Iraq: Five years of carnage and despair

Five years after US-led forces toppled Saddam Hussein, Iraq remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world for human rights, Amnesty International said today.

In a new report, Carnage and Despair, the organisation says attacks and sectarian killings by armed groups, torture and ill-treatment by Iraqi government forces and the continuing detention of thousands of suspects by US and Iraqi forces have had a devastating impact, causing more than four million Iraqis to be displaced from their homes. Many of the detainees are held without charge or trial, some for several years.

Millions of dollars have been spent on security but today two out of three Iraqis still have no access to safe drinking water and almost one in three of the population – some eight million people – need emergency aid to survive.

 “Saddam Hussein’s administration was a byword for human rights abuse,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa, “but its replacement has brought no respite at all for the Iraqi people”.

Thousands of people have been killed or maimed, and communities that formerly lived in relative harmony have been propelled into open conflict. Civilians have born the heaviest brunt. For many women, now at risk from religious militants, conditions have actually deteriorated compared with the time of Saddam Hussein.

According to the report, even in the relatively peaceful Kurdish region of northern Iraq, economic improvement has not been accompanied by greater respect for human rights.

“Arbitrary arrests, detentions and torture continue to be reported even from the Kurdish provinces,” said Malcolm Smart, “and peaceful political dissent is scarcely tolerated. Political opponents have been detained without trial and so-called ‘honour crimes’, in which women are killed by members of their families, remain a deep-seated problem which the authorities criticise but have failed to address adequately”.

No-one knows exactly how many people have been killed in Iraq since the US-led invasion in March 2003. According to the largest survey, carried out jointly by the World Health Organisation and the Iraqi government and published last January, more than 150,000 people had been killed by June 2006. The UN reported that almost 35,000 people were killed in 2006, the latest year for which figures are available.

The continuing problem of insecurity has hampered efforts to restore order, but even when the Iraqi authorities have been in a position to uphold human rights, they have largely failed to do so. Trials are routinely unfair with convictions on evidence allegedly obtained under torture, and hundreds of people have been sentenced to death.

“This is one of the most worrying aspects for the future,” said Malcolm Smart. “Even when faced with overwhelming evidence of torture under their watch, the Iraqi authorities have failed to hold the perpetrators to account – and the US and its allies have failed to demand that they do so.”