A Brief History of Human Rights in Iraq

Iraq has been a police state in the Stalinist model since July 1968, when Saddam Hussein and his collaborators seized power in the name of the Ba'th Party. The state is built on an interlocking framework of internal security organizations, secret intelligence services, Ba'th party security apparatus, with additional layers of military and militia organs designed for internal repression. The principal business of government is domestic repression and aggressive militarism. Thus Iraq devoted 37.9% of its oil revenue to military expenditure in 1975, 75% in 1980, 77% in 1985, and 89% in 1989.

From 1980-1991, the Iraqi regime provoked two wars ruinous to the nation. The first, against Iran, lasted from September 1980 to August 1988. An investigation by the United Nations judged that Iraq was the aggressor. There are no exact figures for casualties, but they are believed to number one million on both sides, including dead and wounded. The Iraqi treasury, which held $35 billion in reserves at the start of the war, was depleted. Iraq emerged from the war with a crippling external debt of $46 billion, with a further $40 billion contributed by Arab states. Iraqis lived the last years of the war in a state of siege, with dwindling resources and sealed off from the world. Cities in the south like Basra were ruined, and Iraq's infrastructure lay in tatters. Meanwhile, all of Iraq's revenue, including heavy borrowing and outright assistance, were steered to the military industry. Its human resources were diverted to the war, while other Arabs and foreign nationals had to be imported to carry on the country's business.

In August 1991 the regime plunged Iraqis into the abyss of a second, far deadlier war. The invasion of Kuwait in August 1991 was kept a secret from even senior military officers. Iraq's unilateral abolition of the state of Kuwait and its annexation as a province of Iraq was accompanied by crimes of war documented by Kuwaitis and Allied forces. Iraqis, who had not yet recovered from the consequences of the war with Iran, witnessed the destruction of their country and more needless deaths. The sanctions regime imposed as a result of the Iraqi leadership's policies, has killed children, reduced Iraqis to the status of paupers, and set back Iraq's development by decades. And because of the regime's policies, Iraq now has an additional war compensation bill of $200 billion.

The history of internal repression is a story of repeated state violence against the Iraqi people, mass murder, execution, torture, extra-judicial detention, rape, forced displacement and deportation. In pursuit of the hegemonic appetite of its leader, the regime forced Iraqis into two wars that killed hundreds of thousand of Iraqis, ruined Iraq's economy, and robbed Iraqi children of their future.

State violence is practiced against any form of real or imagined political opposition or rivalry. Thus some of the first victims of the regime were military officers who had aided the Ba'thist coup of 1968. Non-Ba'thists were purged from state institutions. Fellow Ba'th party members who were viewed as possible future rivals were either removed or liquidated. Elimination of Ba'thists continued throughout the 1970s, and was stepped up on the accession of Saddam Hussein to the presidency in 1979. Finally, the party became a pliant tool in the hands of a single individual.

In 1971 the regime began its campaign of deporting Iraqi citizens to Iran, which was to continue into the 1980s. The campaign gathered additional momentum in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Estimates put the number of people deported at 250,000-300,000, including Arabs, Kurds, and Turkoman, almost all of them Shi'a. Shi'a religious scholars were executed throughout this period.

In 1975, the regime waged its first war against the Kurdish citizens of Iraq, forcing thousands to flee to neighboring countries. In 1987, the regime carried out the notorious "Anfal" campaign, an operation of extermination that killed thousands of Kurds, with 100,000-180,000 more deemed "disappeared". Waves of Kurds fled across Iraq's borders to avoid the pursuit of the Iraqi army.

In 1978, the Iraqi regime turned against the Iraqi Communist Party and carried out a wave of mass executions and detentions against ICP members. ICP sources estimate the number of members killed at 7,000.

In 1988 the regime used chemical weapons against the Kurdish town of Halabja, killing over 5,000 civilians and leaving a legacy of environmental poisoning that affects newborns even today.

In March 1991, immediately following the Gulf war, the Iraqi regime turned its Republican Guard units against citizens who had risen in rebellion against the regime's oppression. Two million Kurds fled across the mountains into Turkey and Iran, as many children and elderly died of exposure and starvation. In the south, the regime's then defense minister boasted that the Republican Guard had killed 300,000 people. Conservative estimates place the number of dead at 30,000.

From 1992-1995, the regime waged a military and environmental campaign against the ancient region of the southern marshes, draining the waters, burning villages, killing and arresting civilian inhabitants. As many as 300,000 marsh Arabs are believed to have been driven away from their homes. Many thousands were forced to flee to Iran, where they live in refugee camps. The regime continues to wage war on the inhabitants of the region surrounding the marshes: villages have been razed, inhabitants have been killed in shelling and men have been jailed.

Since 1992, the Iraqi regime has conducted a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Kurds and Turkomans in the Karkuk province (Ta'mim). Several thousand families have been evicted from their homes, stripped of their identification cards (and their ration cards), lost their property and possessions, and told to leave the area.

Human rights abuses by the state are practiced daily in Iraq, against all sectors of the population indiscriminately. The prisons are overflowing, and the regime periodically conducts "prison-cleaning": mass executions to reduce the population of inmates. Officers and officials are executed regularly for their alleged involvement in conspiracies. Families are thrown out of their homes, stripped of their assets and forcibly deported to other parts of the country.

In 1993, the International Commission of Jurists said that there was "sufficient evidence of the fact that torture has become widespread in Iraqi prisons" and deplored the fact that Iraq "disregards the most important right, namely the right to life." The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Iraq said in November 1999 "Extreme and brutal force is threatened and applied without hesitation and with total impunity to control the population" and has frequently expressed the sentiment that the human rights situation inside Iraq is worse than any country since the end of World War II.

Iraq Foundation - Human Rights in Iraq