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Iraq: one year on

Even the most quixotic of observers must surely have been forced to admit, in the light of the shocking pictures of abuse suffered by Iraqi prisoners at the hands of US (and probably British) soldiers and security personnel, that the state of affairs in Iraq is not quite the rosy one that some wish to portray it as.

But while the macabre photos from Abu-Ghraib jail may have shocked many people around the world, they came as no surprise to members of the Christian Peacemaker Teams, who have been monitoring the situation in Iraq at intervals since October 2002.

Independent monitoring

Since August 2003, CPT members have been focusing on the issue of Iraqi detainees, and in January presented a report to the Coalition Provisional Authority detailing widespread abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners, with data gathered from 72 separate case-studies over a seven-month period.

Quite apart from the suffering endured by Iraqi detainees and their families, the report highlighted the long-term dangers of CPA policies, such as the heightened risk of attacks on coalition soldiers, and an increase in the popularity of anti-coalition resistance groups.

On-line testimonies have also been posted by members of Voices in the Wilderness, as has the correspondence of independent human rights monitor Jo Wilding. Their regular snapshots of life in Iraq paint a picture of increasing disillusionment (or outright hostility) amongst Iraqi people towards the occupying forces.

Arrests are commonplace, often based on scant information or hearsay; convictions are rare. Mass arrests also occur, with the seemingly indiscriminate rounding up of all young men in a given area. This can have a crippling effect - financially as well as emotionally - on the men's families.

Reconstruction

Meanwhile, there is little evidence that Iraq's infrastructure is undergoing the comprehensive reconstruction promised by George W Bush and Tony Blair.

Electricity is sporadic, cutting in and out unpredictably, and many schools and hospitals are closed or in disrepair.

Although reconstruction contracts are being awarded, typically to US firms such as Bechtel or Halliburton, these are then often sub-contracted (and even sub-sub-contracted) to other companies for a reduced fee, leading to poor quality work

Many people are suspicious of the Governing Council appointed in July of last year, seeing them as shady puppets of the coalition. The new flag, according to Jo Wilding's investigations, is “universally unpopular” and a “superficial irrelevance” to the majority of people. One

recent poll suggests that up to 60% of Iraqi people would like coalition forces to leave, and that over 70% regard them as occupiers. As the 30 June deadline for a “handover of power” looms, and members of the Iraqi governing council start being assassinated, the prognosis for the future of Iraq remains as open as ever.

Christian Peacemaker Teams, PO Box 6508, Chicago, IL 60680, USA (+1 773 277 0253; fax 277 0291; email peacemakers@cpt.org; http://www.cpt.org ).
Voices in the Wilderness (US), 5315 N Clark St, Box # 634, Chicago, IL 60640, USA (+1 773 784 8065; fax 784 8837; email info@vitw.org; http://www.vitw.org ).
Jo Wilding's blog, http://www. wildfirejo.org.uk/ .