Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Feb. 6 that Iraqi security officials are detaining thousands of women illegally and subjecting them to torture, ill-treatment and threats of sexual abuse. HRW found that officials are coercing confessions and holding trial proceedings far below the international standard. HRW's report includes interviews with imprisoned women, their families, their lawyers and prison medical staff, along with court documents and information from meetings with Iraqi officials. This report came after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki promised to reform Iraq's criminal justice system in January 2013. Maliki said that his reforms would begin with releasing falsely imprisoned women.
The Iraq Ministry of Justice announced on Jan. 21 the execution of 26 Iraqi nationals for terrorism-related offenses. A statement from the Ministry website said the executions took place on two days before. Human rights groups have long opposed the use of capital punishment in Iraq and the overarching legal system employed in the country, where reports of torture and forced confessions have surfaced. According to an annual report by advocacy organization Human Rights Watch, Iraq executed at least 151 people in 2013, up from 129 in 2012, and 68 in 2011. According to the report, up to 48 criminal offenses are subject to the death penalty under Iraqi law. Iraqi officials defend capital punishment on the grounds it is sanctioned by Islam and it is an effective way to curb the insurgency in the country.
Syrian rebels on Jan. 3 launched an offensive against the Qaeda-inspired Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), attacking the Qaedist strongholds at several locations in the governorates of Aleppo and Idlib. The offensive included forces from the both the nominally secular Free Syrian Army and the new Islamic Front alliance. The Islamic Front apparently launched the offensive after one of its commanders, Hussein al-Suleiman of the Ahrar al-Sham militia, was tortured to death by ISIS militants. He was reportedly detained after he went to meet with an ISIS delegation in an effort to settle a dispute that arose in the village of Maskaneh in rural Aleppo. A gruesome photograph of Suleiman's disfigured body has circulated widely on social media, spakring outrage against ISIS. (Daily Star, Lebanon, Jan. 4; Daily Star, Jan. 3)
Iraqi police arrested Ahmed al-Awlani, an MP and prominent Sunni supporter of anti-government protests, on Dec. 28 in the city of Ramadi. Awlani, a member of the Sunni-supported Iraqiya bloc was reportedly wanted on terrorism charges along with his brother, Ali. Ali and five bodyguards were killed in the police raid, and 18 others were wounded. Awlani has been a strong supporter of a group of protestors who have camped on a highway outside Ramadi in order to rally against perceived persecution of Iraqi Sunnis by the Shia-controlled government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Sectarian fighting between Sunni and Shia Muslims has been considerable this year; over 8,000 people have been killed, mostly in sectarian clashes, since January, making 2013 the deadliest year for Iraqi civilians since 2008.
UN human rights experts on Dec. 9 called on the Iraqi government to provide information on seven residents of Camp Ashraf who were allegedly abducted in September amidst an attack that left 52 people dead. The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances demanded that the Iraqi government "speed up the investigations in order to disclose the fate and whereabouts of the individuals." UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan Mendez, added that "[d]etention in secret places can facilitate the perpetration of torture and other ill-treatment and can in itself constitute a form of such treatment." UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, noted that failure to investigated allegations of killings in a prompt, effective and impartial manner is a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. More than 3,000 have been based at the camp since the 1980s.
At a Basra court hearing Nov. 10, all charges were dropped against Hassan Juma'a Awad, president of the Iraq Federation of Oil Unions. This is the second time criminal charges were thrown out by the court. After the first dismissal in July, the Ministry of Oil and management of South Oil Company appealed the decision. The appellate court reinstated the charges and sent the case back to the lower court for another hearing. The case arose as management's response to strikes and work stoppages organized by the oil workers in response to broken promises, mounting grievances, unremedied health and safety violations, increasing harassment of union activists and continued failure by management to respect worker rights to organize, bargain and strike when necessary guaranteed by international law and treaties.
Azad Ahmed, a leading figure in Iraq's civil resistance movement, was murdered by unknown assailants when his car was stopped Oct. 30 between the northern cities of Kirkuk and Sulaymaniyah. No faction has yet taken responsibility. Ahmed was a longtime member of the political bureau of the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq. His first political experience was as a labor activist during the 1991 uprising in the Kurdish zone, when he helped establish workers' councils that succeeded in collectivizing industries in Iraq's north during the rebellion. In 1999, he helped found the Children's Protection Center in Kirkuk, which expanded after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, establishing shelters in Sulaymaniyah, Baghdad and Basra to help children wounded or left homeless in the war. In 2005, he became a co-founder of the Iraqi Freedom Congress, a body that coordinated nonviolent resistance to the US occupation and Islamist militias alike. He represented the IFC at international anti-war conferences, and was a prominent advocate of a secular, pluralist Iraq with a dignified place for workers, children and women. (Solidarité Ouvrière, Nov. 2)
At least 47 are dead following what appears to have been an Iraqi military assault on Camp Ashraf, a refugee settlement inhabited by exiled members of the People's Mujahdeen Organization of Iran (PMOI), or Mujahedeen Khalq. According to official reports, residents attempted to storm an army post at the entrance to the camp, prompting troops to open fire. PMOI said the post was stormed after the army fired mortar rounds on the camp. PMOI also accused Iraqi forces of executing at least five camp residents—after they had been subdued and hand-cuffed. (NYT, NBC, PMOI, Sept. 1)