The War Profiteers - War Crimes, Kidnappings, Torture and Big Money
November 22nd, 2006 - Iraqi Civilian Deaths Hit New High
By Louise Roug
Los Angeles Times
9:51 AM PST, November 22, 2006
Baghdad - In its bleakest assessment since the U.S.-led invasion, the United Nations today reported the highest monthly death toll among Iraqi civilians so far: At least 3,709 killed during October, up nearly 400 from September and 700 more than in August.
The vast majority of the killings took place in Baghdad.
The continued slaughter of civilians as well as increasing poverty has forced more than 2 million people from their homes, according to the report. Every month, nearly 100,000 Iraqis flee to neighboring Jordan and Syria, the U.N. found.
"The government has firmly stated its commitment to address growing human rights violations," the bimonthly U.N. Human Rights report says. "Nonetheless, violence reached alarming levels in many parts of the country."
The U.N. received the death toll figures from the Baghdad morgue and the Iraqi Health Ministry.
Violence continued today with assassinations and bombing attacks, authorities reported. Gunmen in west Baghdad killed a bodyguard of Iraq's controversial speaker of parliament, Mahmoud Mashadani. The shooting followed an attempted assassination of Mashadani the previous day when a car in his convoy blew up near the Convention Center inside Baghdad's highly security Green Zone.
Separately, armed men shot and killed Raad Jaafar, a journalist working for the Sabah newspaper, also in western Baghdad. An Industry Ministry official was assassinated in another shooting.
A bomb hidden under a couple of bodies dumped near Haifa Street injured two police officers who tried to recover the corpses. Bombings and mortars killed two and injured two others in separate attacks.
A Task Force Lightning soldier assigned to 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, was killed and three others were wounded Tuesday when an improvised explosive device detonated near their vehicle while they were conducting operations in Salahuddin province, the military reported today. Another from the unit died Tuesday from an injury caused by an accident.
Gianni Magazzeni, chief of U.N.'s Human Rights Office in Baghdad, presented the world body's grim Human Rights report inside the Green Zone.
While Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's government has "taken a number of important steps in protecting human rights," more should be done to improve the rule of law, he told reporters.
Among other things, he highlighted an inquiry into abuses at a Ministry of Interior detention facility discovered last year. So far, the Iraqi government has not made public any of its findings.
"The more there is impudence and no one is punished for their crimes, the more that fuels the cycle of violence and counter-violence," Magazzeni said. Bringing people to justice will be key to restoring order in the country, he added.
The report underscores the enormity of that task.
"Many of the death squads and rival militias have direct links with or are supported by influential political parties belonging to the government and are not hiding their affiliation," according to the report. "Militias and other armed groups are said to be in control of whole areas in the east and west of Baghdad and continue to carry out illegal policing, manning of checkpoints and 'dispensation of justice' through illegal trials and extra-judicial executions."
Arbitrary arrests, allegations of torture and sexual abuse, deplorable prison conditions and a lack of judicial guarantees characterize Iraq's detention system, according to the report.
In Kirkuk, Kurdish militias have allegedly conducted brutal arrests, transferring detainees to secret prisons in Kurdistan where they have been held without trial for long periods.
The police and army are reportedly infiltrated by Shiite militias and death squads and absenteeism is widespread.
In Kirkuk alone, the report says, "half of the 5,000 police force and 13,000 army soldiers are not reporting to duty at any given time."
The report also notes that operations by American troops in Al Anbar province "continued to cause severe suffering to the local population."
Earlier in the week, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan addressed the question of the U.S. military presence in Iraq, saying that the "U.S. is in a way trapped in Iraq, trapped in the sense that it cannot stay and it cannot leave." He also warned that an American withdrawal should "not lead to a further deterioration."
Britain, the top U.S. ally in Iraq, may hand over security responsibilities in the southern city of Basra to Iraqi forces by the spring, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett told the British Parliament, according to Associated Press.
Violence in southern Iraq, as in the rest of the country, has worsened dramatically since the Feb. 22 bombing of a key Shiite mosque in Samarra.
In the capital, entire neighborhoods have been cleansed according to sectarian affiliation. The report cites one mixed neighborhood where Shiite militias warned families to leave the area within 24 hours. Gunmen then reportedly burned two houses with the residents still inside.
Assassinations and persecution of women, minorities, journalists, intellectuals, doctors, lawyers, politicians and security forces continued "in an alarming number" during the last two months.
"Incidents of honor killings, kidnappings associated with rape and sex slavery, and killing of women and children for sectarian reasons were reported in Kurdistan, Kirkuk and Mosul," the report says. Secular and Christian women are harassed for not wearing head scarves and long skirts.
Attacks against Christians in general are also on the rise, especially following controversial comments about Islam made by Pope Benedict XVI in September. Churches and a convent have been attacked, and clergy have been kidnapped and killed in northern Iraq in particular.
The targeting of teachers and professors has meant the closure of many schools and universities. Earlier this month, as many as 150 employees and visitors to the Ministry of Higher Education offices in Baghdad were kidnapped. Sunni politicians charge that as many as 80 are still missing.
In 2006 alone, more than 300 teachers and ministry employees have been killed. In the western city of Ramadi, most schools have been closed after threats by Al Qaeda. In the troubled Diyala province, only 10% of the schools are currently offering classes.
At least 18 journalists have been killed in the past two months, according to the U.N. Since 2003, more than 150 journalists and other media workers have been slain. The report also notes the detention of journalists by both the Iraqi government and U.S.-led forces.
The number of disappeared and missing persons is also growing, according to the report. Relatives of Sunni victims going to the Shiite-controlled Health Ministry complex to claim bodies from the morgue have been abducted and killed, and others now fear to go to the morgue.
The violence has forced as many as 1.6 million people to leave Iraq. Almost 440,000 others have been displaced inside the country, the report says. Children and older Iraqis living in tent camps are particularly at risk as the winter approaches.
Despite the grim findings, Magazzeni told reporters after the news conference: "We should not lose hope."