Journalism in the Public Interest

U.S. Stays Mum as Iraqi Security Forces Kill, Detain and Abuse Protesters


Iraqi protesters clash with Iraqi riot police on Feb. 25, 2011, in Baghdad's Tahrir square following a rally calling for improved public services, more jobs and less corruption. (Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images)

As the Mideast protests and government crackdowns continue, one country to watch closely is Iraq, with whom the U.S. has a long-term partnership and where clashes between protesters and government forces recently turned violent. Even as Iraqi security forces detained and abused hundreds of intellectuals and journalists, the U.S. government—in keeping with a pattern of silence on Iraq's abuses—has withheld criticism of its strategic ally. (Salon noticed this too.)

Asked generally about the violence against Iraqi demonstrators on Friday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said only “the approach we’ve taken with regard to Iraq is the same that we’ve taken with regard to the region,” which he said was to call on governments to respond to the protests peacefully. Neither the White House nor the State Department seem to have mentioned the matter since. Yesterday's State Department briefing discussed Libya, Egypt, Iran, Oman, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, China, Pakistan, Argentina, South Africa and Haiti—Iraq was never discussed.

Nearly 30 people have been killed in the Iraqi unrest so far, according to the Post, which noted that unlike in other Mideast countries, the Iraqis are demanding better services and an end to corruption, not an end to the government. More on the brutal round-ups, from the Post:

Four journalists who had been released described being rounded up well after they had left a protest of thousands at Baghdad's Tahrir Square. They said they were handcuffed, blindfolded, beaten and threatened with execution by soldiers from an army intelligence unit.

One journalist told the Post that Iraqi soldiers used electric shocks on him.

It’s far from the first time the government of Iraq has been accused of detaining and abusing citizens, including journalists. Allegations of abuse by the post-Saddam Iraqi government have been made year after year, even at times by the U.S. government, which has also had to come to terms with its own detainee torture and abuse in American-run prisons in Iraq.

Last year, the Los Angeles Times uncovered a secret Baghdad prison where hundreds of Sunni men were detained and tortured by Iraqi security forces. “They beat people, they used electricity,” one Iraqi official told the Times. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki vowed to shut the prison, saying: “Our reforms continue, and we have the Human Rights Ministry to monitor this. We will hold accountable anybody who was proven involved in such acts."

Asked about the detention and torture by Iraqi forces in July 2010, a senior administration official said in a background briefing that the U.S. is "engaged with the Iraqis" on these kind of issues "on a regular basis." The administration official noted that what was "particularly striking" was that the Iraqi government took corrective action and "Iraqis are finding a way to use the political system."

Months later, Amnesty International released another report detailing continued widespread abuse and torture in Iraqi prisons. And earlier this month, Human Rights Watch released a report that described yet another secret prison run by Maliki that was still operating. (Iraqi government officials denied the report.) Two Iraqi journalists told NPR their stories—one said he had been imprisoned at a secret facility for nine months; the other said his nephew was detained by Maliki’s personal combat brigade, which reportedly controls the secret prison.

Asked earlier this month about the latest prison allegations, a U.S. military spokesman made clear that U.S. troops were not involved and referred further questions to Maliki’s government, the Post reported.

Maybe Washington should consider imposing economic sanctions on Iraq?

Okay. We need to get all of our forces out of the middle east and everywhere else they are. We can huff and puff all we want and I for one of course am not supportive of the abuses but we are not doing well as a country ourselves and this has too grave a potential of spreading ourselves entirely too thin. Sanctions yes. Pull our troops out as well. Now.

Warner Anderson

March 1, 2011, 6:12 p.m.

The Government of Iraq spends 1/3 of its budget on salaries, perks and bodyguard corps for each official. Prestige is partially measured by the size of an official’s bodyguard force - a “security detachment” big enough, in some cases, to run its own prisons and rackets at taxpayer expense. The GoI needs to get reformed by its citizens (“the street”) and, as Sistani says, bring their salaries and perks more in line with their baseline. It’s become a kleptocracy and we’re sleeping with them. Factt is, GoI can’t withstand much in the way of protests and demonstrations - it’s too fragile a parliamentary coalition.

Thank you for such detailed and courageous investigations.  My thanks also to those who commented yesterday with whom I’m in agreement as well.

We need to get out of the Middle East cesspool. Frankly Muslim’s and others of that region are taking to much of our time, energy, resources and as well to many lives of our service people. I swear it is difficult to the impossible to have empathy with those folks. Get them out of our country, out of our news sources. If I never heard them speak again I would feel secure.

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