Iraq: Ten lawyers killed in 2023 amid lack of state protections
Attacks on lawyers in Iraq have increased this year, the national association representing them said this week amid a lack of protection for those in the legal profession.
Ten lawyers have been killed in Iraq since the start of 2023, and there have been 100 attacks on lawyers in the same time period, The New Arab’s Arabic-language sister site reported, citing the Iraqi Bar Association.
The spread of unlicensed weapons and the unchecked power of militias and gangs have been major contributors to the death toll, Al-Araby Al-Jadeed reported Iraqi Bar Association secretary Ahmed Al-Zaidi as saying.
Though amnesties and other campaigns to take unlicensed guns off the streets have been carried out in recent years, such weapons are still ubiquitous.
Iraq’s interior ministry agreed in 2020 to allow lawyers to carry weapons to defend themselves against attacks.
But Bar Association member Widad al-Anbuki told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that such a move might be counter-productive.
"The Iraqi authorities grant lawyers the right to defend themselves by acquiring a state-licensed weapon - but this is not enough to protect lawyers. Instead, it might increase the existing security chaos."
Al-Zaidi said calls from lawyers for protection from the Iraqi authorities were falling on deaf ears.
Two lawyers have been killed this month alone, according to the association.
Lawyer Ammar Hatem al-Obaidi was shot outside his home in the city of Al-Hillah in Babil province earlier this month.
Iraqi media reported local police as saying Monday that they had arrested the suspected perpetrator, who allegedly shot al-Obaidi over a dispute over the cost of a plot of land.
Another lawyer, Adnan al-Nuaimi, was stabbed to death after a group stormed his office in Baghdad.
Lawyers have long been among the more vulnerable sections of Iraqi society to attack, by state and non-state actors alike.
"Part of it is that lawyers are not seen as independent... and an over-association of the lawyer with the case," Sarah Sanbar, Iraq researcher for Human Rights Watch told The New Arab. "And that's happening within this broader landscape where armed groups have impunity for extrajudicial killings and attacks."
Lawyers defending especially vulnerable clients, such as women subjected to honour-based crimes, are particularly vulnerable to threats, Sanbar said - as are lawyers who had taken part in the October 2019 protest movement.
"Enacting a law that specifically protects lawyers and criminalises targeting of lawyers would be a good first step," Sanbar said of what could be done to better protect lawyers from attack.
Previous HRW research found that the Iraqi state itself had worked to intimidate lawyers providing legal assistance to suspected members of the Islamic State (IS) and their families in court.