More than 1,000 people face execution in Iraq, said Amnesty International on Tuesday, as it published a new report on the extensive imposition of death sentences in the country.
Some 150 of these prisoners have exhausted all means of appeal or clemency and are at immediate risk of death.
The majority of the condemned (some 750, including 12 women) are held by the Ministry of Justice, while several hundred are detained by the Interior Ministry.
At least seven facing execution are held by the US military at Camp Cropper in Baghdad.
Ten female death row prisoners have recently been transferred to the al-Kadhimiya Prison in Baghdad, which suggests that their executions may be imminent.
One of these, 27-year-old Samar Sa’ad ’Abdullah, facing execution for murder, has alleged that she was tortured into making a false confession, including with electric shocks and beatings with a cable.
She reportedly received a trial lasting less than two days, where one of her lawyers was ordered out of the court by the trial judge.
Amnesty has repeatedly expressed its concerns about trials conducted by criminal courts in Iraq, whose procedures fall short of international standards for fair trials.
Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said: ‘The sheer number of people facing execution in Iraq is extremely alarming.
‘When the Iraqi authorities brought the death penalty back in 2004 they claimed they needed capital punishment to curb widespread violence in the country.
‘This was always a bogus argument – there’s no evidence that the death penalty ever provides an effective deterrent – and it has palpably failed to stem years of violence in Iraq.
‘Iraq’s ramshackle justice system can barely cope with ordinary crimes never mind capital offences.
‘Instead of sending hundreds of people to a grisly death at the end of a rope, the Iraqi authorities should halt all executions and impose an immediate moratorium.’
Following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s government in 2003 the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority suspended the death penalty, which had been widely used under Saddam Hussein’s government.
However, the following year the new Iraqi government reintroduced capital punishment and since then it has widened the scope of the penalty.
As Amnesty’s report points out, use of the death penalty in Iraq is far from transparent.
On 10 June, for example, 19 people – 18 men, one woman – were hanged, a fact that was never officially announced or reported.
The deaths only became known after information later leaked out.
Meanwhile, in March the Iraqi authorities informed Amnesty of the fact that 128 people had had their death sentences confirmed; Amnesty also learnt that the executions were to be carried out in batches of 20 at a time.
Two months later it was reported that 12 of the executions had gone ahead – though virtually no other information was ever made available.
Last year alone at least 285 people were sentenced to death in Iraq, and at least 34 executed.
In 2007 at least 199 people were sentenced to death and 33 were executed, while in 2006 at least 65 people were put to death.
However the actual figures could be much higher as there are no official statistics for the number of prisoners facing execution and the Iraqi media’s reporting of death sentences is erratic and incomplete.
l Violent deaths in Iraq hit a 13-month high in August, official figures showed on Tuesday.
Statistics compiled by the defence, interior and health ministries showed that 456 people – 393 civilians, 48 police and 15 Iraqi soldiers – were killed in what was the highest toll since July last year when the death toll hit 465.
There were also 1,592 civilians, 129 police and 20 soldiers wounded in August, according to Tuesday’s figures.
The toll in August jumped markedly from the 275 Iraqis who lost their lives in July, in the immediate wake of a major pullout of US combat troops from urban centres the previous month.
The weeks leading up to the June 30 withdrawal of American forces from Iraq’s cities, towns and villages also saw a spike in violence, with 437 people dying that month.
The high number in August was partly attributed to two massive truck bombings at the ministries of finance and foreign affairs in Baghdad that killed at least 95 people and wounded hundreds.
The August 19 attacks, dubbed ‘Bloody Wednesday’ in Iraq, prompted the government to admit major security breaches had occurred which led directly to civilian deaths. Eleven top security officials were arrested.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, whose office lost 32 workers in the bloodshed, warned in the wake of the bombings that Iraq could witness more deadly attacks in coming months because security is deteriorating due to collusion between the security forces and insurgents.
Zebari also made the first official admission that the blasts, on what was the worst day of violence in Iraq in 18 months, showed that security gains made in the past year appeared to be unravelling.
‘This has been going on for the last two months. Every week, every two weeks we see a wave of these bombings and killings of innocent people,’ he said.
‘Enough of these over-optimistic remarks about security. There has been a deterioration in the security situation, this is a fact and the coming (violence) will be bigger,’ he added.
Last month saw several attacks across Iraq, including a spate of bombings on August 10 that killed 51 people and wounded at least 250.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki described the August 19 attacks as ‘a desperate attempt to derail the political process and affect the parliamentary elections,’ planned for January 2010.
But Zebari went further and called for a re-appraisal of the country’s entire security apparatus as it was not, he said, obtaining sufficient intelligence to counter the insurgent threat.
The US military said the August 19 bombings showed insurgents were aiming to destabilise the government.
‘Why? Perhaps to fracture national unity . . . perhaps to (make) the population lose trust and confidence in the government . . . so that the blame game starts, which could lead to a breakdown in the security forces, which possibly leads to militias being formed,’ Brigadier General Steve Lanza said on August 26.
‘We knew this was coming but it has not accomplished its purpose . . . to foment sectarian violence, and we have not seen the national government collapse,’ he said.
Seven US soldiers died in Iraq in August and according to latest figures, 4,336 American soldiers have died in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.