Human Rights Watch is charging that, despite U.S. government
assurances that it helped create a stable democracy, the reality
is that it left behind a "budding police state" -- cracking down harshly
beating, and detaining activists, demonstrators, and journalists.
The organization's Middle East and North Africa director, Sarah Leah
Whitson, warns that "Iraq is quickly slipping back into authoritarianism as its security forces abuse protesters, harass journalists, and torture detainees."
Its World Report 2012 attributes the downward trajectory to the security s ervices of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki" and armed gangs.
The report notes that in February, HRW "uncovered a secret detention
facility controlled by elite security forces who report to the military office of the Prime Minister. The report added, "The same elite divisions controlled Camp Honor, a separate facility in Baghdad where detainees were tortured with impunity."
The 676-page report report says, "Given the violent forces resisting the "Arab Spring," the international community has an important role to play in assisting the birth of rights-respecting democracies in the region."
The report documents a wide range of human rights abuses. For example, it says, "In the weeks before the last convoy of US troops left Iraq on December 18, Iraqi security forces rounded up hundreds of Iraqis accused of being former Baath Party members, most of whom remain in detention without charge."
The pullout of U.S. troops has been marked by an "apolitical crisis and a series of terrorist attacks targeting civilians that have rocked the country."
But Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence is not new and is unconnected to the US exit. A number of US Embassy cables released by Wikileaks refer to the torture of prisoners in Iraqi custody and of knowledge of some of it by US troops.
The annual report, which covers the state of human rights in some 90
countries, says that, during nationwide demonstrations in Iraq to "protest widespread corruption and demand greater civil and political rights," security forces "violently dispersed protesters, killing at least 12 on February 25, and injuring more than 100. Baghdad security forces beat unarmed journalists and protesters that day, smashing cameras and confiscating memory cards."
Earlier in the year, "in one of the worst incidents, government-backed thugs armed with wooden planks, knives, and iron pipes, beat and stabbed peaceful protesters and sexually molested female demonstrators as security forces stood by and watched, sometimes laughing at the victims," the report charges.
In May, the report says, the Council of Ministers approved a Law on the Freedom of Expression of Opinion, Assembly, and Peaceful Demonstration, which "authorizes officials to restrict freedom of assembly to protect 'the public interest' and in the interest of 'general order or public morals.' This law still awaits parliamentary approval.
HRW comments that freedom of expression fared little better as "security forces routinely abused journalists covering demonstrations, using threats, arbitrary arrests, beatings, and harassment, and confiscating or destroying their equipment."
On September 8, the report says, "An unknown assailant shot to death Hadi al-Mahdi, a popular radio journalist often critical of government corruption and social inequality, at his home in Baghdad. Immediately before his death, HRW says al-Mahdi had received several phone and text message threats not to return to Baghdad's Tahrir Square, which was the focal point for the weekly demonstrations."
Earlier, after attending the February 25 "Day of Anger" mass demonstration, security forces arrested, blindfolded, and severely beat him and three other journalists during a subsequent interrogation," HRW says.