Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Part 1: Political and Human Rights Conditions

Iraq is a republic with a freely elected government led by Prime Minister Nuri Jawad al Maliki. The current cabinet assumed office in May 2006, after the Council of Representatives (COR) approved a national unity government composed of the major political parties that largely represent major sects and ethnicities. The 2005 COR elections establishing this government met internationally recognized electoral standards. On January 31, 2009, the country held relatively peaceful and inclusive provincial elections in 14 of the 18 governorates. Provincial elections in the three Kurdish provinces are scheduled to take place on July 25, 2009.

After an upsurge in violence in 2006 and the first half of 2007, civilian deaths from war-related violence decreased sharply in the second half of 2007 and throughout 2008; however, violence persisted in many areas of the country. Incidents of sectarian, ethnic, and extremist-motivated violence, coupled with limited government capacity in upholding the rule of law, resulted in widespread, severe human rights abuses. Although their influence and ability to maneuver significantly declined since 2007, terrorist groups (such as Al Qaeda in Iraq) and Shia extremist groups, continued to launch attacks, attempting to foment sectarian violence and undermining the government's ability to maintain law and order.

With the increase in the size, professionalism, and effectiveness of Iraqi security forces, widespread and confirmed unauthorized government agent involvement in extrajudicial killings has significantly decreased but requires continued improvement. Discrimination and abuses against women and ethnic and religious minorities by extremists and rogue government elements remained serious problems. While the government generally respected constitutional provisions for religious freedom, private conservative and radical Islamic elements continued to exert pressure on other groups to conform to extremist interpretations of Islam's precepts, and terrorist and criminal groups continued to target religious minorities. Trafficking in persons for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor also remained serious problems, and the government has not passed a long-awaited new labor code to expand worker rights and protections.

Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The U.S. Government seeks to assist the country to develop just, representative, and accountable government institutions that secure the country's inhabitants and their national infrastructure, deliver essential services, and govern in an equitable, nonsectarian manner. Toward this goal, the United States uses a variety of diplomatic tools and assistance programs in support of political and economic reform; political party development; respect for the rule of law and human rights; increased government capacity at the national, provincial, and local levels; and an engaged civil society and citizenry, including workers, women, and youth.
The United States, working with international and local organizations, provides assistance to further develop transparent and inclusive elections, accountable and responsive government institutions, active civil society, and independent media. The United States supports efforts to advance reconciliation at both the national and local levels. The United States coordinates with Coalition partners, other donor governments, NGOs, and the UN to support the passage and enactment of key laws that contribute to national reconciliation, transparent and fair elections, good governance, and independent media.

Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance

On the national level, the United States pursues actions in support of political and economic reform, reconciliation, good governance, institutional capacity building, and political party development. In coordination with the UN, the United States provides financial support for transparent and accountable elections, including capacity building of the election commission, voter education, and training for political parties, journalists, and domestic monitoring organizations. The United States also funds programs to strengthen cross-sectarian linkages among leaders of civic and political institutions, support mediation and dialogue, promote tolerance, and strengthen civil society's capacity to engage effectively in the democratic process and play a key role in reducing violence. These programs, which bring together leaders from different groups, specifically target mixed neighborhoods that have had a history of sectarian violence. The United States, along with international organizations and NGOs, focuses on moving political parties from sectarian-based to issues-based platforms through training in a range of topics including party development, coalition building skills, campaign management, platform development, and media consulting. U.S.-funded programs train government representatives and ministerial staff to promote accountability and management within government institutions. The United States also supports local government capacity-building projects in major cities and all 18 governorates.

The United States supports efforts to develop the country's penal and judicial systems, fight corruption within the government, and elevate corrections conditions to international standards. The U.S. Government funds programs to professionalize civilian security forces, including the police, and instill a culture of transparency and accountability. The United States also provides technical expertise to enhance the capacity of the judiciary and improve the institutional capacity of the Ministry of Justice, the Iraqi Corrections Service, the Higher Judicial Council, the Iraqi High Tribunal, and the Supreme Court. The U.S. Government funds measures to improve the government's ability to protect judges and their families from violence or intimidation. The United States is also assisting the Ministry of Justice to build the staff, expertise, and facilities to hold prisoners securely and humanely.

The United States works with government institutions to promote the rule of law, fight corruption, and hone the skills of individuals working in and with the ministries. Such efforts focus on training officials, increasing transparency, and improving core public sector functions, including effective public budgeting, financial management, and procurement. U.S.-funded programs provide support for the enforcement of constitutional provisions and development of new legislation to ensure that all citizens-–including women and minorities-–are able to make maximum use of the protection and rights outlined in the constitution. The United States focuses significant resources on supporting anticorruption efforts through training and support to the Commission of Integrity and to the inspectors general and their staffs. The U.S. effort includes maintaining close ties with the Board of Supreme Audit and promoting the government's compliance with its obligations under the UN Convention Against Corruption, which it ratified in March 2008. The United States also provides support to the Commission for the Resolution of Real Property Disputes, which reportedly has resolved more than 67,000 property claims since it was established in 2004.

The U.S. Government promotes human rights and rule of law through education and training programs that reach all levels of society. Along with international partners, the U.S. Government works with the Iraqi government to harmonize domestic laws and policies with international human rights standards. U.S.-funded programs help build management capacity in the country's human rights institutions, including the newly established Independent High Commission for Human Rights. The United States supports systems to prevent and address human rights violations through early warning, monitoring, investigating, and reporting; it conducts advocacy training for NGOs and civil society organizations that are working to protect the rights of women, children, and religious and ethnic minorities; and it provides funding to NGOs to foster treatment and reintegration of victims of torture, spur collection and documentation of human rights abuses committed by the former regime, and enhance awareness of human rights standards throughout society. U.S. programs also provide human rights training to government officials. The United States incorporates a strong human rights and rule of law component in the training of police forces. Additionally, with U.S. support, the country's ministries of interior and defense have continued to implement measures designed to prevent and correct human rights violations, including the investigation, indictment, and dismissal of officers implicated in human rights abuses.

The United States consistently promotes freedoms of the press and association in the country and uses diplomatic and programmatic means to support the rights of women and minorities, including religious minorities. The U.S. Government funds development programs to promote independent media and enhance media professionalism. Activities include training journalists, monitoring public broadcasters, and supporting improvements to the legal, regulatory, and policy environments in which the media operates. U.S. programs provide technical assistance to the government and civil society organizations on drafting legislation to ensure media freedom. The United States supports the growth of civil society in a variety of ways, including Provincial Reconstruction Team outreach. U.S. programs assist civil society organizations and individuals with advocacy, management, and media training; support their participation in the political process; and sharpen their skills in conflict resolution. The United States facilitates broad participation in public dialogues, promotes responsive and accountable local government, and provides resources and training to strengthen the institutional capacity of grassroots organizations. The United States funds programs to combat violence against women, assist victims of trafficking, help women in need of legal and other support, and provide women with training and education to foster the skills and practices of democratic public life. One U.S.-funded program provides leadership training to women who are or who aspire to be government and community leaders. The United States holds workshops for female political leaders and sponsors numerous regional meetings across the country related to women's rights. The United States also works to advance economic empowerment of women through training in financial skills and managing a small business. Finally, the United States continues to target assistance to the country's NGOs and civil society organizations for humanitarian, training, and community development projects that benefit all Iraqis, including religious minority communities.