Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

Diminished Religious Freedom in Iraq

Despite the addition of 30,000 U.S. troops to enhance security in Iraq, the freedom of average Iraqis to practice religion...

Despite the addition of 30,000 U.S. troops to enhance security in Iraq, the freedom of average Iraqis to practice religion deteriorated sharply during the past year, according to a report released last Friday by the U.S. State Department.

The ninth "Annual Report on International Religious Freedom," which covers 198 countries, described continued violence targeting people of specific faiths in Iraq and largely blamed the ongoing insurgency, as well as "conservative and extremist Islamic elements," for harming the ability of religious believers to practice their faith.

While acknowledging that some Iraqi government institutions continued their long-standing discriminatory practices against the Baha’i and Wahhabi Sunni Muslims, the report praised the government of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki for denouncing all incidents of sectarian violence and emphasizing its commitment to equal treatment for religious groups and ethnicities.

The Iraqi Constitution protects religious freedom yet focuses predominantly on Iraq’s Islamic identity, mandating that Islam be considered a source of legislation and that no law be enacted that contradicts the faith’s universally agreed-upon tenets.

"While conditions deteriorated during the reporting period, this situation was not due to Government abuse," said the report. "Unsettled conditions prevented effective governance in parts of the country, and the Government’s ability to protect religious freedoms was handicapped by insurgency, terrorism, and sectarian violence."

Four years after the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s government, more than 1.9 million Iraqis remain displaced inside their country, and more than 2 million have fled abroad to neighboring countries such as Syria, Jordan, Iran, Egypt, and Lebanon, according to figures from the UN High Commission for Refugees.

Many Iraqis fled before the fall of Hussein’s government in 2003, but in the following two years, more than 300,000 returned. The trend reversed, especially after the February 2006 bombing of the Shiite-revered al-Askari Mosque in Sammara, which intensified sectarian violence in the country.

Since then, Shiite militia members, unchallenged by the Iraqi government, have been accused of driving Sunnis from religiously mixed neighborhoods in Baghdad. Shiite families experience similar threats and harassment at the hands of self-professed Sunni insurgents.

Iraq’s Christian community has steadily dissipated, similarly driven out by a campaign of intimidation and violence. Of the 1.2 million Christians estimated to be living in the country before the 2003 invasion, only 600,000 remain, according to Chaldean Auxiliary Bishop Andreos Abouna of Baghdad, as mentioned in the State Department report.

"Although [sectarian violence] affected both the Sunni and Shi’a secular Muslim population, non-Muslims were especially vulnerable to pressure and violence, because of their minority status and, often, because of the lack of a protective tribal structure," said the report.

Shiite (Shi’a) Muslims—predominantly Arabs, but also including Turkmen, Faili Kurds, and other groups—constitute 60-65% of the population. Sunni Muslims make up a 32-37% minority. The remaining percentage is comprised of Christian groups such as Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syriacs, Armenians, and Protestants, as well as Yazidis, Sabean-Mandeans, Bahai’s, Shabaks, and Kaka’is.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is also alleged to have engaged in discriminatory practices against religious minorities. Christians living north of the city of Mosul claimed that the "KRG confiscated their property without compensation and began building settlements on their land."

Despite the claims, non-Muslims were among the 160,000 Iraqis who fled to Kurdish controlled Northern Iraq from more volatile areas in the middle and southern parts of the country, according to estimates by the Iraqi Red Crescent Society.

The George W. Bush administration’s "surge strategy" was aimed, in part, at providing increased security for all Iraqi citizens and, thus, breathing room for political reconciliation among Iraq’s increasingly adversarial political factions.

However, the report underscores the extent to which Iraq’s population continues to be polarized along sectarian lines, as well as the blurring lines between religiously inspired violence and political forces that utilize religion to achieve political ends.

"It is fair to say the attacks can be laid at the feet of the insurgency, whatever and whoever it is," said Joe Stork, a Middle East expert at Human Rights Watch.

Stork described violence carried out by government-connected Shiite "death squads" as not having "religious freedom connotations" per se, but rather as manifestations of political violence.

"The point of a deadly political contest," he said.

Analysts are leery of comparing the conditions of religious freedom in Iraq under Hussein to the current situation; Stork would not comment on the issue.

But the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent, bipartisan federal agency that monitors freedom of belief and gives independent policy recommendations to the secretary of state, has placed Iraq on its "watch list" one rung below "countries of particular concern (CPC)."

Iraq was designated a CPC under Hussein from 1999 to 2002 because of systematic government violations of religious freedom but was dropped from the list following the U.S. intervention and subsequent collapse of Hussein’s government.

"Today the issues are different, but extremely serious," said Judith Ingram, communications director at USCIRF. She said Iraq would be moved to the list of CPCs if improvements to religious freedom are not made in the next year.

The USCIRF has urged the U.S. government to take more effective action to respond to the growing refugee crisis that has grown due to the sectarian violence, and will hold a public hearing on September 19 to examine intra-Muslim sectarian violence, including what role, if any, the Iraqi government plays in that violence.

"From what we’ve seen and written so far, this government body does believe the Iraqi government does bear some responsibility, and we’re trying to determine further how direct that responsibility is," said Ingram.

Khody Akhavi reports for the Inter Press Service.

Citations

Khody Akhavi, "Diminished Religious Freedom in Iraq," Right Web Analysis (Somerville, MA: International Relations Center, September 19, 2007).

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is one of the Senate’s more vocal hawks, and one of the prime vacillators among Republicans between objecting to and supporting Donald Trump.


Ron Dermer is the Israeli ambassador to the United States and has deep connections to the Republican Party and the neoconservative movement.


The Washington-based American Enterprise Institute is a rightist think tank with a broad mandate covering a range of foreign and domestic policy issues that is known for its strong connections to neoconservatism and overseas debacles like the Iraq War.


Max Boot, neoconservative military historian at the Council on Foreign Relations, on Trump and Russia: “At every turn Trump is undercutting the ‘get tough on Russia’ message because he just can’t help himself, he just loves Putin too much.”


Since taking office Donald Trump has revealed an erratic and extremely hawkish approach to U.S. foreign affairs, which has been marked by controversial actions like dropping out of the Iran nuclear agreement that have raised tensions across much of the world and threatened relations with key allies.


Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas and an evangelical pastor, is a far-right pundit known for his hawkish policies and opposition to an Israeli peace deal with the Palestinians.


Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is known for her lock-step support for Israel and considered by some to be a future presidential candidate.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

The Trumpian new regional order in the Middle East is predicated on strongman rule, disregard for human rights, Sunni primacy over Iran and other Shia centers of power, continued military support for pro-American warring parties regardless of the unlawfulness of such wars, and Israeli hegemony.


A comparison of U.S. nuclear diplomacy with Iran and the current version with North Korea puts the former in a good light and makes the latter look disappointing. Those with an interest in curbing the dangers of proliferating nuclear weapons should hope that the North Korea picture will improve with time. But whether it does or not, the process has put into perspective how badly mistaken was the Trump administration’s trashing of the Iran nuclear agreement.


Numerous high profile Trump administration officials maintain close ties with anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists. In today’s America, disparaging Islam is acceptable in ways that disparaging other religions is not. Given the continuing well-funded campaigns by the Islamophobes and continuing support from their enablers in the Trump administration, starting with the president himself, it seems unlikely that this trend will be reversed any time soon.


The Trump administration’s nuclear proliferation policy is now in meltdown, one which no threat of “steely resolve”—in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s words—will easily contain. It is hemorrhaging in part because the administration has yet to forge a strategy that consistently and credibly signals a feasible bottom line that includes living with—rather than destroying—regimes it despises or fears. Political leaders on both sides of the aisle must call for a new model that has some reasonable hope of restraining America’s foes and bringing security to its Middle East allies.


Congressional midterm elections are just months away and another presidential election already looms. Who will be the political leader with the courage and presence of mind to declare: “Enough! Stop this madness!” Man or woman, straight or gay, black, brown, or white, that person will deserve the nation’s gratitude and the support of the electorate. Until that occurs, however, the American penchant for war will stretch on toward infinity.


To bolster the president’s arguments for cutting back immigration, the administration recently released a fear-mongering report about future terrorist threats. Among the potential threats: a Sudanese national who, in 2016, “pleaded guilty to attempting to provide material support to ISIS”; an Uzbek who “posted a threat on an Uzbek-language website to kill President Obama in an act of martyrdom on behalf of ISIS”; a Syrian who, in a plea agreement, “admitted that he knew a member of ISIS and that while in Syria he participated in a battle against the Syrian regime, including shooting at others, in coordination with Al Nusrah,” an al-Qaeda offshoot.


The recent appointment of purveyors of anti-Muslim rhetoric to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom exposes the cynical approach Republicans have taken in promoting religious freedom.


RightWeb
share