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Minority rights in post-war Iraq: an impending catastrophe?

Bowring, Bill (2012) Minority rights in post-war Iraq: an impending catastrophe? International Journal of Contemporary Iraqi Studies 5 (3), pp. 319-335. ISSN 1751-2867.

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/ijcis.5.3.319_1

Abstract

Many commentators see Iraq as divided between Sunni, Shia and Kurds – and perhaps a few Turkmen. Nothing could be further from the truth. Iraq also has significant populations of Baha'is, Christians, Faili Kurds, Mandaeans, Palestinians, Shabak and Yezidis. Some of Iraq's minority groups have been present in the region for more than two millennia. But they now face the threat of eradication in or expulsion from their ancient homeland. Since 2006, the situation has deteriorated. To make matters worse, the international law of minority and group rights has largely developed in the context of the recent history of Europe, and, perhaps, has little to contribute to the situation in Iraq. This article asks what role, if any, can international law, notably the law of human rights, minority rights and group rights, play in resolving or mitigating conflict. This is especially the case when the underlying rationale of this law is so problematic. The structure of this article is as follows. I start with an overview of the various minority groups in Iraq. There is a common theme – things have got a lot worse since 2003. Next, I explore Iraq's statehood, that it is a recent construct, a product of British imperial ambition and cynicism. In fact, Mesopotamia, the territory of contemporary Iraq, was a Persian territory for many centuries until its conquest by militant Islam, its glorious role in the Golden Age of Islam (contemporaneous with Western Europe's dark ages) and incorporation into the Ottoman Empire. Third, I reflect on Britain's disastrous adventures in the region. Mesopotamia was the scene of Britain's greatest military disaster; but Britain has been responsible for the unceasing violence and persecution which characterizes modern Iraq. Fourth, I turn to a marvellous dream, a document of extraordinary cogency and unreality: Iraq's 1932 Declaration, on admission to the League of Nations. This document is a tragic mirage: an Iraq of respect for and enjoyment of its cosmopolitan diversity. It is significant that the only two occasions on which such a vision achieved a purchase in Mesopotamia were the short periods of Kemalist and communist rule. For Britain and the United States such a trajectory was utterly impermissible. Fifth, I turn to the fact that Iraq was one of the first members of the United Nations, and ratified all the relevant human rights instruments dealing with minority rights. Iraq was until the 1990s an assiduous participant in the UN human rights mechanisms, submitting periodical reports to the treaty bodies and submitting itself to interrogation in Geneva, followed by concluding observations and recommendations. This continued despite the eight years' war with Iran, the disastrous invasion of Kuwait in 1991 and the long years of sanctions, blockade and continuous aerial attack, reminiscent of Britain's reliance on the Royal Air Force (RAF) during and after the Mandate. Finally, there is Iraq's 2005 Constitution, a joke version of the 1932 Declaration. At the same time, since 1999 Iraq has not engaged with the UN human rights mechanisms. My conclusion is not sanguine.

Item Type: Article
Keyword(s) / Subject(s): minority rights, international law, conflict, Iraq, League of Nations
School or Research Centre: Birkbeck Schools and Research Centres > School of Law
Depositing User: Administrator
Date Deposited: 02 May 2012 09:36
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2013 12:33
URI: http://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/4742

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