Watch List

What a fabulous democracy we have created in Iraq.

Citing gross violations of the rights of Sunni and Shiite Muslims, as well as followers of numerous minority beliefs, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom added Iraq to its “watch list” on Wednesday. Violations included arbitrary arrests, torture and rape.

Iraq joins Afghanistan, Belarus, Egypt, Bangladesh, Cuba, Indonesia and Nigeria on the list. Their designation is a notch below the designation “country of particular concern,” which would make them subject to possible U.S. sanctions.

Three of the four Democratic appointees to the 10-member congressionally named commission differed with the Republican majority, arguing that conditions are so bad in Iraq the commission should have taken that next step.

In the end, the panel, which reports to the White House, State Department and Congress, placed Iraq on the watch list with the understanding it will be recommended for “country of particular concern” status next year if improvements are not made.


While noting that militias and terrorist groups commit a large proportion of sectarian violence and abuses, the panel said the Iraqi government bears substantial responsibility for the dismal religious freedom conditions.

“The Iraqi government has engaged in human rights violations through its state security forces, including arbitrary arrest, prolonged detention without due process, extrajudicial executions and systematic torture,” it said.

Many of these target Iraq’s Sunni minority, both insurgents and innocent civilians, it said, adding that the government also condoned or tolerated “religiously based attacks and other religious freedom abuses carried out by armed Shia factions” with official links.

“Given these ties, the Iraqi government’s failure to control such actors could ultimately constitute tolerance of egregious, ongoing and systematic violations of religious freedom,” the report said.