The Iraqi Justice Ministry on April 15 temporarily closed Abu Ghraib prison due to security concerns. Reports indicate that Iraqi authorities are concerned about the growing power of a Sunni-backed insurgency within the Anbar province, in close proximity to the prison grounds. A government official reportedly announced wednesday, however, that the prison's closure was temporary until security issues can be resolved. In the meantime, the government has transferred approximately 2,400 inmates to other high security prisons throughout the nation.
Iraq's oil production surged to its highest level in over 30 years last month. In its monthly oil report published March 14, the International Energy Agency said Iraq's oil output jumped by half a million barrels a day in February to average 3.6 million barrels a day. The country hasn't pumped that much oil since 1979, when Saddam Hussein rose to power. (WSJ, March 14) Paradoxically, the jump comes amid a new outbreak of Iraq's terrorist insurgency. A series of car bomb attacks targeting commercial areas and a restaurant killed at least 19 people March 15 in Baghdad. On March 9, a suicide car bomber detonated his explosive-laden vehicle at a checkpoint where dozens of cars were lined up in the southern city of Hillah, killing 21 civilians—the deadliest of a series of attacks that killed 42 people that day. Last year, Iraq saw the highest death toll since 2007. The UN said violence killed 8,868 last year in Iraq. (AP, March 15; AP, March 9)
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.