The Iraq Report: Iraq wants France to pay millions for ‘justice’, as US-Iran tensions hit
Despite grave concerns about Iraq's human rights record and the dispensation of justice in its courts, officials in Baghdad have allegedly requested hundreds of millions of dollars from the French government in order to put its nationals who are suspected jihadis on trial. This has raised concerns from human rights organisations and activists who accuse France of abandoning its duty to ensure its citizens are allowed their right to a fair trial.
Meanwhile, although there are concerns that Iraq may have been affected by the ongoing flare up of tensions between the United States and Iran, diplomatic activity has steadily increased in the Iraqi capital with numerous high-level delegations meeting with top Iraqi diplomats to discuss the country's future as well as regional tensions. This comes as Iraq tries to show that it is once more open for business and back on its feet as it reopens Baghdad's "Green Zone" as a show of stability. However, domestic and regional problems are liable to buffet Iraq's precarious stability, ushering in further conflict.
'Millions' demanded for Iraq to spare French militants
French media outlets have reported that Iraq has demanded that France pay vast sums of money to either execute or incarcerate its citizens who were allegedly members of the Islamic State extremist group.
According to Le Figaro last week, Baghdad is demanding money from Paris to commute the death sentences it passed on 11 alleged French jihadis to life imprisonment in Iraqi prisons.
While French authorities announced late last month that they will do what they can to prevent their citizens from facing the noose in Iraq, they are also unwilling to repatriate the alleged militants and to put them on trial in France, causing some controversy.
The Telegraph reported last week that some 80 percent of French citizens do not want the alleged jihadis back, prompting the country's right-wing parties to adopt a hardline stance and demand they face justice in the lands they were alleged to have perpetrated their terror offences. But left-wing politicians and human rights campaigners believe the French legal system should be involved in the trying of their citizens, though there are fears that guilt may be difficult to establish in France.
The Le Figaro report quoted an unnamed source as saying that Iraq was seeking $1 million for each militant transferred from Syrian to Iraqi custody and sentenced to death, and a further $2 million for each of those who may avoid execution and instead face life imprisonment.
With approximately 120 other French militants in Iraqi jails awaiting trial, the final bill for Iraqi justice appears to be in excess of $300 million which Le Figaro's Iraqi source describes as "not a large sum if you consider the political and social cost of the return of all the jihadis to France." A further 450 militants are still being held in Syria by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and may also be transferred to Iraq, further upping the suspected bill.
|According to HRW, Iraqi courts only investigate cases of torture if there are visible marks on the complainants.|
Leading rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced the French authorities late last month, accusing them of "outsourcing" trials of terror suspects to Iraq's "abusive justice system" where there have been allegations of defendants being tortured and coerced into confessions.
According to HRW, Iraqi courts only investigate cases of torture if there are visible marks on the complainants. However, the rights watchdog accused Iraqi torturers of using waterboarding, whipping the soles of victims' feet and other methods to avoid marking them.
Iraq has a worrying track record of human rights abuses, with HRW, Amnesty International, the United Nations and others all documenting violations for more than a decade and a half since the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein's Baathist dictatorship in 2003.
If justice is perceived to be for sale, this will not only harm Iraq's international credibility as a democracy that values human rights but it will also cripple the domestic population's already low opinion of the Iraqi justice system.
|The United States Treasury placed Iraqi-owned and controlled South Wealth Resources on its sanctions blacklist|
US sanctions Iraqi 'terrorists' for IRGC links
The United States Treasury placed Iraqi-owned and controlled South Wealth Resources on its sanctions blacklist on Wednesday, accusing the company of being an important weapons trafficking and financial front for Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
The Treasury claimed that the Iraqi firm was used by the IRGC to smuggle "hundreds of millions of dollars' worth" of weapons to IRGC allies and proxies in Iraq. South Wealth Resources allegedly helped illegally move and launder millions of dollars to Iraq "for illicit financial activity benefitting" the IRGC and its Iraqi Shia militants that it holds sway over.
The IRGC was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation by the White House in April, an unprecedented step that for the first time blacklisted an entire branch of a country's armed forces as a terrorist group.
Iran responded not long after by designating the United States as a "state sponsor of terrorism" and branded American military forces in the region as "terror groups".
|South Wealth Resources was sanctioned alongside two Iraqi nationals who worked for the company and therefore stand accused of facilitating IRGC|
South Wealth Resources was sanctioned alongside two Iraqi nationals who worked for the company and therefore stand accused of facilitating IRGC and therefore terrorist activities, according to the US. The blacklist will freeze the firm and the two Iraqis out of the US financial system and bar all American companies from doing business with them.
The two Iraqis, Makki Kazim Abdulhamid al-Asadi and Muhammed Husayn Salih al-Hasani, were also placed on the US State Department's list of "Specially Designated Global Terrorists" alongside South Wealth Resources.
"The Treasury is taking action to shut down Iranian weapons smuggling networks that have been used to arm regional proxies of the IRGC Qods Force in Iraq, while personally enriching regime insiders," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
Mnuchin expressed concern that Iraq seemed lax on preventing IRGC proxies and militants from exploiting Iraqi financial systems, resources and logistics, and called on the authorities to do more to prevent Iran from using Iraq as a buffer against US sanctions.
"The Iraqi financial sector and the broader international financial system must harden their defenses against the continued deceptive tactics emanating from Tehran in order to avoid complicity in the IRGC's ongoing sanctions evasion schemes and other malign activities," he said.
This is the first time that the United States has taken such overt concrete action against IRGC interests in Iraq.
During the war against IS, the US military provided air support ostensibly to the Iraqi armed forces, but in reality it was Iranian proxies who benefited the most. Shia jihadi groups loyal to the IRGC not only run their own militias that fight under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) that is commanded by IRGC-linked militants who hold formal rank in the Iraqi military, but they also staff many senior positions within the security forces.
If tensions between Iran and the US continue to escalate, it will force Washington to take ever increasing measures against Tehran's bountiful back garden – Iraq. Iraq has long been used by the Iranian regime to circumvent US sanctions and maintains a powerful presence across all sectors of the Iraqi political, economic and military systems.
|If tensions between Iran and the US continue to escalate, it will force Washington to take ever increasing measures against Tehran's bountiful back garden – Iraq|
Diplomats flock to Baghdad despite US-Iran tensions
Even given the background of US-Iran sabre-rattling and posturing, as well as the targeting of certain Iraqi entities for American sanctions, Baghdad appears to be attracting numerous diplomatic delegations and establishing itself as a country that needs to be communicated with both on a regional and international level.
Since coming to power last year, Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi has ordered the gradual shedding of concrete blast walls and checkpoints around the heart of government in Baghdad, the so-called "Green Zone". A week last Tuesday, the final barriers were removed allowing the 10-square kilometre area to reopen to the public in a symbolic gesture that Iraq was finally getting back to its feet.
Despite ordering all non-essential staff to evacuate Baghdad and the Kurdish capital of Erbil last month due to warning of threats emanating from Iranian quarters, the new US Ambassador to Iraq, Matthew Tueller, presented his credentials to Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Ali al-Hakim on Sunday.
Hakim pledged that Baghdad "will guarantee all necessary conditions for the success of [Tueller's] mission."
In a sign that Iraq was still considered valuable as a White House ally – even considering its proximity to Iran – Iraqi Electricity Minister Luay al-Khatteeb told Al-Monitor earlier this month that the United States would continue to grant sanctions waivers for Baghdad to continue buying energy from Tehran. This comes following the Trump administration's announcement that all waivers would be cancelled to enhance their "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran.
A day earlier, German top diplomat Heiko Maas met in Baghdad with Prime Minister Mahdi to discuss possible direct investment to rebuild its dilapidated infrastructure and to boost Iraq's gas, oil, and electricity production. The two also discussed regional tensions and how to de-escalate the growing discord between Iran and the US.
Regionally, Arab country and Gulf Cooperation Council member Oman sent its minister of state for foreign affairs, Yusuf bin Alawi, to hold talks with top Iraqi officials on Wednesday. This flurry of diplomatic activity from Oman, Germany and others is designed to seek ways to ease tensions between Tehran and Washington.
With Baghdad acting as nexus and a hub for discussing regional tensions between the most powerful country in the world and a growing Middle Eastern power such as Iran, it raises hopes that perhaps, one day, Iraq can move away from its legacy of decades of warfare to one where it acts as a beacon of peace.
The Iraq Report is a fortnightly feature at The New Arab.
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