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Open Letter to MPs from Harmeet Sooden: Deployment to Iraq

Open Letter to Members of Parliament from Harmeet Sooden regarding the NZDF Deployment to Iraq

Monday, 20 April 2015

Dear Members of Parliament,

I write to you as a citizen of New Zealand seeking your assistance.

I will be undertaking an assignment in Iraq with an international NGO, Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). CPT is supporting local and international organisations that are responding to the humanitarian crisis in Iraqi Kurdistan, arising from the large influx of internally displaced persons and Syrian refugees fleeing the current fighting in Iraq and Syria.

Like many New Zealanders, I am deeply concerned about the New Zealand Government’s decision to deploy the NZDF to Iraq as part of the US-led coalition fighting ISIS. Many of the major contributors to the coalition have poor human rights records, some having been implicated in serious human rights violations in Iraq that may constitute war crimes. Their actions are increasing the level of violence in the region and worsening the humanitarian crisis.

Aid agencies warn the coalition strategy to retake ISIS-held population centres could greatly worsen the humanitarian crisis. The UN World Food Programme, for example, estimates “[a]s many as one million people could flee Mosul in northern Iraq if the Iraqi army, backed by US air strikes, seeks to recapture the city later this year”. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), too, has “issued a statement warning of a mass flight from Mosul”, and the World Health Organisation believes “an attempt to recapture Mosul could lead to hundreds of thousands seeking refuge in Kurdistan”.

The ICRC has stated that US-led “air strikes in Iraq and Syria have compounded the humanitarian consequences of the conflicts in both countries.” According to the organisation Iraq Body Count (IBC), “[t]he rise of [ISIS] as a major force in the conflict, as well as the military responses by the Iraqi Government and the re-entry of US and Coalition air forces into the conflict, have all contributed to the elevated death tolls” in Iraq for the year 2014.

Human rights organisations continue to accuse the Iraqi Government and government-backed militias of committing war crimes and exacerbating sectarian tensions. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has documented Iraqi security forces and militias engaging in repeated abuses against civilians and ethnic cleansing in areas reclaimed from ISIS. For example, HRW has gathered evidence of “[m]ilitias, volunteer fighters, and Iraqi security forces engaged in deliberate destruction of civilian property after these forces, following US and Iraqi air strikes, forced the retreat of [ISIS] from the town of Amerli and surrounding areas in early September 2014”. HRW has also reviewed “graphic evidence of Iraqi government forces committing torture, summarily executing civilians – including children – and even beheading captives.” There are credible media reports of “some Iraqi troops...replying in kind [to ISIS’s atrocities], carrying out extra-judicial executions, torture and humiliations of their enemy and posting images of the results online”.

Amnesty International has documented cases of “torture and deaths in custody of Iraqi Government forces” and abuses against civilians such as “abductions and unlawful killings...all over the country” by “militias, often armed and backed by the government of Iraq, [that] operate with varying degrees of cooperation from government forces – ranging from tacit consent to coordinated, or even joint, operations.” Iraqi forces have also reportedly established ‘killing zones’ around Baghdad.

The UN has also reported violations against civilians committed by the Iraqi Security Force and affiliated militias, including “extrajudicial killings, and at times [carrying] out military operations without due respect for the principles of proportionality, distinction and the obligation to take all necessary precautions to protect civilians from the effects of violence, which may also amount to war crimes.” According to the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI), “children are also increasingly being recruited by militias from all sides, including those supported by the [Iraqi] Government”.

A number of NZDF military trainers have been assigned to work in partnership with Australian forces to train the Iraqi Security Force in Camp Taji. The Sydney Morning Herald reports Australian Special Forces are providing “training and assistance” to the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), a CIA-supported “elite Iraqi security force accused of killing prisoners and other human rights violations,” including “torturing detainees with impunity” at a secret detention facility in Baghdad, and being “responsible for major war crimes and unnecessary civilian casualties”. Furthermore, evidence has now come to light that suggests an Australian SAS squadron “was an ‘integral’ element of the potentially illegal detention of prisoners of war at a secret Iraqi desert prison [called H1] in 2003” and “may have been complicit in war crimes by handing detainees over to the so-called ‘black site’”.

Under such circumstances, New Zealand’s actions, including military training, could aggravate the plight of Iraqi civilians in the conflict areas, and undermine the work of humanitarian and human rights organisations.

I respectfully request you take all possible measures in your official capacity to persuade the New Zealand Government to:

Ensure that New Zealand refrains from supporting or participating in military operations that are degrading the security and humanitarian situation in Iraq, resulting in gross human rights violations against civilians, and compromising the work and safety of humanitarian aid workers and human rights defenders, some of whom are New Zealanders.

Increase New Zealand’s humanitarian aid contributions in order to address the severe shortfall of funding – another factor leading to the worsening of the humanitarian crisis – which, according to UN agencies, could “be catastrophic for hundreds of thousands of men, women and children across Iraq.”
I thank you in advance for your consideration of my request.

Yours faithfully,

Harmeet Singh Sooden
Christian Peacemaker Teams


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