By William Fisher.
As Iraq proceeds with its grisly hangathon — since the beginning of 2012, Iraq has executed at least 65 prisoners – and 2007-type violence is threatening to bring the country to its knees, Iraq scholars are pointing to even deeper signs that the country is on the precipice of collapse.
Days after the last US troops departed, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki moved to indict Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi on terrorism charges and sought to remove Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq from his position.
According to Marina Ottaway of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), Maliki’s move triggered “a major political crisis that fully revealed Iraq as an unstable, undemocratic country governed by raw competition for power and barely affected by institutional arrangements. Large-scale violence immediately flared up again, with a series of terrorist attacks against mostly Shi’i targets reminiscent of the worst days of 2006.”
“But there is more to the crisis than an escalation of violence. The tenuous political agreement among parties and factions reached at the end of 2010 has collapsed. The government of national unity has stopped functioning, and provinces that want to become regions with autonomous powers comparable to Kurdistan’s are putting increasing pressure on the central government. Unless a new political agreement is reached soon, Iraq may plunge into civil war or split apart,” she said, adding:
“The U.S. occupation tried to superimpose on Iraq a set of political rules that did not reflect either the dominant culture or the power relations among political forces. And while cultures and power relations are not immutable, they do not change on demand to accommodate the goals of outsiders.”
The U.S. occupation tried to superimpose on Iraq a set of political rules that did not reflect either the dominant culture or the power relations among political forces Marina Ottaway, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Ottaway believes that Iraq “is facing a real threat of political disintegration.” She reminds us that in 2007, “the United States held the country together forcibly, but the infusion of new troops could not secure a lasting agreement among Iraqis.” However, she said,” This time, the outcome depends on whether the political factions that dominate Iraq and tear it apart find it in their interest to forge a real compromise or conclude that they would benefit more from going in separate directions.”
Ottaway concludes: The government of national unity has stopped functioning, and provinces that want to become regions with autonomous powers comparable to Kurdistan’s are putting increasing pressure on the central government. Unless a new political agreement is reached soon, Iraq may plunge into civil war or split apart.
Meantime, Iraq is evidently shooting to overtake China and Iran as the world-wide leader in executions. Human Rights groups, the United Nations, and others, are aiming dire warnings toward Iraq.
For example, Human Rights Watch is calling on Iraqi authorities to halt executions and abolish the death penalty. HRW’s Joe Stork said Iraq must overhaul its justice system.
The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called the numerous executions “terrifying.” Pillay said she was shocked at reports that 34 individuals, including two women, were executed in Iraq on 19 January following their conviction for various crimes. “Even if the most scrupulous fair trial standards were observed, this would be a terrifying number of executions to take place in a single day,” Pillay said. She added: “Given the lack of transparency in court proceedings, major concerns about due process and fairness of trials, and the very wide range of offences for which the death penalty can be imposed in Iraq, it is a truly shocking figure.”
Iraqi authorities should halt all executions and abolish the death penalty, HRW said. Since the beginning of 2012, Iraq has executed at least 65 prisoners, 51 of them in January, and 14 more on February 8, for various offenses.
“The Iraqi government seems to have given state executioners the green light to execute at will,”said Joe Stork, HRW’s Deputy Middle East director. “The government needs to declare an immediate moratorium on all executions and begin an overhaul of its flawed criminal justice system.”
The Iraqi government seems to have given state executioners the green light to execute at will Joe Stork, HRW’s Deputy Middle East director
HRW is particularly concerned that Iraqi courts admit as evidence confessions obtained under coercion. It says the government should disclose the identities, locations, and status of all prisoners on death row, the crimes for which they have been convicted, court records for their being charged, tried, and sentenced, and details of any impending executions.
A Justice Ministry official confirmed to Human Rights Watch on February 8 that authorities had executed 14 prisoners earlier in the day. “You should expect more executions in the coming days and weeks,” the official added.
According to the United Nations, more than 1,200 people are believed to have been sentenced to death in Iraq since 2004. The number of prisoners executed during that period has not been revealed publicly. Iraqi law authorizes the death penalty for close to 50 crimes, including terrorism, kidnapping, and murder, but also including such offenses as damage to public property.
Criminal trials in Iraq often violate minimum guarantees, Human Rights Watch said. Many defendants are unable to pursue a meaningful defense or to challenge evidence against them, and lengthy pretrial detention without judicial review is common.
The total number of individuals sentenced to death in Iraq since 2004 is believed to stand at more than 1,200. “Most disturbingly,” said Pillay, “we do not have a single report of anyone on death row being pardoned, despite the fact there are well documented cases of confessions being extracted under duress.”
“I call on the Government of Iraq to implement an immediate moratorium on the institution of death penalty,” the High Commissioner said, noting that around 150 countries have now either abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, or introduced a moratorium.
William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now writes on subjects ranging from human rights to foreign affairs for a number of newspapers and online journals.