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Saddam Hussein's Repression of the Iraqi People

UNSCR 688 (April 5, 1991) "condemns" Saddam Hussein's repression of the Iraqi civilian population -- "the consequences of which threaten international peace and security." UNSCR 688 also requires Saddam Hussein to end his repression of the Iraqi people and to allow immediate access to international humanitarian organizations to help those in need of assistance. Saddam Hussein has repeatedly violated these provisions and has: expanded his violence against women and children; continued his horrific torture and execution of innocent Iraqis; continued to violate the basic human rights of the Iraqi people and has continued to control all sources of information (including killing more than 500 journalists and other opinion leaders in the past decade). Saddam Hussein has also harassed humanitarian aid workers; expanded his crimes against Muslims; he has withheld food from families that fail to offer their children to his regime; and he has continued to subject Iraqis to unfair imprisonment.


Refusal to Admit Human Rights Monitors


  • The UN Commission on Human Rights and the UN General Assembly issued a report that noted "with dismay" the lack of improvement in the situation of human rights in Iraq. The report strongly criticized the "systematic, widespread, and extremely grave violations of human rights" and of international humanitarian law by the Iraqi Government, which it stated resulted in "all-pervasive repression and oppression sustained by broad-based discrimination and widespread terror." The report called on the Iraqi Government to fulfill its obligations under international human rights treaties.


  • Saddam Hussein has repeatedly refused visits by human rights monitors and the establishment of independent human rights organizations. From 1992 until 2002, Saddam prevented the UN Special Rapporteur from visiting Iraq.


  • In September 2001 the Government expelled six UN humanitarian relief workers without providing any explanation.


Violence Against Women


  • Human rights organizations and opposition groups continued to receive reports of women who suffered from severe psychological trauma after being raped by Iraqi personnel while in custody.


  • Former Mukhabarat member Khalid Al-Janabi reported that a Mukhabarat unit, the Technical Operations Directorate, used rape and sexual assault in a systematic and institutionalized manner for political purposes. The unit reportedly also videotaped the rape of female relatives of suspected oppositionists and used the videotapes for blackmail purposes and to ensure their future cooperation.


  • In June 2000, a former Iraqi general reportedly received a videotape of security forces raping a female family member. He subsequently received a telephone call from an intelligence agent who stated that another female relative was being held and warned him to stop speaking out against the Iraqi Government.


  • Iraqi security forces allegedly raped women who were captured during the Anfal Campaign and during the occupation of Kuwait.


  • Amnesty International reported that, in October 2000, the Iraqi Government executed dozens of women accused of prostitution.


  • In May, the Iraqi Government reportedly tortured to death the mother of three Iraqi defectors for her children's opposition activities.


  • Iraqi security agents reportedly decapitated numerous women and men in front of their family members. According to Amnesty International, the victims' heads were displayed in front of their homes for several days.




  • Iraqi security services routinely and systematically torture detainees. According to former prisoners, torture techniques included branding, electric shocks administered to the genitals and other areas, beating, pulling out of fingernails, burning with hot irons and blowtorches, suspension from rotating ceiling fans, dripping acid on the skin, rape, breaking of limbs, denial of food and water, extended solitary confinement in dark and extremely small compartments, and threats to rape or otherwise harm family members and relatives. Evidence of such torture often was apparent when security forces returned the mutilated bodies of torture victims to their families.


  • According to a report received by the UN Special Rapporteur in 1998, hundreds of Kurds and other detainees have been held without charge for close to two decades in extremely harsh conditions, and many of them have been used as subjects in Iraq's illegal experimental chemical and biological weapons programs.


  • In 2000, the authorities reportedly introduced tongue amputation as a punishment for persons who criticize Saddam Hussein or his family, and on July 17, government authorities reportedly amputated the tongue of a person who allegedly criticized Saddam Hussein. Authorities reportedly performed the amputation in front of a large crowd. Similar tongue amputations also reportedly occurred.


  • Refugees fleeing to Europe often reported instances of torture to receiving governments, and displayed scars and mutilations to substantiate their claims.


  • In August 2001 Amnesty International released a report entitled Iraq -- Systematic Torture of Political Prisoners, which detailed the systematic and routine use of torture against suspected political opponents and, occasionally, other prisoners. Amnesty International also reports "Detainees have also been threatened with bringing in a female relative, especially the wife or the mother, and raping her in front of the detainee. Some of these threats have been carried out."


  • Saad Keis Naoman, an Iraqi soccer player who defected to Europe, reported that he and his teammates were beaten and humiliated at the order of Uday Saddam Hussein for poor performances. He was flogged until his back was bloody, forcing him to sleep on his stomach in the tiny cell in Al-Radwaniya prison.

Executions and Repression of Political Opposition


  • Former UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur Max Van der Stoel's report in April 1998 stated that Iraq had executed at least 1,500 people during the previous year for political reasons.


  • The government continues to execute summarily alleged political opponents and leaders in the Shi'a religious community. Reports suggest that persons were executed merely because of their association with an opposition group or as part of a continuing effort to reduce prison populations.


  • In February 2001, the Government reportedly executed 37 political detainees for opposition activity.


  • In June 2001, security forces killed a Shi'a cleric, Hussein Bahar al-Uloom, for refusing to appear on television to congratulate Qusay Saddam Hussein for his election to a Ba'th Party position. Such killings continue an apparent government policy of eliminating prominent Shi'a clerics who are suspected of disloyalty to the government. In 1998 and 1999, the Government killed a number of leading Shi'a clerics, prompting the former Special Rapporteur in 1999 to express his concern to the government that the killings might be part of a systematic attack by government officials on the independent leadership of the Shi'a Muslim community. The government did not respond to the Special Rapporteur's letter.


  • There are persistent reports that families are made to pay for the cost of executions.


  • Saddam Hussein destroyed the southern Iraqi town of Albu 'Aysh sometime between September 1998 and December 1999.


  • Iraq has conducted a systematic "Arabization" campaign of ethnic cleansing designed to harass and expel ethnic Kurds and Turkmen from government-controlled areas. Non-Arab citizens are forced to change their ethnicity or their identity documents and adopt Arab names, or they are deprived of their homes, property and food-ration cards, and expelled.


Saddam Hussein's Abuse of Children


  • Saddam Hussein has held 3-week training courses in weapons use, hand-to-hand fighting, rappelling from helicopters, and infantry tactics for children between 10 and 15 years of age. Camps for these "Saddam Cubs" operated throughout the country. Senior military officers who supervised the courses noted that the children held up under the "physical and psychological strain" of training that lasted for as long as 14 hours each day. Sources in the opposition report that the army found it difficult to recruit enough children to fill all of the vacancies in the program. Families reportedly were threatened with the loss of their food ration cards if they refused to enroll their children in the course. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq reported in October 1999 that authorities were denying food ration cards to families that failed to send their young sons to Saddam Cubs compulsory weapons-training camps. Similarly, authorities reportedly withheld school examination results to students unless they registered in the Fedayeen Saddam organization.


  • Iraq often announces food ration cuts for the general population, blaming US or UK actions. Among the most controversial have been cuts in baby milk rations. Iraq has blamed the shortages on US and UK contract rejections, although the UN has approved all baby milk contracts submitted.


  • Child labor persists and there are instances of forced labor.


  • There are widespread reports that food and medicine that could have been made available to the general public, including children, have been stockpiled in warehouses or diverted for the personal use of some government officials.



  • Amnesty International reported that Iraq has the world's worst record for numbers of persons who have disappeared or remain unaccounted for.


  • In 1999, the UN Special Rapporteur stated that Iraq remains the country with the highest number of disappearances known to the UN: over 16,000.


Basic Freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Information

  • In practice, Saddam Hussein does not permit freedom of speech or of the press, and does not tolerate political dissent in areas under its control. In November 2000, the UN General Assembly criticized Saddam Hussein's "suppression of freedom of thought, expression, information, association, and assembly." The Special Rapporteur stated in October 1999 that citizens lived "in a climate of fear," in which whatever they said or did, particularly in the area of politics, involved "the risk of arrest and interrogation by the police or military intelligence." He noted that "the mere suggestion that someone is not a supporter of the President carries the prospect of the death penalty."


  • In June 2001, the Human Rights Alliance reported that Saddam Hussein had killed more than 500 journalists and other intellectuals in the past decade.

  • Saddam Hussein frequently infringes on citizens' constitutional right to privacy. Saddam routinely ignores constitutional provisions designed to protect the confidentiality of mail, telegraphic correspondence, and telephone conversations. Iraq periodically jams news broadcasts from outside the country, including those of opposition groups. The security services and the Ba'th Party maintain pervasive networks of informers to deter dissident activity and instill fear in the public.

  • Foreign journalists must work from offices located within the Iraqi ministry building and are accompanied everywhere they go by ministry officers, who reportedly restrict their movements and make it impossible for them to interact freely with citizens.


  • The Iraqi Government, the Ba'th Party, or persons close to Saddam Hussein own all print and broadcast media, and operate them as propaganda outlets. They generally do not report opposing points of view that are expressed either domestically or abroad.


  • In September 1999, Hashem Hasan, a journalist and Baghdad University professor, was arrested after declining an appointment as editor of one of Uday Hussein's publications. The Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) sent a letter of appeal to Uday Hussein; however, Hassan's fate and whereabouts remained unknown at year's end.


  • Saddam Hussein regularly jams foreign news broadcasts. Satellite dishes, modems, and fax machines are banned, although some restrictions reportedly were lifted in 1999.


  • In government-operated Internet cafes, users only are permitted to view web sites provided by the Ministry of Culture and Information.
  • In 1999, Uday Hussein reportedly dismissed hundreds of members of the Iraqi Union of Journalists for not praising Saddam Hussein and the Government sufficiently.

Withholding of Food


  • Relatives who do not report deserters may lose their ration cards for purchasing government-controlled food supplies, be evicted from their residences, or face the arrest of other family members. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq reported in October and December 1999 that authorities denied food ration cards to families that failed to send their young sons to the "Saddam's Cubs" compulsory weapons training camps.


Crimes Against Muslims


  • The Government consistently politicizes and interferes with religious pilgrimages, both of Iraqi Muslims who wish to make the Hajj to Mecca and Medina and of Iraqi and non-Iraqi Muslim pilgrims who travel to holy sites within the country. For example, in 1998 the UN Sanctions Committee offered to disburse vouchers for travel and expenses to pilgrims making the Hajj; however, the Government rejected this offer. In 1999 the Sanctions Committee offered to disburse funds to cover Hajj-related expenses via a neutral third party; the Government again rejected the offer. Following the December 1999 passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1284, the Sanctions Committee again sought to devise a protocol to facilitate the payment for individuals making the journey. The Sanctions Committee proposed to issue $250 in cash and $1,750 in travelers checks to each individual pilgrim to be distributed at the U.N. office in Baghdad in the presence of both U.N. and Iraqi officials. The Government again declined and, consequently, no Iraqi pilgrims were able to take advantage of the available funds or, in 2000, of the permitted flights. The Government continued to insist that these funds would be accepted only if they were paid in cash to the government-controlled central bank, not to the Hajj pilgrims.

More than 95 percent of the population of Iraq are Muslim. The (predominantly Arab) Shi'a Muslims constitute a 60 to 65 percent majority:


  • The Iraqi government has for decades conducted a brutal campaign of murder, summary execution, and protracted arbitrary arrest against the religious leaders and followers of the majority Shi'a Muslim population. Despite nominal legal protection of religious equality, the Government has repressed severely the Shi'a clergy and those who follow the Shi'a faith.


  • Forces from the Mukhabarat, General Security (Amn Al-Amm), the Military Bureau, Saddam's Commandos (Fedayeen Saddam), and the Ba'th Party have killed senior Shi'a clerics, desecrated Shi'a mosques and holy sites, and interfered with Shi'a religious education. Security agents reportedly are stationed at all the major Shi'a mosques and shrines, where they search, harass, and arbitrarily arrest worshipers.


  • The following government restrictions on religious rights remained in effect during 2001: restrictions and outright bans on communal Friday prayer by Shi'a Muslims; restrictions on the loaning of books by Shi'a mosque libraries; a ban on the broadcast of Shi'a programs on government-controlled radio or television; a ban on the publication of Shi'a books, including prayer books and guides; a ban on funeral processions other than those organized by the Government; a ban on other Shi'a funeral observances such as gatherings for Koran reading; and the prohibition of certain processions and public meetings that commemorate Shi'a holy days. Shi'a groups report that they captured documents from the security services during the 1991 uprising that listed thousands of forbidden Shi'a religious writings.


  • In June 1999, several Shi'a opposition groups reported that the Government instituted a program in the predominantly Shi'a districts of Baghdad that used food ration cards to restrict where individuals could pray. The ration cards, part of the UN oil-for-food program, reportedly are checked when the bearer enters a mosque and are printed with a notice of severe penalties for those who attempt to pray at an unauthorized location.


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