Archive for April, 2006

Coalition pressures Iraq to adopt detention without trial?

Sunday, April 16th, 2006

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.


Thursday, April 13th, 2006

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.

Film by Salam Pax

Wednesday, April 12th, 2006

This short film, on the situation in Iraq three years on from the toppling of that Saddam statue, was screened on Newsnight on Monday 10th April. Its main message is basically extremely negative about the future of Iraq, but as with all Salam Pax reports it feels like an unusually frank, down-to-earth and honest on-the-ground account amidst the rest of the media accessible to non-Arabic speakers.


Wednesday, April 5th, 2006

Since the bombing of the Samarra mosque, nearly 1000 Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes every day. I’ve just added a report from the IOM, which sources these figures, and gives an (incomplete, but still interesting) breakdown by region and cause of migration.

As Rachel wrote recently, this is part of a change over the past few months, which has deeply affected the country in all kinds of ways.

People are refusing to carry their identity cards: the cards give their names and hence hint at their creed, and have been used by gangs to choose victims for execution. 30% of children are absent from school, largely because parents are too frightened of the violence to let them leave home, but also because schools are becoming ever more divided on religious lines.

I don’t think we yet have a good understanding of what’s going on here - but much of the information is available, just waiting to be pulled together. Some questions I’d like to see answered:

  • How regionally-limited is this? Examining the figures in the IOM report above would tell us something
  • How much public support is there for the militias among different communities? We might be able to find this out from opinion polls
  • Who is conducting the executions, and why? Analysts with more of a military background than IAG have already devoted a lot of effort to answering this question
  • Can we blame this all on the bombing of the mosque in Samarra, or did that event just exacerbate a trend that already existed?

And then there’s the money question that nobody has an answer to:

  • How can the violence be stopped?

UK Government wants to change the Geneva Conventions

Tuesday, April 4th, 2006

The UK Defence secretary is worried that the Geneva conventions place too many constraints on UK troops. The Daily Telegraph reports:

“We risk trying to fight 21st-century conflict with 20th-century rules which, when they were devised, did not contemplate the type of enemy which is now extant … The legal constraints upon us have to be set against an enemy that adheres to no constraints whatsoever.”

A key problem, according to the Defence Secretary, are the constraints on the treatment of prisoners. Ths problem thus is not the abuse at places such as Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib; or the push towards torture (more here); or even - morality apart - the strategic concequences of failure or moral leadership by UK and US troops (e.g., here). Instead, the Defence Secretary implies, the problem is that the Geneva Conventions make these things illegal.

More coverage:

  • The Guardian: International laws hinder UK troops - Reid (”But what if another threat develops?”, Mr Reid asked. “Not al-Qaida. Not Muslim extremism. Something none of us are thinking about at the moment.”)
  • The BBC: Reid urges rules of war ‘rethink’ (”We risk trying to fight a 21st century conflict with 20th century rules … The legal constraints upon us have to be set against an enemy that adheres no constraints whatsoever, but an enemy so swift to insist that we do in every particular, and that makes life very difficult for the forces of democracy”).
  • The Financial Times: Laws of war need to be redrawn, says Reid(”The laws of war need to be redrawn by the international community, John Reid, defence secretary, will say today, to eliminate the causes of legal anomalies, of which the US detention centre on Guantanamo Bay is the glaring example.”)

NYT Article on Sectarian Violence

Monday, April 3rd, 2006

I’m wondering whether IAG should put some mind- and research-power into looking at this current development in Iraq? I for one feel under-informed, as the media reports are not usually in-depth enough and I have a feeling that, at least in the UK, the general public sense of what the issues are in Iraq has not caught up with the reality of civil war or impending civil war.

For example, an article in yesterday’s New York Times indicates that American military casualties have been significantly sinking as Iraqi casualties shoot up: I had not been aware of quite how dramatically USA army casualties had gone down recently, and I sense that most people in the UK have not perceived quite what a shift there has been in the last six months in how the coalition fits in to the violence in Iraq. The NYT article makes the following point:

“the debate [about whether Iraq is in civil war] could increase the political pressure that President Bush is facing at home to draw down significantly the force of 133,000 American troops here. Even if American deaths keep falling, polls show the American public has little appetite for engagement in an Iraqi civil war.”

If we might potentially face a situation in which the Coalition withdraws with the rhetoric that Iraq is in civil war and that this is nothing to do with the Coalition, how would this affect IAG’s mandate of scrutinising UK policy in Iraq? Could IAG usefully look more specifically at the nature and extent of the US/UK role in the new intersectarian violence in Iraq (as opposed to violence clearly directed at occupiers)? E.g. how far the coalition is to blame for aggravating sectarianism, exactly what role they are playing now? I wonder (aloud - or rather - online) if we might have the capacity to think about a briefing on this. At the least, maybe we should put a priority for a while on fleshing out the IAG site in terms of information on sectarian violence in Iraq.

Website revamp

Monday, April 3rd, 2006

The website has been substantially revamped, with a new look and feel as well as some new features, including:

  • This blog. We will use this as a supplement to the main site to cover events and media reports, and for more informal discussion of developments in Iraq.
  • New “browse by keyword” page”, providing a new way to find information on the site.

As always, your comments are most welcome.