Covering events from January - December 2004

US-led forces in Iraq committed gross human rights violations, including unlawful killings and arbitrary detention, and evidence emerged of torture and ill-treatment. Thousands of Iraqi civilians were killed during armed clashes between US-led forces and Iraqi security forces on the one side, and Iraqi armed groups on the other.

Armed groups committed gross human rights abuses, including targeting civilians, hostage-taking and killing hostages. Women continued to be harassed and threatened amid the mounting daily violence. The death penalty was reinstated in August by the new interim government.


At the start of 2004 Iraq was occupied by US-led Coalition forces and governed by the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), which had been appointed in 2003 by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) headed by Paul Bremer.

On 8 March the IGC agreed an interim constitution. Among its main provisions were that the three Kurdish provinces in the north would remain autonomous, freedom of speech and religious expression would be guaranteed, elections to a National Assembly, mandated to draft a constitution, would be held by January 2005, and at least a quarter of the National Assembly should be women. Many Shi'a clerics, especially Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, expressed reservations about the interim constitution, in particular provisions allowing for US-led multinational forces to remain in Iraq after the formal end of occupation, the right of three provinces to veto a referendum on a permanent constitution and a three-quarter majority requirement to amend the constitution.

On 1 June the IGC was dissolved and an interim government was announced. Iyad 'Allawi, a Shi'a Muslim, was appointed Prime Minister. Shaikh Ghazi al-Yawar, a Sunni Muslim, was appointed President, a largely ceremonial position.

On 8 June the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1546, which declared that Iraq's occupation would end on 30 June and called for National Assembly elections by 31 January 2005. The resolution gave the UN a greater role in helping the Iraqis in the political and human rights fields during the transitional period, including the convening of a national conference, held in August, to select a consultative council to advise the interim government, with the power to veto its orders. Resolution 1546 stated that the US-led multinational force would remain in Iraq until the end of 2005 (unless asked to leave earlier by the Iraqi government) with the authority to "take all necessary measures to contribute to the maintenance of security and stability in Iraq".

On 28 June, the Iraqi interim government replaced the CPA, formally ending the occupation of Iraq. However, the US-led multinational force of around 150,000 troops continued to exercise control over security-related matters.

The dire security situation deteriorated further throughout 2004. There was intense fighting between the US-led forces and Iraqi armed groups opposed to their presence. Attacks by Iraqi insurgents on Iraqi police stations, US and UK troops and other targets, including civilian targets, steadily mounted. Thousands of Iraqis as well as US soldiers and other nationals died as a result.

In April, US Marines launched a military operation in Falluja after the killing of four US security guards. A ceasefire was agreed, US troops left the city and for the next few months Falluja was reportedly controlled by insurgents.

Also in April fighting erupted in Baghdad and in southern Iraq between Coalition forces and Iraqi troops on one side and the "Mahdi Army", a militia of the Shi'a Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, on the other. The fighting began after the CPA closed down the newspaper of Muqtada al-Sadr's group, ordered his arrest, and detained one of his closest aides. Clashes between the Mahdi Army and US troops continued for weeks in al-Najaf, Kufa and Karbala.

In August these clashes erupted again in al-Najaf, Basra and Baghdad. They lasted for more than two weeks before an agreement to end the fighting was reached, with the involvement of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

In November US Marines and Iraqi forces launched an all-out attack on Falluja. Between 1,200 and 1,600 insurgents and 71 Marines were reportedly killed, as well as an unknown number of Iraqi civilians, and the city was devastated. Most of Falluja's population fled before the military operations.

On 7 November a 60-day state of emergency was declared throughout Iraq (except in the Kurdish provinces) following widespread bomb and suicide attacks by insurgents. Towards the end of the year, after the interim government announced that elections would be held on 30 January 2005, insurgents stepped up their attacks.

Detention without charge or trial

A letter by the US Secretary of State annexed to UN Security Council Resolution 1546 lists "internment" among the tasks of the "Multinational Forces" after 28 June, but fails to mention what legal framework or safeguards would apply. On 27 June, the CPA issued a memorandum setting out the process of arrest and detention by US-led forces after 28 June. Criminal suspects held by the US-led forces had the right to remain silent, to consult a lawyer and to be brought before a judicial authority no later than 90 days. "Security internees" could be held for up to 18 months, but in special cases this could be extended further; they were entitled to periodic reviews of their continued detention.

Thousands of people were held without charge on suspicion of anti-Coalition activities and their legal status at the end of the year was not clarified. Many were held in harsh conditions, including in unacknowledged centres, for months and were denied access to lawyers and families for long periods.

  • Mohammad Jassem 'Abd al-'Issawi, who was arrested on 17 December 2003, was first held incommunicado in Abu Ghraib prison and then transferred to Camp Bucca in Um Qasr. US soldiers reportedly kicked and punched him during arrest at his home in Baghdad. His family only discovered where he was being held in mid-2004.
  • Al-Shaikh 'Adnan al-'Unaibi was arrested in al-Hilla, Babel governorate, by US soldiers in May during a meeting organized by followers of Moqtada al-Sadr. By the end of 2004 his whereabouts remained unknown despite efforts by the Babel Human Rights Association to locate him.

Arrests of people suspected of involvement with insurgents or critical of the presence of foreign troops were reported daily. Many of those detained were picked up in indiscriminate and violent raids, often at night.

At the end of November a senior US military official announced that 8,300 people were being held by US-led forces in Iraq. These included about 4,600 held in Camp Bucca, about 2,000 in Abu Ghraib, and 1,700 in holding areas in the custody of field commanders. Both Camp Bucca and Abu Ghraib remained under the control of US forces after the June handover of power. Some detainees, known as "ghost detainees", were hidden to prevent the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) from visiting them.

  • On 17 June, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld admitted that in November 2003 he had ordered military officials in Iraq to detain a suspected senior member of Ansar al-Islam, an armed Islamist group operating primarily in northern Iraq, without listing him in the prison's register. The prisoner was reportedly arrested in mid-2003, transferred to an undisclosed location outside Iraq, returned to Iraq and detained in secret until May 2004. It was not known whether the prisoner was still held at the end of 2004.


Hundreds of detainees were released during 2004. On 23 March Coalition forces announced the release of 494 detainees because they no longer posed a "security threat". On 15, 16 and 30 September, a total of 563 detainees were reportedly released from Abu Ghraib Prison. After August, cases were reviewed by the Combined Review and Release Board, including six Iraqi officials from the Ministries of Justice, Human Rights and the Interior and three colonels from the multinational force.

  • On 14 February the CPA announced the release of Sa'adoun Hammadi, former speaker of the Iraqi parliament, who had been held without charge since May 2003.

Torture and ill-treatment by US-led forces

Torture and ill-treatment by US-led forces were widely reported. An ICRC report leaked in February identified several methods of torture and ill-treatment during arrest, internment and interrogation, including: hooding for up to four days; handcuffing that caused skin lesions and nerve damage; beatings with hard objects; threats of execution; solitary confinement; acts of humiliation with detainees being paraded naked; exposure while hooded to loud noise or music; and being forced to remain for long periods in painful "stress" positions.

A US military investigation, headed by Major General Antonio Taguba and conducted between August 2003 and February 2004, found "systemic and illegal abuse of detainees" in Abu Ghraib prison and that US military personnel had "committed egregious acts and grave breaches of international law at Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca".

In April photographs of Iraqi detainees being tortured and ill-treated in 2003 by US soldiers in Abu Ghraib prison were published around the world. They showed groups of naked Iraqi detainees being forced to adopt humiliating and sexually explicit positions. Electric wires were attached to the body of one detainee. Others were seen threatened by dogs. Other evidence indicated that Iraqi prisoners were beaten severely, forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, made to masturbate in front of female US soldiers, and forced to walk on their hands and knees and bark like dogs. US officials stated that "abuse" in Abu Ghraib was the responsibility of a few soldiers and that charges would be brought against them. One US soldier was sentenced to a year's imprisonment in May after pleading guilty to abuse charges at a special court martial in Baghdad. In October another US soldier was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment after pleading guilty to several abuse charges. Other soldiers were awaiting trial by the end of the year.

In June the UK authorities announced that four members of the Royal Regiment of the Fusiliers would face court martial for abuse of detainees elsewhere in Iraq.

  • Huda Hafez Ahmed, a businesswoman, was arrested in late 2003 when she went to a US base in al-'Adhamiya district of Baghdad to look for her sister, Nahla, who had been detained. Following her release in June she stated that she was left overnight in a cold room with only a wooden chair, hit in the face, made to stand for 12 hours with her face against a wall, and subjected to loud music and sleep deprivation for three days.

Killings of civilians

Hundreds of Iraqi civilians were killed by US-led forces when they launched major attacks against insurgents in Falluja, Baghdad, Mosul, Samarra and other cities and towns.

  • In April at least 600 civilians, including many women and children, were reportedly killed in Falluja as a result of such attacks.
  • On 12 September, 13 civilians, including a young girl and a television cameraman, were killed in Haifa street, Baghdad, when US troops fired from a helicopter at a crowd, allegedly in response to shots fired from the same area. Press reports contradicted the US account that shots had been fired at the helicopter from the area.

In February UK officials said that UK forces had been involved in the killing of 37 civilians since 1 May 2003, and acknowledged that the figure was not comprehensive.

  • On 1 January Ghanem Kadhem Kati' was shot dead in Beit Asfar by UK soldiers. A neighbour reportedly tried to tell the soldiers that earlier gunfire was part of a wedding celebration. Ghanem Kadhem Kati' was unarmed and standing with his back to the soldiers. The UK military police apparently launched an investigation, but its findings were not published by the end of 2004.

Inadequate investigations by UK and US governments

US, UK and other foreign forces in Iraq continued to enjoy immunity from Iraqi criminal and civil law. They remained subject solely to the jurisdiction of their own states. Only a minority of killings of Iraqi civilians and other alleged abuses involving multinational forces were investigated, and those investigations that did take place were often inadequate and shrouded in secrecy. In many cases, victims' families were not told how to apply for compensation, or were given misleading information. In December the High Court in the UK ordered a full inquiry into the death in custody in Basra in September 2003 of an Iraqi detainee, Baha Dawood Salem al-Maliki (also known as Baha Dawood Salem).

Abuses by armed groups

Armed groups opposed to the presence of US-led forces in Iraq were responsible for gross human rights abuses which caused thousands of civilian casualties. These groups, thought to be a mixture of former Ba'ath supporters, former members of the various security services, Sunni radical Islamist groups and foreign fighters, were behind numerous attacks targeting civilians as well as indiscriminate attacks. Most of their attacks, including suicide bombings and explosions, targeted Iraqi security forces and police stations, members of the US-led forces, members of the government and Iraqis working for or cooperating with the Iraqi interim government and the US-led forces. Some attacks on government targets such as police stations left scores of civilians dead.

Hostage-taking rose dramatically after April. Many Iraqis and foreign nationals, including aid workers, journalists, truck drivers and civilian contractors, were kidnapped by armed groups to put pressure on their governments to withdraw their troops from Iraq, or to discourage foreigners from travelling to Iraq. Scores of hostages were executed by their captors. Other kidnappings were carried out by armed groups to extract ransoms from families or employers. Some kidnap victims, including children, were killed.

  • On 2 March more than 100 civilians were killed and over 400 injured when nine bombs were detonated in Karbala and Baghdad during 'Ashura, the holiest day in the Shi'a Muslim calendar.
  • On 21 April, 73 people, including 17 children, were killed when several bombs exploded at three police stations in Basra and a police academy in the Zubair area.
  • On 17 June, at least 41 people were killed and more than 138 injured in a car bomb attack outside an army recruitment centre in al-Muthana district, Baghdad. Most of the victims were civilians applying for jobs.
  • In August, 12 Nepalese men, taken hostage by the Iraqi armed group Army of Ansar al-Sunna, were killed.
  • On 30 September a series of bombs detonated in Baghdad as crowds gathered to celebrate the opening of a water treatment plant. At least 41 civilians, including 34 children, were killed. The al-Tawhid wal Jihad armed group led by Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi claimed responsibility on its website.
  • On 19 December, 66 people were killed when suicide bombers targeted a bus station in Karbala and a funeral procession in Najaf. At least 200 others were reportedly injured.

Violence against women

Women and girls continued to be harassed, injured and killed by armed groups and individuals, relatives, and members of the US-led forces. Many women lived under constant fear of being beaten, abducted, raped or murdered. The interim constitution and limited amendments introduced by the CPA, while being steps in the right direction, fell far short of the extensive reforms necessary to end discrimination against women in Iraqi legislation, including in the penal, personal status and nationality laws.

Several women political leaders were targeted in politically motivated attacks, and campaigners for women's rights were threatened.

  • In March, gunmen in Mosul opened fire on Nisreen Mustafa al-Burwari, the only woman member of the Iraqi cabinet at the time. She escaped unhurt, but two of her bodyguards were killed.
  • Yanar Mohammad, a member of the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, was threatened with death in early 2004 unless she stopped her activities to protect women's rights. The threats appeared to come from an Islamist group known as the Army of Sahaba. She reportedly asked CPA officials for protection, but was told there were more urgent matters that needed attention.
  • In November Amal al-Ma'malji, a women's rights activist and adviser at the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Affairs, was killed in her car in Baghdad along with her secretary, bodyguard and driver. She was a co-founder of the Advisory Committee for Women's Affairs in Iraq and the Independent Iraqi Women Assembly.

There continued to be reports of "honour killings" in which women and girls were killed by male relatives in connection with alleged "immoral behaviour". These crimes were often ignored by the police. Several organizations began working in Iraq during 2004 to help women victims of violence. However, support facilities, such as shelters or rehabilitation centres, were not available for the vast majority of women victims of violence.

Death penalty

In August the Iraqi interim government reinstated the death penalty for a range of crimes including murder, drug trafficking, kidnapping and "endangering national security". Although the authorities justified the reimposition of the death penalty on grounds of the deteriorating security situation, there were indications that some Iraqi officials opposed its use.

  • In November the head of the Supreme Judicial Council stated that 10 people had been sentenced to death by Iraqi courts. The death sentences were upheld by an appeal court and were reportedly with the Iraqi President and the Prime Minister for final confirmation. At the end of 2004 it was not known if any executions had been carried out.

Judicial proceedings against former government leaders

On 1 July, former President Saddam Hussain and 11 senior members of his government appeared before the Iraqi Central Criminal Court and not the Iraqi Special Tribunal which was set up in December 2003 specifically to try Saddam Hussain and other former officials. They were charged with crimes punishable under Iraqi legislation. However, defence counsel was not made available to the accused. For months lawyers complained about the failure of the US and Iraqi authorities to authorize visits to the detainees who were held in a detention centre at Baghdad Airport.

At the end of 2004 Iraqi judicial authorities were still finalizing the rules of procedures and evidence for the Iraqi Special Tribunal. Twenty-one judges and prosecutors were reportedly selected as members of the Tribunal. In December 'Ali Hassan al-Majid, a former General and loyal relative of Saddam Hussain, and Sultan Hashem Ahmad, the former Defence Minister, appeared before an investigative judge for a pre-trial hearing. Charges against them reportedly included involvement in the 1988 gassing of Kurds in Halabja and the crushing of the Kurdish and Shi'a uprising in March 1991.

AI country visits

In February and March an AI delegation visited southern Iraq to investigate human rights violations, including killings of civilians.

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