Iraq: "Last chance" for gov't to restore order

BAGHDAD, 26 April 2007 (IRIN) - While the Iraqi government has dismissed a recent UN human rights report exposing the failures of the US-backed Baghdad security plan, local analysts agree with its findings and say authorities should adopt immediate measures to protect the population.

"It [the government] should react immediately or quit," said Mohammed Nasser Jamil, a Baghdad-based political analyst who lectures in international relations at the University of Baghdad. "The country is falling apart and is at its worst point. It needs real recovery and meaningful plans should be put in place to save the people of this country."

Released on Wednesday, the report by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) paints a bleak picture of many aspects of life in the war-weary country. Incessant violence, ever-growing numbers of displaced people, increased targeting of minority groups and professions, rising food insecurity and widespread human rights abuses have fuelled a "rapidly worsening humanitarian crisis", the report said.

Despite the joint coalition-Iraqi security plan, 'Operation Law and Order', being in place since 14 February, UNAMI described the current environment in Iraq as "characterised by impunity, a breakdown in law and order".

"The government should know that militants are fleeing Baghdad to other areas of the country. It should follow a new military strategy to chase them out of Baghdad or engage with local tribes nationwide to fight these militants, if it doesn't have enough military personnel," Jamil said.

Up to eight million vulnerable

The UNAMI report said up to eight million of Iraq's 26 million inhabitants were "vulnerable" and in need of immediate assistance. Four million were at risk because of a lack of food.

It expressed "utmost" concern at the apparent lack of judicial guarantees in the handling of about 3,000 suspects arrested and detained in security sweeps over the past two months in the context of the security plan. The report condemned the continued "use of torture and inhuman treatment" in detention centres though the prime minister had "pledged that the government would respect human rights".

In its immediate reaction to the report, the Iraqi government called the UNAMI assessment "inaccurate" and "unbalanced" and warned that it put the UN's credibility at stake.

"The Iraqi government announced its deep reservations about the report that is inaccurate in presenting information; it lacks credibility in many of its points. Also, it lacks balance in presenting the situation of the human rights situation in Iraq," the government said in a brief statement.

However, not far outside the government's confines, in the heavily guarded Green Zone area, political analysts say the government is in denial over the extent of the crisis in the country and must change its perceptions and actions immediately.

"A plan 'B' should be adopted by the government and US forces. Otherwise, no one will be spared of his life," said Tawfiq Abdul-Rahman al-Nasih, a Bagdad-based analyst and retired law expert who is also a columnist in many local newspapers.

"Government officials and politicians should go ahead with the reconciliation plan [Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's 24-point reconciliation plan, launched on 25 June this year] and make concessions to each other to save this county from falling into an abyss," al-Nasih added. "This is the last chance for the government and it should review all its plans before it's too late."

In its human rights report, UNAMI said that the Iraqi government withheld recent casualty figures from the UN, fearing they would be used to present a grim picture of Iraq that would undermine its security efforts.

Civilian casualties remain high

Working with its own figures, UNAMI said civilian casualties in the daily violence between 1 January and 31 March remained high, and was concentrated in and around Baghdad.

In its last report, which was issued in January, UNAMI said that 34,452 civilians were killed last year, including 6,376 in November and December alone, based on information from the Iraqi Health Ministry, hospitals across the country and the Medico-Legal Institute [the mortuary] in Baghdad.

Iraqi officials said these figures were inflated.

The UNAMI report also highlighted the plight and needs of hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people (IDPs).

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization of Migration (IOM), about 700,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since 22 February 2006, when sectarian violence erupted after the bombing of a revered Shia shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad. These IDPs are in addition to the 1.2 million people who were displaced before the Samarra bombing.

"Women and children make up three quarters of the newly displaced. Rape, threats of rape, domestic violence, disappearances and detentions after displacement remained a major concern. Many IDPs had irregular or no access to basic services, especially electricity, water, education and health," the 30-page report said, adding that the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration "bears primary responsibility for the coordination of protection and assistance to IDPs".

Analysts said getting to the root of the widening sectarian divide is the only way to stem the violence and ensuing displacement in Iraq. But doing that would require a definitive pull-out date for all foreign forces.

"The government should bring Shias, Sunnis and Kurds together and have all Iraq's segments to take part in decision-making, not excluding anyone," said analyst al-Nasih. "It should also to reconsider discussing a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces to lure those who are relentlessly fighting them and convince them to join the political process."