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12/22/02 - SILENCING IRAQ'S POPULATION - 2002-12-23

In 1979, after coming to power, Saddam Hussein silenced all political opposition in Iraq. Over the more than twenty years since then, the Iraqi regime has systematically executed, tortured, imprisoned, raped, terrorized, and repressed the Iraqi people.

For more than two decades, Iraq has been a “Republic of Fear,” the term suggested by Kanan Makiya(PRON.: Ka-nan Ma-key-ah), an Iraqi scholar. The Saddam Hussein regime preyed on the Iraqi people in order to maintain power, get rich, and acquire land.

A recently released U.S. State Department report, entitled “Iraq: A Population Silenced,” says that “Saddam Hussein has given the Iraqi people a terrible choice -- to remain silent –- or face the consequences.” Iraqi dissidents are tortured, killed, or made to disappear in order to deter other Iraqi citizens from speaking out against the government or demanding change.

In July 1999, al-Shaikh Yahya (PRON.: al-Shake HA-ha), an Iraqi theology student, found out that his father and two brothers had been detained and initially tortured as substitute prisoners until Saddam’s police could arrest him. Al-Shaikh Yayha was suspected of being a supporter of a prominent Shi’a cleric whose murder had set off protests six months earlier.

The protests were repressed by the Iraqi regime. But the crackdown continued. The student turned himself in and was tortured. For two months, al-Shaikh Yahya slept on the floor with his hands tied behind his back and his face on the floor. The theology student was detained without charge or trial until April 14th, 2000, when he was released.

His experience, says the State Department report, “was not an isolated event, but just one example of how Saddam Hussein and his regime have systematically abused Iraqis in order to silence their beliefs.”

As Max van der Stoel, United Nations Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights in Iraq, put it, “[T]he political-legal order in Iraq is not compatible with respect for human rights and, rather, entails systematic and systemic violations throughout the country, affecting virtually the whole population.”