First Published: 2012-10-29


Iraq amnesty could set killers loose


Draft law intended to promote return to normality, but critics warn of opposite effect if militants believe they have impunity.


Middle East Online

By Laith Hammoudi - Iraq

There is a danger that a mass release could prompt victims to deliver their own forms of justice

Iraqs parliament has postponed discussions on a controversial amnesty law that could see thousands of convicted and suspected killers released from jail.

Opponents of the bill say it would trample on the rights of victims and their families in order to achieve a political objective whose success is uncertain.

A parliamentary debate on the amnesty law was delayed several times in -October, because the various political factions disagreed on its term. By October 15, it was clear the expected vote was not going to happen, and the matter was postponed until further notice.

One of the bills backers, parliamentarian Khalid al-Jaiyashi of the Shia-dominated National Iraqi Alliance, says it is designed to give a second chance to those who were forced into criminality.

It remains unclear exactly which categories of convicts will be included in the final draft.

As well as common criminals, it is clear the law would cover at least some of those convicted of murder and other serious crimes during the wave of militant attacks and sectarian warfare that followed the United States-led invasion of 2003.

The violence was at its worse in 2006-07 with a complex set of conflicts involving Sunni and Shia militias and al-Qaeda linked militants, often resulting in the random slaughter of civilians just because they lived in an area dominated by the wrong group. Thousands of Iraqis were killed, and hundreds of thousands more displaced.

From late 2007 onwards, the scale of violence subsided as the Iraqi authorities launched a series of military operations targeting both Sunni and Shia armed groups across the country. Thousands of paramilitaries were arrested in the process, and it is this group of detainees who could benefit most from the amnesty under discussion.

Critics of the law say much of its wording is vague and ambiguous. Article 4 of the document defines offences whose perpetrators will not be eligible for release, including terrorist crimes committed by individuals, groups or organisations that are banned locally or internationally, and crimes that threaten national unity and present a danger to public security and stability. Amendments made to the law subsequently rule out people responsible for bomb blasts and certain kinds of kidnappings, and cases where the firearms used were fitted with silencers.

Shia lawmaker Abbas al-Bayati says this still leaves a lot of loopholes, so that many violent criminals could be freed.

Article 4 cites explosions and kidnappings that target judges and doctors, but does not mention [similar actions targeting] children and ordinary people, he said. It creates great scope for releasing criminals many explosions took place in the street and targeted people going about their daily business.

Bayati believes an amnesty for convicted killers will only encourage a sense of impunity.

A similar law passed four years ago led to the release of criminals and killers, who went on to commit more crimes, he said. We need a fair law that offers a chance to those who seriously wish to change for the better. But at the same time, we dont want to send out the wrong message, that criminals can commit offences without punishment.

Aqil al-Turayhi, inspector general at the Iraqi interior ministry, questions why the worse criminals should be freed en masse.

It will be a great insult to the country, to the families of victims, and to the security forces if the law is approved in its current shape, Turayhi said. The amnesty should not include those whose hands are stained with Iraqi blood of Iraqis and who played a central role in destroying peace and security in this country. I hope the parliament does not approve such a law it should be defending peoples rights.

An investigative judge raised similar concerns about the wisdom of freeing dangerous individuals who had only been captured with a great deal of effort.

As a result of the previous amnesty law, many criminals returned to their home areas and killed the entire families of witnesses who testified against them, as well as [police] officers who refused to connive with them, he said.

The investigator, who did not want to be named for reasons of security, recalled one case where he investigated a suspected leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, and later discovered the man had connections with a senior government official.

We received threats, and two days after that, I was redeployed to a very dangerous area. I decided to resign, he said.

In a highly charged political environment, some have accused Sunni Arab political factions of pushing for the amnesty as they will gain the most credit, since numerically, most of those detained are Sunni insurgents.

Salman al-Jomaili of the Iraqiyah bloc denied this was the case.

This law is not what the rumours are suggest it is. We have made it clear that those who carried out terrorist attacks are not included in this amnesty, Jomaili said.

The Shia politician Jaiyashi agreed, saying anyone convicted of a terrorist attacks would not be eligible. In any case, he said, other parts of the bill required the assent of victims relatives before a murderer could walk free.

There is also a danger that a mass release could prompt victims to deliver their own forms of justice.

IWPR spoke to one man whose father disappeared without trace in 2006 in Saidiyah, a Sunni neighbourhood in the south of Baghdad.

The son dropped out of university and spent time brooding on revenge. News that the men he holds responsible for the murder might be eligible for release offers him that chance.

The law has protected them for years, he said. Their release will be a great opportunity to avenge my fathers death. People will know my fathers blood was not shed for nothing.

Laith Hammoudi is IWPRs editor in Iraq.


Saudi to carry out nuclear power deal with or without US

Rebels evacuate Syria's Eastern Ghouta

Air strikes hit Ghouta despite rebel ceasefire effort

US approves $1 billion in Saudi defence contracts

Exiled Syrian doctors treat refugees in Turkey

Israel ministers welcome US appointment of 'friend' Bolton

Turkey says EU statements on Cyprus 'unacceptable'

In world first, flight to Israel crosses Saudi airspace

Saudi, US must pursue 'urgent efforts' for Yemen peace: Mattis

US, Jordan launch new counterterrorism training centre

Turkey’s largest media group to be sold to Erdogan ally

Two Hamas security force members killed in raid on bomb suspect

Turkey gives watchdog power to block internet broadcasts

EU leaders to condemn Turkey’s ‘illegal’ actions in Mediterranean

Sarkozy says life ‘living hell’ since corruption allegations

Hezbollah leader says debt threatens Lebanon disaster

Ahed Tamimi reaches plea deal for eight months in jail

UN launching final push to salvage Libya political agreement

Conditions for displaced from Syria's Ghouta 'tragic': UN

Sisi urges Egyptians to vote, denies excluding rivals

Rights Watch says Libya not ready for elections

Saudis revamp school curriculum to combat Muslim Brotherhood

American mother trapped in Syria’s Ghouta calls out Trump

Syria workers say French firm abandoned them to jihadists

Grim Nowruz for Kurds fleeing Afrin

Sarkozy back in custody for second day of questioning

'Saudization' taking its toll on salesmen

Syrian rebels reach evacuation deal in Eastern Ghouta town

Israel confirms it hit suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007

UN says Turkey security measures 'curtail human rights'

Netanyahu says African migrants threaten Jewish majority

US Senate votes on involvement in Yemen war as Saudi prince visits

What a ‘limited strike’ against Syria’s Assad might mean

Erdogan tells US to stop ‘deceiving’, start helping on Syria

IS controls Damascus district in surprise attack

French ex-president held over Libya financing allegations

NGO says Israeli army violating Palestinian minors’ rights

Human rights chief slams Security Council for inaction on Syria

US warns Turkey over civilians caught in Syria assault

Saudi crown prince keen to cement ties with US

Abbas calls US ambassador to Israel 'son of a dog'

Erdogan vows to expand Syria op to other Kurdish-held areas

Kurdish envoy accuses foreign powers of ignoring Turkish war crimes

Morocco authorities vow to close Jerada's abandoned mines

Israeli soldier sees manslaughter sentence slashed