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Iraq Coming Apart: Intensifying Crackdown on Free Speech, Protests

With US Troops Hardly Gone, Iraq's Government is Coming Apart

Common Dreams staff

In this Friday, March 4, 2011 photo, an Iraqi officer, left, hits and detains a journalist Mohammed al-Rased, center, during a demonstration in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad, Iraq. Iraq's Shiite-led government cracked down harshly on dissent during the past year of Arab Spring uprisings, turning the country into a "budding police state" as autocratic regimes crumbled elsewhere in the region, an international rights groups said Sunday. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)

The human rights situation in Iraq is worse now than it was a year ago, Human Rights Watch argues in a new report out Sunday.

Human Rights Watch says it uncovered a secret Iraqi prison where detainees were beaten, hung upside down and given electric shocks to sensitive parts of their bodies. The group based its claims on the testimony of detainees themselves. The group says the forces who control the facility report to the military office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

From the report:

BAGHDAD – Iraq cracked down harshly during 2011 on freedom of expression and assembly by intimidating, beating, and detaining activists, demonstrators, and journalists, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2012.

In February, Human Rights Watch uncovered a secret detention facility controlled by elite security forces who report to the military office of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The same elite divisions controlled Camp Honor, a separate facility in Baghdad where detainees were tortured with impunity.

“Iraq is quickly slipping back into authoritarianism as its security forces abuse protesters, harass journalists, and torture detainees,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Despite U.S. government assurances that it helped create a stable democracy, the reality is that it left behind a budding police state.” [...]

In the weeks before the last convoy of US troops left Iraq on December 18, Iraqi security forces rounded up hundreds of Iraqis accused of being former Baath Party members, most of whom remain in detention without charge. Apolitical crisis and a series of terrorist attacks targeting civilians have rocked the country in the weeks since the US troop pullout.

During nationwide demonstrations to protest widespread corruption and demand greater civil and political rights in February, security forces violently dispersed protesters, killing at least 12 on February 25, and injuring more than 100. Baghdad security forces beat unarmed journalists and protesters that day, smashing cameras and confiscating memory cards.

In June, in one of the worst incidents, government-backed thugs armed with wooden planks, knives, and iron pipes, beat and stabbed peaceful protesters and sexually molested female demonstrators as security forces stood by and watched, sometimes laughing at the victims.

In May, the Council of Ministers approved a Law on the Freedom of Expression of Opinion, Assembly, and Peaceful Demonstration, which authorizes officials to restrict freedom of assembly to protect “the public interest” and in the interest of “general order or public morals.” The law still awaits parliamentary approval.


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With US Troops Hardly Gone, Iraq's Government is Coming Apart

McClatchy newspapers are reporting:

BAGHDAD — Faster than anyone expected, barely a month after the last U.S. troops left, Iraq's government appears to be coming apart, prompting fears that the country is headed for another round of sectarian strife.

Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, a Shiite Muslim, is driving to consolidate control and sideline more secular politicians in a battle that increasingly appears to be a fight to the finish in which there can be no compromise.

Barham Salih, the widely admired prime minister of the autonomous Kurdish region in the north, said the infighting is "tearing the country apart." Preemption is the name of the game.

"The motto is: 'I'll have him for lunch before they have me for dinner'," he said during an interview in his office in Irbil. [...]

President Barack Obama may even have made things worse last month when he hosted Maliki in Washington and hailed him as the leader of "Iraq's most inclusive government yet."

"Iraqis are working to build institutions that are efficient and independent and transparent," Obama said.

The speech enraged Saleh Mutlak, a Sunni who is a deputy prime minister.

"What I heard from Obama was deceiving both for Americans and Iraqis," Mutlak told McClatchy. "Obama is telling Americans that they were victorious in Iraq, they liberated the country and Iraqis are now very well situated, and the hero of Iraq, the prime minister, has made an inclusive government in Iraq. But it is the opposite."


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