Friday, September 22, 2006

Human Rights Situation in Iraq Worse Than Under Saddam

This morning, before I left for work, I spotted a BBC article about a UN press briefing at which the United Nations' senior torture expert said that Iraq is worse now than it was under Saddam Hussein:

Manfred Nowak said the situation in Iraq was "out of control", with abuses being committed by security forces, militia groups and anti-US insurgents.

Bodies found in the Baghdad morgue "often bear signs of severe torture", said the human rights office of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq in a report.

The wounds confirmed reports given by refugees from Iraq, Mr Nowak said.
"What most people tell you is that the situation as far as torture is concerned now in Iraq is totally out of hand," the Austrian law professor said.

"The situation is so bad many people say it is worse than it has been in the times of Saddam Hussein," he added.

The UN report says detainees' bodies often show signs of beating using electrical cables, wounds in heads and genitals, broken legs and hands, electric and cigarette burns.

Bodies found at the Baghdad mortuary "often bear signs of severe torture including acid-induced injuries and burns caused by chemical substances".

Many bodies have missing skin, broken bones, back, hands and legs, missing eyes, missing teeth and wounds caused by power drills or nails, the UN report says.

Victims come from prisons run by US-led multinational forces as well as by the ministries of interior and defence and private militias, the report said.

The most brutal torture methods were employed by private militias, Mr Nowak told journalists.

The report also says the frequency of sectarian bloodletting means bodies are often found which "bear signs indicating that the victims have been brutally tortured before their extra-judicial execution".

It concludes that torture threatens "the very fabric of the country" as victims exact their own revenge and fuel further violence.

Naturally, the Bush administration disagrees:

A State Department official in Washington, asked about Professor Nowak's comments, told The Times: "How anyone could compare state-sanctioned torture under a dictator to the situation today is beyond us.

"We definitely don't agree with his remarks. We don't agree with his assessment of the situation at all."

Why, Manfred Nowak, you ignorant fool. How can you compare state-sanctioned torture under Saddam Hussein to this? (All emphasis is mine.)

The horrors of the torture chamber that led to Saddam Hussein's Iraq being labelled "The Republic of Fear," after the book of that title by Kanan Makiya, have again become commonplace. The bodies in Baghdad's morgue "often bear signs of severe torture including acid-induced injuries and burns caused by chemical substances, missing skin, broken bones (back, hands and legs), missing eyes and wounds caused by power drills or nails", the UN report said. Those not killed by these abuses are shot in the head.

Human rights groups say torture is practised in prisons run by the US as well as those run by theInterior and Defence ministries and the numerous Sunni and Shia militias.

The pervasive use of torture is only one aspect of the utter breakdown of government across Iraq outside the three Kurdish provinces in the north. In July and August alone, 6,599 civilians were killed, the UN says.

One US Army major was quoted as saying that Baghdad is now a Hobbesian world where everybody is at war with everybody else and the only protection is self-protection.

Iraq is in a state of primal anarchy. Paradoxically, the final collapse of security this summer is masked from the outside world because the country is too dangerous for journalists to report what is happening. Some 134 journalists, mostly Iraqi, have been killed since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The continuing rise in the number of civilians killed violently in Iraq underlines the failure of the new Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki installed in May after intense US and British pressure. The new government shows no signs of being more effective than the old. "It is just a government of the Green Zone," said an Iraqi official, referring to the fortified zone in central Baghdad housing the Iraqi government as well as the US and British embassies.
Nobody in Iraq is safe. Buses and cars are stopped at checkpoints and Sunni or Shia are killed after a glance at their identity cards. Many people now carry two sets of identity papers, one Shia and one Sunni. Car number plates showing that it was registered in a Sunni province may be enough to get the driver shot in a Shia neighbourhood. Sectarian civil war is pervasive in Baghdad and central Iraq. Religious processions are frequently attacked. On 19 and 20 August, a Shia religious pilgrimage came under sustained attack that left 20 dead and 300 wounded.

The Iraqi state and much of society have been criminalised. Gangs of gunmen are often described on state television as "wearing police uniforms." One senior Iraqi minister laughed as he told The Independent: "Of course they wear police uniforms. They are real policemen."
It has long been a matter of amusement and disgust in Iraq that government ministers travel abroad to give press conferences claiming that the insurgency is on its last legs. One former minister said: "I know of ministers who have never been to their ministries but get their officials to bring documents to the Green Zone where they sign them."

Beyond the Green Zone, Iraq has descended into murderous anarchy. For several days this month, the main road between Baghdad and Basra was closed because two families were fighting over ownership of an oilfield.

Government ministries are either Shia or Sunni. In Baghdad this month, a television crew filming the morgue had to cower behind a wall because the Shia guards were fighting a gun battle with the Sunni guards of the Electricity Ministry near by.


The Heretik said...

I would say I'm shocked, but I'm not.

Kathy said...

Yes, I know; neither am I. I'm depressed, not shocked. I think if I were shocked, I would actually be feeling better.