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

Haim Saban is a media mogul and major donor to the Democratic Party known for his hardline stance on Israel and opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.


Nikki Haley, Donald Trump’s first U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is known for her lock-step support for Israel and is widely considered to be a future presidential candidate.


Brian Hook is the director of policy planning and senior policy advisor to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and is the head of the Iran Action Group.


Josh Rogin is a journalist known for his support for neoconservative policies and views.


Laurence Silberman, a senior justice on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, was a mentor to controversial Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and has been a vocal supporter of right-wing foreign and domestic agendas, including the campaign to support the invasion of Iraq.


The People’s Mujahedin of Iran, or MEK, advocates regime change in Iran and has strong connections with a wide range of top political figures in the U.S.


Eli Lake is a columnist for Bloomberg View who has a lengthy record of advocating for aggressive U.S. foreign policies towards the Middle East.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Jobs should not be an excuse to arm a murderous regime that not only appears to be behind the assassination of a U.S. resident and respected commentator but is also responsible for thousands of civilian casualties in Yemen—the majority killed with U.S-supplied bombs, combat aircraft, and tactical assistance.


The contradictions in Donald Trump’s foreign policy create opportunities for both rivals and long-standing (if irritated) US allies to challenge American influence. But Trump’s immediate priority is political survival, and his actions in the international arena are of little concern to his domestic supporters.


While the notion that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic is decades old, it has been bolstered in recent years, by the campaign to add to the definition of anti-Semitism any criticism that singles Israel out and doesn’t apply the same standard to other countries. The bottom line is that this entire effort is designed not to combat anti-Semitism but to silence criticism. 


Short-term thinking, expedience, and a lack of strategic caution has led Washington to train, fund, and support group after group that have turned their guns on American soldiers and civilians.


Trump is not the problem. Think of him instead as a summons to address the real problem, which in a nation ostensibly of, by, and for the people is the collective responsibility of the people themselves. For Americans to shirk that responsibility further will almost surely pave the way for more Trumps — or someone worse — to come.


The United Nations has once again turn into a battleground between the United States and Iran, which are experiencing one of the darkest moments in their bilateral relations.


In many ways, Donald Trump’s bellicosity, his militarism, his hectoring cant about American exceptionalism and national greatness, his bullying of allies—all of it makes him not an opponent of neoconservatism but its apotheosis. Trump is a logical culmination of the Bush era as consolidated by Obama.


RightWeb
share