Iraq: A decade of abuses

March 11, 2013

Iraq: A decade of abuses

View More Research

Ten years after the US-led invasion that toppled the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, Iraq remains mired in human rights abuses. Thousands of Iraqis are detained without trial or serving prison sentences imposed after unfair trials, torture remains rife and continues to be committed with impunity, and the new Iraq is one of the world's leading executioners. The government hanged 129 prisoners in 2012, while hundreds more languished on death row. Yet, when he launched the campaign of “shock and awe” in March 2003, that swept away Saddam Hussein's regime within just four weeks, then US President George W Bush justified the military intervention partly on human rights grounds, pointing to the many grave crimes committed under the Iraqi leader. The decade since, however, as this report shows, has brought only limited change although tens of thousands of Iraqis' lives have been lost, mostly during the political and sectarian violence that succeeded the armed conflict and continues to this day. As the record shows, in the years when they held sway, the US-dominated coalition of occupying forces created their own legacies of human rights abuse, for which there is yet to be full accountability, and failed to implement new standards that fundamentally challenged the mould of repression set under Saddam Hussein. Today, assuredly, many Iraqis enjoy greater rights and freedom than existed under the ousted dictator but the margin of improvement is far less than it should be, and the country remains wracked by political, religious and other divisions and serious abuses of human rights.

The violence of the past decade has devastated Iraq and its people. By early 2013, the Iraq Body Count organization had recorded more than 110,000 violent civilian deaths, including at least 14,800 deaths it said were caused by the US-led Coalition Forces (renamed the Multinational Force at the official end of the occupation on 30 June 2004 and, subsequently, United States Forces - Iraq on 1 January 2010 after the departure of all non- US forces). Many civilians have also been killed or injured by Iraqi forces acting alone, in joint operations by Iraqi and coalition forces, or by members of private military and security companies hired to guard and protect foreign officials and other foreign nationals employed or engaged in Iraq.

The greatest number of deaths and injuries of civilians, however, has resulted from the actions of armed groups opposed to the presence of foreign troops and to the Iraqi governments that have held office since the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) handed power back to Iraqi control at the end of June 2004. Armed militias affiliated to political parties have also been responsible for many killings. Today, armed groups opposed to the government continue to mount suicide and other bomb attacks, often targeting busy venues and locations such as marketplaces where civilians are present, or religious pilgrims, as well as members of the police and security forces. Violence by armed groups and political militias has also encompassed abductions and hostage-taking, political assassinations and forced displacement of people from their homes or the areas in which they reside. The internal armed conflict intensified and became increasingly sectarian following a bomb attack that targeted and largely destroyed the holy Shi'a Al-Askari shrine in Samarra in February 2006. The sectarian violence this sparked caused hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to become internally displaced within their own country and hundreds of thousands more to flee as refugees to neighbouring states, particularly Syria and Jordan.