Iraqi Outrage at American Payout
Iraqis have reacted with disbelief and anger after their country agreed to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation to American victims of Saddam Hussein.
The package, worth $400 million (Dh1.5 billion), will settle outstanding claims by US citizens who were caught up in the Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait two decades ago. Hundreds of Americans were held as human shields by the former leader during the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War, with many saying they were tortured and subjected to psychological trauma. They have since sued the Iraqi government for financial damages.
Ordinary Iraqis were shocked by the news their government would make the payout, at a time when thousands of people are struggling with crippling poverty and the disastrous humanitarian fallout from the US-led invasion.Umm Samer, a mother of one from New Baghdad, a suburb of the city, burst into tears when she heard about the deal. Her 14-year-old son lost a leg when a US military vehicle accidentally ran over him five years ago.The family failed to get financial compensation from the US authorities, or aid from the Iraqi government, to help meet medical bills.
"It’s impossible to imagine that our government will pay the Americans when our own people are still suffering from what the Americans have done here," she said. "For years I’ve watched my son in his pain; he still has health and psychological problems from having his leg amputated, but we’ve had no help from anyone."Along with other Iraqis, Umm Samer said the compensation payment would only be acceptable to them if they, like their US counterparts, were now allowed to sue the US government for damages."The Americans have fought for their citizens’ rights against Saddam Hussein, now let our government ask for our rights," she said.
Another resident of New Baghdad, Ali Abdel Majeed, reacted with similar outrage over the compensation. His car was crushed when a US tank reversed over it in a skirmish with militants in 2006."I risked my life working with the interior ministry to save the money for that car," he said. "I wanted to go into business with it, but after the tank ran over it, there was nothing left. That cost me two years of my life."I’m furious that we are paying the Americans, especially for things that Saddam did. It doesn’t make sense."
The US military did have a so-called "consequence management" system for quick compensation of damages, but payments were hard to access and the sums were paltry. A dead family member, killed accidentally by US forces, would result in a cash handout of $2,500, the maximum amount allowed for each claim. A blown-up house might merit $1,300, a damaged door $50.
Iraq’s authorities have been reticent on the compensation settlement. The foreign ministry did issue a statement on its website confirming an agreement had been signed. It said the deal was aimed at helping to remove United Nations "Chapter 7" provisions currently imposed on Iraq, which include crippling sanctions levied against the former regime.Since 1994, Iraq has paid $30.15bn in reparations to Kuwait, with an additional $22.3bn still outstanding.Baghdad is required to put five per cent of its oil and gas revenues into the fund until all dues have been met, money it can ill afford given national budget deficits and overwhelming domestic needs.
Iraqi finance officials said paying the US compensation made fiscal sense, and would help to prevent Iraqi overseas assets from being frozen in banks."By paying this money we are protecting Iraqi money," said Mudher Mohammad Saleh, counsel to the governor of Iraq’s central bank. "If we didn’t make this payment and settle this case, the US would freeze our money under Chapter 7 provisions."
Despite that reasoning, the payout remains highly controversial, particularly at a time when people’s opinion of the government and of politicians has plunged to new lows. Elections were held more than six months ago and a new coalition administration has yet to be formed.While political factions horse-trade over the division of power, security has begun to fray dangerously.
The suggestion that US citizens were getting compensated for the psychological traumas inflicted on them by Saddam Hussein brought a sharp response from Abu Ghassan, a resident of Kut, 160km south-east of Baghdad.His wife had a heart attack when US forces mistakenly staged a dawn raid on their house, instead of the property next door, while trying to arrest a suspected militant more than two years ago.
"My family was terrified, my son still has nightmares about that and my wife has never recovered her health," he said. "The soldiers said sorry to us, but words don’t pay medical bills."I’m angry that the Iraqi government is paying Americans when they should be paying us."In Baghdad, Ammer Zubaidi, a renowned Iraqi psychotherapist helping patients cope with the mental traumas of war, said he understood the US government’s position in pushing for compensation.
"They have done what all governments must do for their people," he said."I now want to see our government do the same. If the Americans have hundreds of people with suffering trauma because of Iraq, Iraq has tens of thousands suffering because of America."I’ve got more patients than I can cope with, many of them are children who really need help and who are not getting it. I suggest our government draws up an invoice for all of this damage and sends it to Washington."
by Nizar Latif and Phil Sands, Foreign Correspondents
Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz 0 comments Precarious existence of Iraqi community
Among the estimated 1.2 million Iraqi refugees in Syria are several thousand Mandaeans, a small religious minority on the verge of extinction in Iraq, and lacking support in Syria.
Several organizations, including the Mandaean Society in Syria and the Spiritual Mandaean Council in Baghdad, have united to assist refugees coming from Iraq by organizing accommodation and support groups for widowed women, but because their numbers are small, Mandaeans as a community are particularly vulnerable.
Support in Syria has been difficult to obtain, either from the Syrian authorities, or from religious organizations, said the Mandaean Associations Union.Some sources say there are 60,000-70,000 Mandaeans worldwide. They originated from Iraq and revere, among others, John the Baptist.Like many Iraqi refugees they are facing difficult times financially. “Divorce among Mandaeans in Damascus is on the rise because people can’t get jobs and are running out of money. Over the past three years many have been forced to return to Iraq as their savings have dried up,” said Suhair, a Mandaean and former project coordinator for the US Agency for International Development in Baghdad.
Once prominent goldsmiths, lawyers and doctors in Iraq, Mandaeans continue to be kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam or to leave the country, according to the Mandaean Human Rights Group in Damascus.A 2009 UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) report, said extremists in Iraq continued to target members of non-Muslim religious minorities such as Christians, Yazidis and Mandaeans.
According to Suhair, who also volunteers for the Mandaean Associations Union, the worst cases are often women who, without headscarves, are easy targets. “Many women have been attacked for not wearing a `hijab’, while others have been forced to marry Muslim men,” she said.The situation of the remaining 3,500-5,000 Mandaeans in Iraq remains of serious concern as they continue to be singled out by Sunni and Shiite extremists as well as criminals on the basis of their religion, profession and perceived wealth, the UNHCR report said.
Meanwhile in Jaramanah, a neighbourhood on the eastern outskirts of Damascus populated largely by Iraqi refugees and Christians, Sunday mornings see couples married and group baptisms using centuries-old rituals.Sam has returned from Germany to wed Jasmin, a 27-year-old Mandaean who travelled from Baghdad to Damascus. “We couldn’t risk doing something like this in Iraq, it’s just too dangerous. In Damascus there is a Mandaean community to help us organize,” she said.
Cases for third country resettlement from Syria can only be assessed individually, according to UNHCR in Damascus. “Like other groups in Iraq, Mandaeans have faced violence at the hands of sectarian and criminal groups. UNHCR's provision of protection and assistance is informed by the actual needs of individual refugees, regardless of their ethnic or religious background,” said UNHCR spokesperson Farah Dakhlallah.
UNHCR does give special consideration to refugees “who have special needs based on various vulnerabilities,” but religion is not counted as one of those.“Because we are spread across 22 countries I think Mandaeans will become extinct in 30 years,” said Hamid, an English teacher who fled Baghdad in 2006. “Western countries don’t want to help us, they don’t care. What future do we have?”
As no group submissions for the resettlement of Iraqi refugees are accepted by the UNHCR, Mandaeans who have been resettled are now located across the globe - in Australia, Sweden, the UK, the USA, among other countries.“Today we are in serious trouble. No one will ever go back home to Iraq,” said a tearful Nasir who travelled thousands of kilometres from Cardiff in Wales to watch his wife and seven-year-old-child be baptized in Damascus.
By IRIN News
Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz 0 comments Iraqi Students try to catch up at school
As Iraq struggles to bolster its fledgling post-war economy, some of the young Iraqis upon whom its success will depend are falling behind.
In Syria, which has absorbed the majority of Iraqi refugees, educational difficulties have become widespread. On top of the mental stresses and missed classes due to war, Iraqi students face long commutes to schools that can accommodate them and pressing financial needs that pull them out of school to earn money for their families.
"The danger is a generation of Iraqi children ill-equipped to participate in the economy of their country," says Sherazade Boualia, the head of the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) office in Syria, which spends $6 million (Dh22 million) on its education initiative. "It is also fertile ground for exploitation, early marriage, and poverty."
At the brightly painted Sabaa school in Sayda Zeinab, a suburb of Damascus, Tamara Al Shaikha has spent her summer taking catch-up classes. An 18-year-old Iraqi refugee, Tamara had to repeat a year of school after her education in Iraq was disrupted by the sectarian violence that followed the 2003 US-led invasion.
The summer classes Tamara is taking are part of multiple efforts to improve access to education by the Syrian government, Unicef, and the European Union. These groups are also funding vocational training centres and training teachers in the specific needs of the Iraqi community. Such efforts, advocates say, are necessary to the future prosperity of Iraq.
But the challenges are numerous. Ameenah Meza'al, Sabaa's headmistress, says she has seen many of her Iraqi students drop out in the past two years. Enrolment among Iraqi children in Syrian schools has dropped 30 per cent since last year, according to Elizabeth Campbell of Refugees International, a US-based advocacy organisation, and many of those students who do attend show up irregularly.
While Jordan has also opened its borders — and schools — to refugees, Syria in particular is struggling."The needs in Syria are greatest as the majority of the Iraqi refugee community lives there. They also tend to be from a lower economic class," says Campbell.
"There is often a need for children to work or the family can't afford basic costs such as books and uniforms," she adds.Many refugees, who are not allowed to work legally in Syria, are relying on now-depleted savings and remittances. "To be successful, the needs of the entire family must be met," says Campbell.
Then there are the individual needs of the students, many of whom have had irregular or patchy schooling in recent years. "We have to try to find a common knowledge and work from there," says math teacher Ali Shaa. "It can be slow."Gailan Rashid, a 16-year-old who has missed five years of school in order to work in a textiles factory, is now attending evening classes once a week.
By Sarah Birke, Christian Science Monitor
Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz 0 comments Amnesty slams Iraq over prison torture
Amnesty International released a report this week that details allegations of torture at Iraq-run prisons and makes the case that they're no better than the detention centers that the U.S. military ran here from 2003 until earlier this year. It raises yet more questions about the Iraqi security forces that the Obama administration ceded authority to when it celebrated the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq.
"New Order, Same Abuses" says that several detainees have died in Iraqi custody due to torture or abuse by Iraqi interrogators and prison guards. It says that tens of thousands are being held without charges and that guards won't confirm missing persons' whereabouts to their relatives, which, for Iraqi families who'd lost loved ones, was one of the most devastating aspects of the U.S. occupation.
Some 30,000 detainees are being held in Iraq, Amnesty estimates. About a third of those were transferred from U.S. custody as American forces ended "combat operations" earlier this year. They're at risk of beatings, psychological abuse, forced confessions and mysterious disappearance, the human rights group said.
In a statement, the group's Middle East director, Malcolm Smart, said: "Iraq's security forces have been responsible for systematically violating detainees' rights and they have been permitted to do so with impunity. Yet the U.S. authorities, whose own record on detainees' rights has been so poor, have now handed over thousands of people detained by US forces to face this catalog of illegality, violence and abuse."
Not for breakfast-table reading is Amnesty's own catalog of what Iraqi prisoners are at risk of:Methods of torture include beating with cables and hosepipes, prolonged suspension by the limbs, administration of electric shocks to sensitive parts of the body, breaking of limbs, removal of finger and toenails, asphyxiation and piercing of the body with drills, and psychological torture such as threats of rape.
Not that Iraq doesn't have its own sordid history with prisons. As an Al Jazeera report noted, Saddam Hussein's regime was notorious for terrible abuses and an utter lack of due process. Iraq's new order may be no better.An Iraqi news agency, al Akhbariya, asked the government for a reply. The Justice Ministry said that it didn't have prisons to accommodate 30,000 people, calling the figure "greatly exaggerated."
About 200 Iraqi prisoners remain in U.S. custody in Iraq at the Baghdad facility once known as Camp Cropper, where American guards are watching over members of the Sunni militant group al Qaida in Iraq, former Saddam regime officials and other reportedly dangerous men. There are problems there, too, but of a different nature. Last week, four prisoners slipped past the U.S. military guards, and they're still at large.
Read the report.
By Shashank Bengali McClatchy Newspapers
Email This BlogThis! Share to Twitter Share to Facebook Share to Google Buzz 0 comments Iraq: from Frying Pan to Fire
The U.S. transfer of Iraqi detainees to national authorities with a long record of human rights abuses could prove illegal under international law, Amnesty International cautioned in a new report Tuesday.
In preparation for their 2011 withdrawal from Iraq, U.S. forces have been releasing detainees into the notorious Iraqi prison system. All but about 200 have now been transferred, without any guarantees against torture or ill- treatment, the report says.
"Iraq's security forces have been responsible for systematically violating detainees' rights and they have been permitted to do so with impunity," said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa, in a statement."Yet, the U.S. authorities, whose own record on detainees' rights has been so poor, have now handed over thousands of people detained by U.S. forces to face this catalogue of illegality, violence and abuse, abdicating any responsibility for their human rights," he added.
Despite numerous Iraqi court orders and a 2008 Amnesty Law requiring the release of uncharged detainees after six or 12 months depending on the case, an estimated 30,000 people remain under unlawful detention, according to the London- based rights group.Recently transferred detainees face new dangers in Iraqi custody. In April, Human Rights Watch revealed the existence of a secret Baghdad detention facility that practiced "systematic and routine torture".
Of the 300 men transferred to the Al Rusafa Detention Centre from the secret facility in the Old Muthanna airport, Human Rights Watch interviewed 42 prisoners who were consistent in describing grim conditions. According to personal accounts and corresponding physical evidence like scars, prisoners were hung upside-down, deprived of air, kicked, whipped, beaten, given electric shocks, and sodomised.
Despite numerous wartime abuses carried out by U.S. forces in Iraq, including the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, some Iraqis say they would prefer U.S. detention to national prison."Iraqis have become convinced that the occupying Americans are more merciful than the people of this country," Abu Huthaifa, an Iraqi who was in jail, told the Christian Science Monitor in May."[When] people leave the prisons, they leave with hatred toward the government and those leaders who manage to slander the word 'democracy,'" he said.
As U.S. forces make haste to transfer all security responsibilities to the Iraqi government, the Amnesty report criticises both the U.S. and Iraq for overlooking these detention abuses."U.S. forces, by transferring individuals to Iraqi detention facilities where they are clearly at risk of torture and other ill-treatment, may be complicit in these abuses and have breached their international obligations towards the prisoners," according to the report.
The majority of detainees are Sunni Arabs held under suspicion of working with armed Sunni groups against U.S. forces and Iraqi authorities. But the report also documents hundreds of Shi'a Muslims suspected of supporting the al- Mahdi Army, a group that has been in armed opposition of the occupation until recently.Camp Cropper, near the Baghdad International Airport, is cited in the Amnesty report as the last prison to switch from U.S. to Iraqi control in July 2010.Reporters from the Christian Science Monitor visited the centre in 2009 when transfers were already taking place.
Col. John Huey, the commander responsible for the internment facilities at the camp, recognised that prisoners should be transferred only to centres run by the Ministry of Justice because those run by the Interior and Defence Ministries were far worse. However, reporters from the Monitor observed U.S. soldiers in Diyala transferring prisoners to Interior Ministry prisons, which was apparently normal procedure.
The Amnesty report recommends that Iraq ratify the Rome Statute creating the International Criminal Court, as well as the second Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, and the Optional Protocol of the U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
"The Iraqi authorities must take the firm and decisive action now, at the completion of the handover of prisons to Iraqi custody, to show that they have the political will to uphold the human rights of all Iraqis, in accordance with their international obligations, and to stop the torture and other gross abuses of detainees' rights that are so prevalent today," said Smart.
"Detainees who have been held for long periods without recognisable criminal charges against them, and without having been tried, must be released or brought to trial promptly in full compliance with international standards of fair trial and without recourse to the death penalty," he said.
By Peter Boaz for the IPS