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International Compacts, flavour of the month

Posted September 26th, 2006 by Dan

Has anybody worked out what to make of the International Compact with Iraq, a deal with the IMF, the World Bank and the UN for “Iraq’s economic transformation and integration into the regional and global economy“.

This compact is being railroaded pretty quickly: meetings and plans are emerging quickly, the Compact has the blessing of a Security Council resolution, as well as support from the EU, US, UK, and just about everyone else.

Who is doing the railroading? Naturally, the documents give the impression that the initiative comes from the Government of Iraq. So George Bush says that Nouri al-Maliki is “working to develop what he’s calling an international compact“, the FCO talks about “a chance for the world to line up behind the new Iraqi government“, and the Afghanistan Compact which was launched earlier this year. Are ‘Compacts’ just the currently popular framework for the IMF and World Bank to strongarm countries into economic liberalization?

And more trivially, why does something this important have to be explained to the world by means of a jumble of powerpoint?

Phosphorus bombs in Afghanistan

Posted September 23rd, 2006 by Alison

Leaked emails from Major James Loden of 3 Para give incidental information about RAF use of phosphorus bombs in Afghanistan.

Iraq torture ‘worse after Saddam’

Posted September 21st, 2006 by Alison

The BBC reports today that ‘the UN’s chief anti-torture expert’ Manfred Nowak believes torture may be worse now in Iraq than under former leader Saddam Hussein.

Nowak was speaking at a briefing on a new report by the human rights office of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq.

Here’s the UNAMI press release:

Latest UNAMI Human Rights Report on Iraq calls for firm action to tackle old and new human rights violations in Iraq [9/20/2006]


Baghdad- 20 September 2006 — The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) expressed concern that “human rights violations, particularly against the right to life and personal integrity, continued to occur at an alarming daily rate in Iraq.” In its latest human rights report for the months of July and August 2006 UNAMI affirms that number of civilians killed violently in the country were an unprecedented 3,590 in July and 3,009 in August. The report points that terrorist attacks, the growth of militias, the emergence of organized crime reflects a lack of centralized and authorized control over the use of force in the country, which results in indiscriminate killings of civilians. In this context, hundreds of bodies have continued to appear throughout the country bearing signs of severe torture and execution style killing. Displacement of population has also continued to grow and affected all Governorates.

The document also raises the alarm at increasing number of “honour crimes” affecting women in a disproportionately manner. “In their fight against generalized violence, central, regional and local authorities should provide greater protection to women from crimes committed within the family, including all types of violence against women and girls on the grounds of honour.” Torture remains a widespread problem in official detention centres while victims extra-judicially executed by death squads, insurgents and militias bear also signs of horrific torture. The report documents terrorist attacks aimed at inflicting death and injury to civilians and other attacks against minorities and religious pilgrims as well as professional categories such as journalists, lawyers and judges. “The inability of State institutions to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice and to provide adequate protection to ordinary citizens…risk polarizing Iraqi society to a previously unknown degree and result in a self-reinforcing pattern of sectarian confrontation.”

While progress has been reported in the transfer of detainees held by other authorities to the Ministry of Justice, the report raises concerns regarding an increase in the overall number of detainees, reversing an earlier trend. However, UNAMI states that “a growing perception of impunity for current and past crimes committed risks further eroding the rule of law.” For this reason, UNAMI also called for the full publication of the results of the Government inquiry into allegations of human rights violations committed in Al-Jadiriya detention centre in November 2005, and stated: “The publication of the Al-Jadiriya’s report, the establishment of a formal inquiry into this case and the prosecution of those found to be responsible for allegations of human rights violations, would serve the people and the Government of Iraq and provide a powerful signal that the country is firm in its commitment to establish a new system based on the respect of human rights and the rule of law.”

Oil Union Bank Account Frozen

Posted June 21st, 2006 by Jonathan

More good news from Iraq - the General Union of Oil Employees has had its bank accounts frozen by the Iraqi government.

The union has been leading the fight against plans to transfer large parts of Iraq’s oil wealth to foreign corporations under Production Sharing Agreements, organising an anti-privatisation conference last year and planning another one this year, so I suppose it’s been asking for it.

No word as yet on why.

Attack on Ramadi

Posted June 16th, 2006 by Dan

Below the attention of the British press, something nasty is happening in Ramadi. Dahr Jamail reported on Monday that a major Coalition assault on Ramadi is beginning:

the US military has been assaulting the city for months with tactics like cutting water, electricity and medical aid, imposing curfews, and attacking by means of snipers and random air strikes. This time, Iraqis there are right to fear the worst - an all out attack on the city, similar to what was done to nearby Fallujah.

It looks as though he’s right. The US military have given the kind of semi-denial which all but confirms something is happening. According to a Pentagon spokesman discussions of large-scle offensive “may be somewhere off the mark” - but when George Bush himself has spoken of an offensive in Ramadi, “off the mark” likely means little more that that there will be more focus on putting Iraqi rather than American troops in the front line. The Americans, with 1500 troops recently brought from Kuwait to Anbar, will simply be “helping them do that with our own military forces and our forces that operate as embedded trainers and in other ways”.

However it is spun, this offensive has already dramatically harmed Ramadi, and we can only expect the news to get worse. It’s probably best to ignore the claim that some 300,000 Ramadi residents have fled their homes this past week - but the more credible figure of 10,000 is bad enough. And we’re seeing use of the same tactics which were widely condemned when they were used in Fallujah, Tal Afar and elsewhere.

The city is now virtually cut off, with Al-Jazeera reporting that the roads are blocked, and .”a giant wall of sand has been piled up around the perimiter”

As we have documented in previous campaigns water and electricity supplies have been cut off, possibly as part of an illegal US tactic of denying essential amenities to besieged cities. One report talks of “outages in the water, electricity and phone networks”. Dahr Jamail has been told that “Ramadi has been deprived of water, electricity, telephones and all services for about two months now”, and former governer of Anbar province has said that:

“The situation is catastrophic. No services, no electricity, no water”

So, all in all it seems we’re going back through the same mistakes and crimes seen in a half-dozen previous cases.

[edited to reduce the refugee count to something more plausible]

C4 Dispatches ‘Iraq: The Women’s Story’

Posted May 10th, 2006 by Alison

UK TV’s Channel 4 recently broadcast a documentary in their Dispatches series about women in Iraq. There’s an interesting website, including a timeline of Iraqi women’s rights.

Here’s the blurb:

The invasion of Iraq heralded promises of freedom from tyranny and equal rights for the women of Iraq. But three years on, the reality of everyday life for women inside Iraq is a different story. To make this film, two Iraqi women risk their lives to spend three months travelling all over the country with a camera to record the lives and experiences of women they meet. Dispatches: Iraq: The Women’s Story provides a compelling account of a life inside Iraq that is rarely seen on news bulletins: stories of ordinary women whose struggle to survive has only worsened since the war.

Iraqi mothers and newborns suffer health collapse

Posted May 10th, 2006 by Alison

Save the Children has just published its annual State of the World’s Mothers report.

The report emphasises the low financial cost of many improvements to maternal and neonate health, and the success of many developing countries in improving survival rates. But it also reports the disastrous effects of conflict, citing today’s Iraq as an example:

In Iraq, years of conflict and international sanctions have damaged the health system and taken a serious toll on the well-being of mothers and babies. Maternal mortality has more than doubled, rising from 117 deaths per 100,000 live births in the late 1980s to the current 250. Infant and child mortality have also risen sharply. The current war has disrupted food distribution and damaged electrical, water and sewage systems, creating even more difficult conditions.

With newborn mortality at 59/1000, Iraq now has the highest newborn death rate of any middle income country, and the 4th highest of any country, equal with Sierra Leone. Only in Afghanistan and Liberia are more newborn babies lost.

Almost a quarter of Iraqi mothers receive no prenatal care, and there are no skilled personnel present at 28% of births.

Only 10% of Iraqi women are using modern contraceptives, compared to 28% in Syria and 41% in Jordan. As Save the Children writes, ‘Effective use of family planning methods can help save the lives of mothers and babies by enabling women to avoid pregnancy when they are too young or too old, and to space their births at intervals that are healthy for them and their babies.’

These figures illustrate why civilian death estimates such as Iraq Body Count show only a limited part of the picture. Iraq Body Count does a great job of counting civilian deaths attributable to the conflict which are reported in the media. However, the childbed deaths of mothers and babies rarely if ever feature in news reports, however preventable they are. Rising maternal and infant death rates are included in the ‘Lancet Report’, which is one of the reasons why its civilian mortality estimate is so much higher.

Playing blind

Posted May 8th, 2006 by Dan

Long-time IAG friend Colin Rowat has just written an interesting article in the (Lebanese) Daily Star, attempting to interpret Iraqi politics by means of game theory.

According to Colin, one of the reasons for political stalemates in Iraq is a lack of information. No politician yet knows the strengths of the parties and positions, so they can’t bargain effectively. In particular, the lack of good information makes political actors believe themselves to be stronger than they really are. The perception of widespread electoral fraud lets the losers believe that they could have won in a fair election.

What’s the solution? Colin talks about how elections improve bargaining by giving solid information on who is popular. For some reason he doesn’t talk about the more usual ways of spreading information: by media, by independent research from academics, government and NGOs, through opinion polls. Maybe even sites like this can provide a little help from the sidelines.

Coalition pressures Iraq to adopt detention without trial?

Posted April 16th, 2006 by Dan

Reading this article, I find myself desperately struggling to find an innocent explanation - and failing. The gist is that the US can’t hand over control of prisons to Iraqis, because the Iraqi government has too much respect for human rights.

The commander of U.S. prison operations, which include Abu Ghraib and three other sites, said he could not predict when the Iraqi government will match U.S. standards of care for detainees and pass laws allowing it to hold people without trial — key conditions for handing over detainees, numbering 14,700 today.

The US authorities believe that they, unlike Iraqis, do have the right to waive due process:

while the United States points to a United Nations Security Council Resolution allowing it to detain people without charge as suspected guerrillas, the Iraqi government would need to pass its own legislation to do that

I’m not sure where they think this legal authorization comes from. All I can see is that Resolution 1511

authorizes a multinational force under unified command to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq

Resolution 1546

Decides that the multinational force shall have the authority to take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq

If that’s all there is, this is as legally dubious as it is morally dubious - but quite possibly I’ve missed something elsewhere. Anybody want to see what information Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have collected on this?

I won’t go into the ethical and political dimensions to why this is bad; no doubt anyone reading this post will already be convinced that giving people a trial before jailing them is a Good Thing.


Posted April 13th, 2006 by Alison

News of refugees continues, with BBC news reporting that at least 65,000 Iraqis have left their homes and the rate of displacement is increasing.

Figures given to the BBC by the Ministry for Displacement and Migration show a doubling in the last two weeks of the number of Iraqis forced to move.