V. The Kurdish Security Forces (Asayish)

The de facto Kurdish authorities gave the Asayish official legal recognition in March 1993,78 placing them under the authority of the Kurdish Ministry of Interior and giving them jurisdiction over economic crimes, such as smuggling, and political crimes, including espionage and acts of sabotage and terrorism. Organizationally, the Asayish were divided into four directorates, covering the governorates of Duhok, Arbil, Sulaimaniya, and part of Kirkuk, each comprising a Political Unit (al-Shu`ba al-Siyasiyya), an Economic Unit (al-Shu`ba al-Iqtisadiyya), and a Legal Unit (al-Shu`ba al-Qanuniyya).79 A General Security Directorate was established to oversee and coordinate their functions. Traditionally, the heads of the various directorates have been civilians.

While Asayish personnel had clear party affiliations, Kurdish political leaders made genuine efforts in the early 1990s, under the first joint administration, to achieve partial unification of their security and police forces. In addition, the Council of Ministers at that time introduced measures to increase the transparency and accountability of the law enforcement institutions. Part of the basic training of Asayish personnel was aimed at enhancing awareness of the provisions of the Iraqi Code of Criminal Procedure and the Penal Code, as well as knowledge of international standards pertaining to law enforcement.80 There was no sustained follow up, however, and the political will to hold Asayish personnel accountable for the abuse of detainees in their custody was weak, encouraging a climate of impunity that remains prevalent today.

Following the collapse of the joint administration as inter-Kurdish armed clashes reached a peak in the mid-1990s, the KDP and the PUK operated separate Asayish forces in territory under their control. Until late 2004 these forces remained under the authority of the two parties’ respective ministries of interior, with few changes to their organizational structures or areas of competence. On each side, the Asayish also continued to work closely with the intelligence agencies of their respective political parties. The KDP’s principal agency is the Parastin, headed by Masrur Barzani,81 and that of the PUK is Dazgay Zanyari, headed by Khasrow Gul Muhammad.82 The primary function of these two agencies is intelligence gathering on matters relating to both the internal and external security of the Kurdistan region. Officially, they do not have power to arrest or detain, nor the authority to operate any of the recognized detention facilities. Both agencies coordinate and share intelligence with the respective Asayish forces in the governorates under their control. In some instances the Asayish will retain physical custody over detainees who were arrested by, and remain the responsibility of, one or other of the intelligence agencies.83 In the lead up to the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and since, with the increased threat of militant attacks and deteriorating security conditions, the level of cooperation and coordination between the intelligence agencies of the KDP and PUK, and the respective Asayish forces, has remained high.

In late 2004 and early 2005, both the KDP and the PUK took steps to remove their Asayish forces from under the control of their respective ministries of interior. The two parties did not coordinate in this regard; they carried out the processes independently of each other using different mechanisms. For its part, the KDP created a new authority, the General Committee for the Security of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (al-Hay’a al-`Amma li-Amn Iqlim Kurdistan–al-`Iraq, General Security Committee), established by Law 46 of 2004 (December 2004).84 The stated reasons behind its creation are the “organization and unification of all security agencies within a unified framework … for the purpose of establishing a mechanism for the coordination and exchange of information, and consolidating security efforts and achieving the common goals between the federal and regional security agencies.”85 According to article 6 of the law, the General Security Committee’s areas of competence include combating drug trafficking, terrorism, and espionage; gathering intelligence and assessing threats to Iraq’s national security, and liaising with the relevant national intelligence authorities in this regard; and the exchange of criminal suspects between the federal and regional security agencies and the referral of their cases in accordance with mechanisms established by law.86 The General Security Committee is “financially and administratively independent,” with its own budget.87 Masrur Barzani currently heads the committee and, according to the law, has the rank of minister.88

The disengagement of the Asayish forces from the PUK’s Ministry of Interior was less clear, and Human Rights Watch is not aware of any decree issued by the PUK leadership in this regard. Jalal Talabani, to whom the party’s security and intelligence agencies ultimately answer, appears to have taken the decision in early 2005.89 Under the new arrangement, the Asayish formally reports to `Umar Fattah, member of the PUK Political Bureau.90 The change effectively places the Asayish outside of any governmental control and oversight, reaffirming its position as a political party agency rather than a branch of the government’s executive authorities.

Similar concerns, particularly lack of oversight, arise with regard to the KDP’s General Security Committee. While created in more transparent fashion and established by law, the General Security Committee answers to the party and not the government, which has little if any control or oversight over the committee.91 Article 4 of the law that established the General Security Committee provides for the prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government to assume the responsibilities of the appointed head of the committee in the latter’s absence. This, however, hardly constitutes governmental oversight, and the law itself provides no mechanisms to hold accountable the head of the General Security Committee or any of its members.

Since the unification of the KDP and PUK administrations in May 2006, the Asayish forces of both political parties have continued to function as separate and parallel agencies. Human Rights Watch understands that the future of these forces is under discussion, and includes the option of placing them once more under the authority of the Ministry of Interior. As noted above, the Ministry of Interior is one of four key ministries within the Kurdistan Regional Government where unification was not expected to be implemented for a period of one year—in other words, by mid-2007. In August 2006, Kurdish officials also told Human Rights Watch that a draft law amending the existing Law of the Ministry of Justice for the Iraqi Kurdistan region92 contained a proposal to place all detention facilities, including those operated by the Asayish, under the authority of the Ministry of Justice (see Section IX, below). At this writing, these issues were still pending.

As noted above, the detention facilities that the Asayish forces currently operate are principally used to hold detainees suspected of security and terror-related offenses, as well as serious felonies. These facilities are only meant to hold suspects in pre-trial detention, pending the completion of criminal investigations and referral to a court of law. Asayish agents must then transfer convicted prisoners, under existing law, to a Ministry of Interior prison operated by the police forces, to serve out their terms.93

The organizational structure of the Asayish forces and their detention facilities under KDP and PUK control are similar. The KDP’s General Security Directorate (Asayish Gishti) is located in the city of Arbil, and covers the governorates of Arbil and Duhok. It is currently headed by Ismat Argushi. Additionally, there are directorates at the level of the governorates—Asayish Duhok, headed by Sa`id Sinjari, and Asayish Arbil, headed by Abdullah `Ali. They have branches in several towns, such as Zakho, ‘Aqra and Shaqlawa. The PUK’s General Security Directorate (Asayish Gishti) is located in the city of Sulaimaniya, and covers that governorate and part of Kirkuk. It is headed by Saifuddin `Ali. The directorate at the level of the governorate is Asayish Sulaimaniya, also based in the city, which was headed by Sarkawt Kubba at the time of our trips to the Kurdistan region (it is currently headed by Col. Hassan Nuri). Other branches include Asayish Hawler, based in the town of Koisanjaq, Asayish Garmian, based in the town of Kalar, Asayish Kirkuk, based in the town of Qara Hanjir, and Asayish Sharazur, based near the town of Halabja. As a general rule, the detention facilities at the governorate level only hold detainees from that governorate, while the General Security Directorate facilities hold detainees from other governorates, including those outside the Kurdistan region, as well as non-Iraqi nationals. In practice there is some overlap, with both categories of detainees being held in the same facility on a temporary basis, often to ease overcrowding problems.

78 Law of the Ministry of Interior, No. 9 of 1993, passed by Decree No. 21 of 27 March 1993, published in Perleman, Vol. 10, April 1993.  The Kurdish authorities actually set up the Asayish five months earlier, in October 1992, and the Asayish became operational in January 1993.

79 Other units within the Asayish include a Residence and Travel Unit (Shu`bat al-Iqama wal-Safar).

80 These included the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

81 The official name of the Parastin (literally, “protection”) is Rêkkhistini Taybeti (The Special Organization, al-Tanzim al-Khass in Arabic), established in 1968 and ultimately answerable to KDP leader Mas`ud Barzani. It was reconstituted and restructured after 1991 and placed under a new leadership.

82 Dazgay Zanyari (The Information Apparatus, Jihaz al-Ma`lumat in Arabic) was reconstituted and restructured in 1991 from the PUK’s previous intelligence and security agencies. It is ultimately answerable to PUK leader Jalal Talabani.

83 During our visits to KDP detention facilities, Human Rights Watch interviewed several detainees who stated that the Parastin had arrested them.

84 Law No. 46 of 2004, published in the Kurdistan Gazette, Vol. 53, December 19, 2004.

85 Ibid.

86 Ibid., art. 6, paras. 2, 3, 4 and 5. Article 6 (1) of the law states that the General Security Committee will seek to protect the fundamental principles on which the “federal, democratic, parliamentary and pluralist system of the federal state of Iraq” is based, including through: a) seeking to protect the welfare and properties of the citizens of the Kurdistan region; b) providing security and stability in the Kurdistan region and protecting public property; and c) safeguarding general and individual freedoms and the creation of appropriate and necessary conditions for citizens to exercise their rights in accordance with international human rights instruments.

87 Ibid., arts. 2 and 3.

88 Ibid., art. 4.

89 In addition to Dazgay Zanyari (Information Apparatus), the PUK’s other agencies include Military Intelligence, known as Dazga, as well as the recently formed Counter-Terrorism Group (CTG), headed by Bavel Talabani.

90 `Umar Fattah was appointed deputy prime minister in the joint cabinet announced on May 6, 2006, following the declared unification of the KDP and the PUK administrations.

91 Other KDP agencies include General Intelligence (Rekkhistin) and Military Intelligence (Hawalgri).

92 Law No. 12 of 1992, issued in accordance with Decree No. 38 of November 21, 1992, published in Perleman, Vol. 6, second half of December 1992.

93 In a few cases, however, Asayish personnel continued to hold in their custody convicted prisoners whom they never transferred to a police prison, or who had already served their custodial sentence but remained in detention—see Section VI, below.