Carnage and despair in Iraq
March 17, 2008
Five years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, the country is still in disarray. The human rights situation is disastrous, a climate of impunity has prevailed, the economy is in tatters and the refugee crisis continues to escalate.
A new Amnesty International report, Carnage and Despair: Iraq five years on, says that, despite the heavy presence of US and Iraqi security forces, Iraq is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, with hundreds of Iraqi civilians killed every month.
Armed groups, including those opposed to the Iraqi government and the US-led Multi-National Force (MNF), have been responsible for indiscriminate bombings, suicide attacks, kidnappings and torture.
Since early 2006, violence has intensified and become more sectarian, with Sunni and Shi'a armed groups targeting followers of opposite faiths and driving whole communities out of mixed neighbourhoods. This has contributed to the displacement of over four million people. Two million of these are now refugees in Syria and Jordan.
Civilians are also at risk from MNF and Iraqi security forces, with many killed by excessive force and tens of thousands detained without charge or trial. The death penalty was reintroduced in 2004 and hundreds of people have been sentenced to death. At least 33 people were executed in 2007, many after unfair trials.
With the rise of fundamentalist religious groups, conditions for women have also worsened. Many have been forced to wear Islamic dress or targeted for abduction, rape or killing. A survey conducted by the World Heath Organization (WHO) in 2006/2007 in Iraq found that 21.2 percent of Iraqi women had experienced physical violence.
The situation in Iraq has not been helped by the Iraqi government's failure to investigate effectively the many incidents of human rights abuse - whether committed by security forces or militia groups - and to bring those responsible to justice.
Economic conditions also remain very poor, with most Iraqis suffering from lack of food, shelter, water, sanitation, education, healthcare and employment.
Oxfam reported in July 2007 that 70 percent of Iraqis lacked access to safe drinking water and 43 percent were living on the equivalent of less than a dollar per day. Eight million Iraqis are in need of emergency assistance, with children the worst hit. Child malnutrition rates have increased from 19 percent during the period from 1991-2003, when international sanctions were imposed on the country under Saddam Hussein, to 28 percent in 2007.
The predominantly Kurdish region of northern Iraq has been more stable with fewer acts of violence, and has seen growing economic prosperity and foreign investment. However, here too there continue to be serious human rights violations, including arrests for peaceful political dissent, torture, ill-treatment, the death penalty and the killing of women in so-called honor crimes.
The invasion of Iraq started on March 19, 2003, with US military strikes on Baghdad. US President George W Bush declared the war over that May and, on June 8, 2004, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1546, declaring that Iraq?s occupation would end on June 30, 2004.
The Resolution stated that the MNF would stay in Iraq until the end of 2005. Since then, the MNF's presence has been extended on a yearly basis by the UN Security Council and the Iraqi government.
Executive power was transferred back to an Iraqi government in June 2004 but successive administrations have been unable to stop the violence and bring a durable peace. According to a January 2008 survey by the WHO and the Iraq's Health Ministry, 151,000 people were killed from March 2003 through June 2006. According to the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), some 34,452 people were killed during 2006, with thousands injured.