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UK arms export to FCDO countries of concern

UK arms exports to Iraq

Iraq: Country overview
The Republic of Iraq, with its capital of Baghdad, borders Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria. The estimated populated is around 37 million with majority adhering to Sunni, as well as Shia Islam. The current constitution defines Iraq as a democratic, federal parliamentary republic. Fuad Masum has been the country’s president since 2014, while the leader of the Shia party Dawa, Haider al-Abadi, has been prime minister since 2014. Iraq has been subject to much instability, including a series of wars of a sectarian character, and in 2018, Iraq was estimated to be the world’s 11thmost politically unstable country. As of 2018, Iraq has neither ratified nor signed the Arms Trade Treaty.

How many licences for the sale of arms to Iraq has the UK issued between 2008 and 2017?
As depicted below, the number of arms licences to Iraq has massively increased since 2014. Before 2014, the number of licences never reached more than 94 per year, despite in 2008, where 210  licences where approved.  Since 2014, the number of licences has risen rapidly, peaking in 2017 with 559 approved licences. In only four years, from 2013-2017, the total number of licences increased more than 12 times from 46 to 559.
In total, from 2008 to 2017, 1,910 licences were granted for Iraq.

What is the total value of those exports in GBP?
The value of licences exports to Iraq has varied a great deal during the past decade, peaking in 2015 with £13.3m. and reached the lowest in 2012 with £1,7m.  The average value of the arms exports has been around £7m. during the period from 2008-2017.
The most significant deviations from that average were in 2011 and 2015, as the total values in those years reached more than £13m. respectively. Despite the value of arms exports have decreased in recent years (2016-2017), arms sales continue on a significant scale, still amounting to £6m in 2017 alone.
In total, from 2008 to 2017, £72.4m. worth of arms licences was sold to Iraq.

What are the top 10 types of arms export licences Britain is selling to Iraq?
Whilst the data given above is just for military exports (single-use), when you consider both military and dual-use exports (dual-licences are permits to control all the material, software and technology that can be used for civil purposes like humanitarian aid, but also for military goals) the top ten export items requiring licences are as below.
Iraq’s most frequent type of weaponry purchased befits a country trying to build a new military, with body armour and military helmets featuring prominently.

Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2017

Why should British citizens be concerned about arms sales?
Between 2010 and 2017, the situation in Iraq has been extremely unpredictable, with the country subject to cycles of warfare, including ethnic and sectarian killings by ISIS (or Daesh), government forces and government-backed militias. Human rights abuses in the country have remained widespread, in part due to rampant corruption, a lack of transparency and torture and executions carried out by security forces and groups working under the authority of the Iraqi Prime minister. This level of dysfunction has prevented any effective system being put in place for the protection of human rights. Human rights violations in the country include, but are not limited to, restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, and assembly; the use of secret prisons, torture and other ill-treatment; extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, detentions and unfair trials.

The use of the death penalty in Iraq remains widespread and arbitrary. A joint report by the UNAMI/OHCHR documents the breaches of international human rights standards in the application of the death penalty in the country. The report cites the use of confessions being obtained under torture, the expedition of trials, corruption at the official level, and judges failing to investigate the use of coerced confessions. The use of mass executions points to a sectarian agenda, as the majority of those executed are Sunni. In recent years, the liberation of cities occupied by ISIS has resulted in widespread arrests, torture and execution of the mainly Sunni Arabs suspected of being ISIS fighters by government forces and Shia militias operating under government authority. An Iraqi officer said that the crimes committed by the Iraqi military in Mosul were so bad that “even IS stands aloof [from perpetrating them]”.

Government forces have also engaged in the looting and destruction of properties. The targeting of predominantly Sunni citizens has exacerbated sectarian tensions and contributed to numerous serious human rights violations. Iraqi security forces appear to be carrying out widespread human rights violations with impunity.

Because of the ongoing security crisis, and the battle to defeat ISIS, weapons have continued to flood into the country. Lax control and reckless trading increase the risk of weapons following into the wrong hands.

Human rights reports have shed light on widespread human rights abuses committed mainly against Sunni citizens by government-sponsored Shia militias operating under the umbrella term – Popular Mobilization Forces.  These reportedly use arms from military stockpiles provided by a range of countries, including – allegedly – the UK.

In recent years, the UK has supplied at least 800 machine guns and 550 sniper rifles to Iraq. According to the United Kingdom’s Strategic Export Controls Annual Report, in 2014 alone the UK donated guns and ammunition, worth £1.6m to Peshmerga forces. While no direct evidence exists to confirm that UK-provided weapons have been misused by the militias, there are currently no safeguards in place to ensure that UK-supplied weapons are not involved in human rights violations in the country.  As such all and any arms export to Iraq from the UK constitutes a matter of serious concern.

What has the British government said about these concerns?
The UK government has mostly been concerned about human rights impact of Daesh-controlled areas of Iraq. However, it has also shown a general concern about the central government and its human rights record. The FCO stated in early 2017: “The human rights situation in Iraq remained of grave concern during 2015. Daesh still controlled large areas in northern and western Iraq and continued to commit atrocities against all communities. Reports suggested an increase in sectarian tensions and in allegations of abuses and violations committed by government security forces (including the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), Kurdish Security Forces (KSF), Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) and militias) as areas were liberated from Daesh.”

The statement continues saying that “Iraq remains one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, and reports suggest press freedom is increasingly restricted. In a recent report, Iraq ranked 158 out 180 on the 2016 World Press Freedom Index (down 2 places from 2015). Since March, the Communication and Media Commission (CMC) has reportedly shut down the Baghdad office of Al Jazeera, closed the local TV channel Al-Baghdadia, and stopped broadcasts of the satirical Albasheer Show”.

Iraq is a lucrative market, and the UK government argues that the Iraqi government needs the equipment combat Daesh and other terrorist cells, as they constitute a serious threat to not just the Iraqis, but according to the UK government, Europeans as well.

What evidence is there of human rights abuses that the Iraqi government has committed since 2010?

Events in 2010
A secret prison was discovered at Muthanna airfield west of Baghdad only when the country’s Human Rights Ministry managed to gain access. The facility was found to have over 400 mainly Arab Sunni detainees, all of whom were arrested by the Iraqi security services and accused of being involved in the insurgency. Former detainees revealed a catalogue of violations including rape, electric shock, sodomy, and torture; one man died of his injuries. According to the report, detainees were forced to sign confessions and no one was officially charged.

Moreover, protesters were refused permits to demonstrate against electricity shortages in Basra. During the protests that took place, Iraq police reportedly used excessive force against protesters, including beatings and arrests, and the killing of 2 protesters on June 19.

Events in 2011
Journalist and outspoken government critic, Hadi Al-Mahdi, was shot twice in the head by assailants. Al-Mahdi was a well-known proponent of political reforms have used social media to publicise pro-democracy protests. Al-Mahdi had previously been arrested after a pro-reform demonstration and taken to headquarters of the Iraqi Army’s 11th Division where he claims that he was subjected to beatings and threats of rape at the hands of the Iraqi security forces.

In February, protesters, demanding better living standards and government accountability, in Tahrir Square in Baghdad were beaten and detained by Iraqi security forces. Reportedly, up to 23 were killed by security forces during the protests.

Events in 2012
In August, the Iraqi authorities executed 21 individuals, including three women in one day. All of the individuals were convicted on loosely defined terrorism charges. Regarding reports of mass executions, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said, “most disturbingly, we do not have a single report of anyone on death row being pardoned, despite the fact, there are well-documented cases of confessions being extracted under duress.”

Moreover, minors have reportedly also been subjected to human rights abuses at the hands of the Iraqi justice system. A minor, held along with two adult men, was subjected to beatings and torture according to a joint report by the UNAMI and the OHCHR.

Events in 2013
On May 3, members of the Federal Police’s “Belt of Ninewa” Brigade, arrested 60 individuals south of Mosul. On May 11, villagers found the bodies of four men and a 15-year-old boy not far from where they were arrested. According to the HRW report, forensic experts who examined the bodies reported that all five died after being shot at close range on the day of their arrests.

In January, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced that the government had created special committees to supervise reforms, including release of prisoners and decreasing the courts’ use of secret informant testimony. However, no efforts had been made to implement the reforms and security forces continued to use violence against protesters. The violence culminated in Hawija in April, where 51 protesters were killed. No one was held to account for the incidents.

By November, the Iraqi regime had reportedly executed at least 151 people in 2013. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay compared Iraq’s justice system to “processing animals in a slaughterhouse.”The executions are a matter of deep concern for many reasons, one of them being that the Iraqi regime most often does not reveal the identities of those executed, the charges against them or the sort of evidence that was presented against them at trial.

Events in 2014
Several reports reveal how government security forces and pro-government militias continued to carry out violent attacks against civilians, mostly Sunnis. The violent incidents included kidnapping, summary executions, arbitrary arrests, disappearances, and torture.

An extensive report by Human Rights Watch documented widespread abuses of women in prison by security forces. Women spoke of being beaten, hung upside down by their feet, raped or threatened with sexual assault. Many of the women had been incarcerated for years without change and were often interrogated about their male relatives’ activities and not their alleged crimes.

It was also reported how the Iraqi armed forces indiscriminately targeted civilians in its fight against ISIS, including dropping barrel bombs on Fallujah Central hospital. The chief resident of the hospital claimed that it was the 22nd time Iraqi forces had targeted the hospital since the crisis began. The government also indiscriminately shelled residential areas in Fallujah neighbourhoods during the battle against ISSI forces in the city. Human Rights reported 17 airstrikes, where six of them involved barrel bombs, killed at least 75 people in the first half of July.

Events in 2015
Reports in 2015 described a variety of abuses committed by the Iraqi forces. For instance, government security officers were reportedly responsible for blocking the route of citizens fleeing from Ramadi to safety without a guarantor after the city fell to ISIS fighters. Moreover, Iraqi forces were responsible for looting in former ISIS controlled, Sunni majority areas and extrajudicial killings of citizens were also reported. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Cécile Pouilly told a news briefing in Geneva that “Iraqi security forces, Kurdish security forces and their respective affiliated militias have been responsible for looting and destruction of property belonging to the Sunni Arab communities, forced evictions, abductions, illegal detention and, in some cases, extra-judicial killings”.

Also, a UN report released in February described “widespread human rights violations of an increasingly sectarian nature in Iraq” and that human rights violations were committed by “armed groups claiming to be affiliated to or supporting the Government also perpetrated targeted killings, including of captured fighters from ISIL and its associated armed groups, abductions of civilians, and other abuses.”

Events in 2016
Militias operating in support of the Iraqi security forces were responsible for a spate of incidents throughout the year that involved the destruction of mosques in Sunni majority areas. In January, Shia militiamen conducted reprisal attacks on Sunni owned shops, mosques and homes following a double bombing in a predominantly Shia area.

In May, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced that the government would implement new means to protect civilians during its operation to retake Fallujah from ISIS. Despite this, summary executions, beatings of men in custody, enforced disappearances, and mutilation of corpses by government forces were all documented to have taken place over the following weeks.

Finally, several reports described the use of child soldiers. For instance, Iraqi government-backed tribal militias, or the so-called as Hashad al-Asha’ri, reportedly recruited at least 10 children from the Debaga IDP camp in Erbil governorate to fight against ISIS.

Events in 2017
In January, Amnesty International released a report entitled ‘Iraq: Turning A Blind Eye,’ documenting widespread human rights abuses, mainly committed by Shia militias operating under the government against Sunni citizens. Among others, the militias used European-sponsored weaponry to carry out reprisal attacks, some amounting to war crimes. Though not confirmed, UK-manufactured arms cannot be excluded from being employed in these cases.

Also, Human Rights Watch released a report documenting allegations of beatings and beatings and extra-judicial killings of men and boys suspected of being ISIS fighters by government forces in the battle to retake Mosul. Witnesses alleged seeing Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) fighters take down the body of an alleged ISIS fighter that had been hung from an electrical pole; fighters then stoned the corpse and took pictures with it. Other witnesses alleged being told by members of the Emergency Response Division and Iraqi Security Force (ISF) that they were executing, and not detaining unarmed men suspected of being ISIS fighters.

Finally, Der Spiegel magazine published a report entitled Not Heroes, but Monsters,” by freelance Iraqi photographer and filmmaker Ali Arkady.  Arkady had spent months with Emergency Response Division, an Iraqi special forces unit, during their battle to retake Mosul in the last months of 2016. During this time he documented widespread abuses perpetrated by Iraqi government soldiers, including abductions, torture, and rape of suspected ISIS fighters and Sunnis.

Despite this catalogue of harm, the UK still deems it acceptable to sell weapons and arms to the Government of Iraq.  Human rights abuses continue.

For more from this investigation please go here