September 10, 2006

VII. Iraqi Ministry of Interior Registration Requirements and Official Harassment of Palestinians

Torture and "Disappearances"

Almost all Iraqi Palestinians whom Human Rights Watch interviewed complained that the Iraqi Ministry of Interior (MoI) discriminated against them at the expense of their fundamental human rights. Mistreatment at the hands of the MoI ranged from abusive language during residency registration to being singled out for torture. Palestinians attributed this to the MoI being under the control of Shi`a political factions. Some stated that their plight with the MoI had worsened after a new government under Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja`fari was installed after interim elections in January 2005.

For instance, the MoI's notorious "Wolf Brigade," a paramilitary unit, on May 12, 2005, raided the Baladiyyat Palestinian buildings and arrested four Iraqi Palestinians, including three brothers, whom they claimed were terrorists. According to the men's lawyer, the Wolf Brigade systematically tortured the four men for the twenty-seven days they held them at brigade offices belonging to the MoI: "They were beaten with cables, received electric shocks to the hands, wrists, fingers, ankles and feet, received cigarette burns to the face, and were left in a room with water on the floor while an electric current was applied to the water."[73]

Abdullah `Umar (not his real name), a resident of a village in al-Madayin area of Baghdad, described how Iraqi security agents arrested him at around 2 a.m. on March 27, 2005. He described how the security forces had come to the village with a list of names of people to arrest, but when they saw Abdullah `Umar's Palestinian documents they also arrested him. He stated that they detained him for sixty-eight days at the Kut military base southeast of Baghdad, where they kept him blindfolded and handcuffed, except for meal times and toilet trips. Out of the 120 detainees at the base, he was singled out for targeted abuse: "They treated me even worse because I was Palestinian. Whenever they came into the room, they would ask, 'Where is the Palestinian?' and beat me." Abdullah `Umar said they repeatedly beat him on the bottom of his feet and on his back, and tortured him on several occasions with electricity applied to his penis.[74]

Palestinians whom Human Rights Watch interviewed claimed that many of their compatriots "disappeared" after the Iraqi security forces arrested them. In one case documented by Human Rights Watch, a son described how Iraqi National Guard troops arrested his seventy-five-year-old father, Shuhda Abdullah Salin Abu Khusa, from his home in the Khalisa al-Wihda project buildings in Baghdad, together with another of Shuhda's sons, on April 27, 2005. When relatives went to search for the missing men at the Kut military base, a National Guard officer confirmed the arrest to them, stating, "We took them as suspects. It is a routine investigation." A week later, a National Guard officer called the family from the Kut base, saying that they were torturing their father, and "you should look after him" a thinly veiled attempt to get a ransom from the family. Two days later, the same officer informed the family that he had heard Shuhda had died in custody. The guards released the detained brother, but Shuhda remains missing, over a year after his arrest, with no confirmation of his death in custody or news that he is still alive. The son who spoke to us had fled Iraq in search of answers: "I decided to leave because I want to make an international case of my father. I can't get justice for my father inside Iraq. For me, my most important cause is my father."[75]

Onerous Registration Procedures for Palestinian Refugees

Under the Saddam Hussein government, Palestinians could obtain and maintain their residency in Iraq without obstacles. After its fall, however, the newly staffed MoI began treating Iraqi Palestinian refugees as non-resident foreigners, and required them to obtain and renew their residency permits from its Department of Residency. While many countries have such registration requirements for non-resident foreigners, the Palestinians in Iraq are officially recognized as refugees, persons unable to return home, and should not be subjected to the constant possibility of deportation. One Iraqi Palestinian explained the problem to Human Rights Watch:

Back in Baghdad, we have problems with our residency. Previously, we had a residency card. But after Saddam, we were not accepted as residents anymore. We had to renew our residency every two months.We had to go to the residency department in Baghdad [at the Ministry of Interior]. We had to bring the whole family every time, from the oldest to a day-old baby. The attitudes of the bureaucrats varied according to their mood. Sometimes, they told us to come back again after we had been waiting there. It did not cost money to renew the residency, but if we exceeded the residency, it cost the equivalent of U.S.$7 for each day for each person who exceeded his residency.[76]

These new requirements placed on Palestinian refugees are very burdensome. Every member of a family must personally appear at the Department of Residency every one to three months to renew residency permits. Families have to wait long periods of time to obtain the permits or renewals. Sometimes they have to return to the department every day for two weeks before receiving their permit. Interviewees described how officials at the Department of Residency verbally abuse Palestinians and sometimes confiscate their identity documents their only source of identification as Palestinian refugees. Even when they did manage to renew their residency permit, the permits were only valid for one or three months, requiring them to almost immediately begin the process all over again.

Muhammad Hassan, a twenty-six-year-old Iraqi Palestinian father of two children whose wife is Jordanian, described how the Department of Residency refused to renew his residency permit in early 2006 because he had not brought his one-month-old daughter with him. He said the officials verbally abused him, telling him, "Why are you still here?Why don't you go back to Palestine? You are a group of terrorists, why are you still here?"[77] Fifty-eight-year-old Nawal `Ali explained how she had first tried to register her family on June 15, 2005. She spent three days waiting in line with her entire family, from 7 a.m. until the office closed at 3 p.m. Finally, they managed to register for a period of one month. "The treatment there is very bad," she recalled. "It is a fearful place." After renewing their residency permits a few more times, in later 2005 they stopped going because her children were too afraid to return to the office.[78] Shihad Ahmad Taha tried to obtain residency permits for his family for several weeks before giving up: "I went to the Department of Residency for one-and-a-half months. Each time, they demanded other things to bring my wife, to bring my children. So I stopped going for registration."[79]

For many Palestinians, the risks associated with going to the MoI were simply too great given the hostility towards Palestinians and the MoI's reported involvement in arrests, torture, and killings. Muhammad Salim `Ali told Human Rights Watch, "There are registration requirements now. I did not go there, because they treat the Palestinians badly."[80] More recently, many Palestinians have stopped going to renew their residency after rumors spread that the Department of Residency would confiscate their documents and issue them deportation letters.[81] Their concerns do not appear to be unfounded:One Palestinian refugee told Human Rights Watch that when he went to renew his residency on March 15, 2006, the Department of Residency confiscated all of his documents and issued him with a deportation order. He managed to get an extension of his residency and to get his documents returned a few days later, but only after bribing a Department of Residency official.[82]

Discrimination and abuse is not limited to the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Displacement and Migration (MoDM), which provides important services for foreign populations in Iraq and internally displaced persons within Iraq, has shown particular hostility towards Palestinians. In October 2005, Minister of Displacement and Migration Suhaila `Abd al-Ja`far held a press conference to announce that she had requested the Council of Ministers and the MoI to return Palestinian refugees in Iraq to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, stating: "The Ministry of Interior should take the initiative in the expulsion of Palestinians from Iraq, who got asylum in Iraq and don't hold Iraqi citizenship, to their lands in Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal." She further stated that her demand for the expulsion of Palestinians from Iraq came after the involvement of Palestinians in terrorist attacks in Iraq in the previous two years an unfounded accusation.[83]

Safety Concerns with Palestinian Identity Documents

Since the time of the Saddam Hussein government, Palestinian refugees in Iraq have been issued a blue "Republic of Iraq: Palestinian Travel Document" rather than ordinary green Iraqi passports. Many Palestinians whom Human Rights Watch interviewed said Palestinians have been targeted on the basis of being found in possession of these documents, in part because they are so easily distinguishable from the passports for citizens. They said that especially after the Samarra mosque bombing, Shi`a militias had killed a number of Palestinians after identifying them on the basis of their documents.[84]Muhammad Salim `Ali, who had fled to al-Ruwaishid camp in 2003 and returned to Iraq in 2004, explained to Human Rights Watch why he was fleeing Iraq again when interviewed at the Iraqi border in April 2006:

We left Baghdad because of the bad situation. If they know we are Palestinians, they kill us. They see our [Palestinian Travel Document] IDs, and they kill us. Sixteen or eighteen Palestinians have been killed this way, and more than a hundred Palestinians have been arrested, and we have no information about them. The Palestinians in al-Baladiyyat neighborhood are living like in a prison camp; we can't move outside the Palestinian buildings anymore.[85]

One Palestinian told Human Rights Watch that he was actually happy that his Palestinian Travel Document had been stolen from him:

It is better for me now that I don't have that document, as it would cause me trouble. Most Palestinians prefer to move around in Iraq without that Palestinian document, which proves they are Palestinian and puts them at risk. To protect themselves, Palestinians sometimes hold forged Iraqi identification documents and talk with an Iraqi accent.[86]

Another Palestinian described how the Iraqi police harassed him after they discovered his Palestinian Travel Document:

Once, I was in my car, a new imported car. The police checked my papers to see if they were legal. Then the police saw my Palestinian ID, and they checked me from top to bottom. The policeman started to say that Palestinians are terrorists. He said he could do anything he wanted to me, and that no one would be concerned. I negotiated a bribe for him to let me go.[87]

[73] Amnesty International, Fear of Torture/Unfair Trial, AI Index: MDE 14/042/2005; Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Palestinian lawyer Ahmad Mahir, May 16, 2006; Human Rights Watch telephone interviews with `Amer, May 8 and 9, 2006; Dough Struck, "Palestinians in Iraq Pay the Cost of Being 'Saddam's People,'" Washington Post, December 30, 2005.

[74] Human Rights Watch interview with Abdullah `Umar, Trebil camp, April 30, 2006.

[75] Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Trebil camp, April 30, 2006.

[76] Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Trebil camp, April 30, 2006.

[77] Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad Hassan, Trebil camp, April 30, 2006.

[78] Human Rights Watch interview with Nawal `Ali, Trebil camp, April 30, 2006.

[79] Human Rights Watch interview with Shihad Ahmad Taha al-Hajj, Trebil camp, April 30, 2006.

[80] Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad Salim `Ali, Trebil camp, April 30, 2006.

[81] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Umm `Umar, May 9, 2006.

[82] Human Rights Watch interview with `Amer, Trebil camp, April 30, 2006.

[83] Isra' Sa`di and Najah al-Rikabi, "MODM Demands Expulsion of Palestinians from Iraq," al-Mashriq (Baghdad), October 11, 2005.

[84] Human Rights Watch interview with Haji Mahmud Hussain, Trebil camp, April 30, 2006.

[85] Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad Salim `Ali, Trebil camp, April 30, 2006.

[86] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ra'id `Ali Hussain, May 11, 2006.

[87] Human Rights Watch interview (name withheld), Trebil camp, April 30, 2006.