Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2004

2004 Scores


Not Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Iraq's civil liberties rating improved from 7 to 5 due to the expansion of freedoms of expression and association.


Following the April 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein's tyrannical government by a U.S. and British military coalition, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) presided over a sweeping expansion of civil liberties and began implementing an ambitious plan to establish a democratic government by the end of 2005. However, an escalating insurgency, supported by much of the country's once-dominant Sunni Arab minority, perpetuated a climate of instability and hampered reconstruction efforts.

The modern state of Iraq, consisting of three former Ottoman provinces, was established after World War I as a British-administered League of Nations mandate. In 1921, Britain installed a constitutional monarchy in which Sunni Arabs came to dominate most political and administrative posts at the expense of Kurds and Shiite Arabs. Sunni political dominance in Iraq, which formally gained independence in 1932, continued after the monarchy was overthrown in a 1958 military coup. Following a succession of weak leftist regimes, the pan-Arab Baath (Renaissance) party seized power in 1968. In 1979, the Baathist regime's de facto strongman, Saddam Hussein, formally assumed the presidency.

Hussein brutally suppressed all political opposition and sought to establish Iraq as a regional superpower by invading Iran in 1980. During the eight-year war, his regime used chemical weapons against both Iranian troops and rebellious Iraqi Kurds. Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait in 1990 and were ousted the following year by a U.S.-led coalition.

After the Gulf War, the UN Security Council imposed economic sanctions pending the destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD). While it was originally anticipated that the sanctions would be lifted within a few years, Iraq refused to disclose its WMD capabilities for more than a decade and the sanctions remained in place. In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, U.S. president George W. Bush designated Iraq's WMD a salient threat to American national security and committed his administration to engineering Hussein's ouster. In March 2003, U.S. and British forces invaded Iraq and captured Baghdad within three weeks.

The initial euphoria felt by many Iraqis in the immediate aftermath of the regime's collapse was soon tempered by the security vacuum, widespread looting, and acute electricity and water shortages that followed. Unemployment soared as a result of the CPA's early de-Baathification decrees, which left around 35,000 civil servants out of work, and the disbanding of Iraq's 400,000-man army. After extensive and often contentious negotiations with leading Iraqi political and religious leaders, the CPA appointed a 25-member Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) in July and granted it limited law-making authority. By year's end, however, decision making on major government policies remained in the hands of the CPA.

While care was taken to ensure that the composition of the IGC, as well as provisional local and regional government bodies, reflected Iraq's confessional and ethnic demography, Sunni Arabs viewed the diminution of their political supremacy with trepidation. Loose networks of Baath Party loyalists organized an insurgency in the "Sunni triangle" of central Iraq, which progressively gained strength during the year. Monthly combat fatalities suffered by coalition forces rose from 7 in May to a high of 94 in November, while terrorist attacks on government offices, humanitarian institutions, and civilian areas increased dramatically in the latter half of 2003. Several prominent Iraqis who supported the American occupation were assassinated during the year, including prominent Shiite clerics Abdel Majid Al-Khoei and Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim; IGC member Aquila Hashimi; the deputy mayor of Baghdad, Faris Abdul Razzaq al-Assam; and Mustafa Zaidan al-Khaleefa, a prominent member of a Baghdad neighborhood council. In response to the escalating violence, the CPA accelerated training of Iraqi security forces and relaxed its de-Baathification screening.

Although the CPA initially planned to restore Iraqi sovereignty only after a constitution was drafted and an elected Iraqi government was in place, the increased frequency and lethality of insurgent attacks led the United States to accelerate the transfer of power. Under a plan unveiled in November, the CPA and the IGC will be replaced in June 2004 by an unelected interim government, selected by provincial caucuses; an elected government will assume power by the end of 2005, after a constitution has been ratified. This new arrangement, which remains subject to change, was also intended to offer Sunni Arab leaders, who felt largely excluded from the IGC, a more substantial presence in the transitional assembly.

Several outbreaks of violence between Kurds and Turkmans in and around the northern city of Kirkuk occurred during the latter half of 2003, most notably a spate of clashes on August 24 that left 11 people dead.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Iraqis cannot yet change their government democratically, as the CPA wields virtually absolute authority, both directly and through its appointment of provisional government bodies. Nevertheless, the CPA consults regularly with political, religious, and tribal leaders in making decisions and has retracted some decrees that met with broadbased opposition.

Freedom of expression in Iraq is respected by the CPA, with some limits. Although domestic television broadcasting is dominated by the Iraqi Media Network (IMN), established in May 2003 by the CPA, independent print publications proliferated after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime and are allowed to operate without significant interference. Satellite dishes, banned by the former regime, and unrestricted Internet access have become available to those who can afford them. Although critical of the CPA in many respects, a fact-finding mission sent to Iraq in June 2003 by the London-based Arab Press Freedom Watch (APFW) concluded that Iraqis are "free to think, write, print, publish, and distribute without fear and restrictions."

CPA Order 14 (June 2003) prohibits media organizations from publishing or broadcasting material that incites violence or civil disorder, advocates the return to power of the Baath Party, or contains statements that purport to be on behalf of the Baath Party. It also allows for the closure of media organizations that violate these regulations. At least three local media outlets--two newspapers and a radio station--were suspended during the year on such grounds. In November, the Dubai-based satellite TV news channel Al-Arabiya was banned from operating in Iraq after it broadcast an audiotape in which Saddam Hussein urged Iraqis to kill members of the provisional Iraqi government.

Twelve foreign journalists and other international media personnel were killed and two remained missing as a result of combat operations in Iraq in 2003. International human rights groups drew attention to the deaths of two journalists on April 8 by a U.S. tank returning hostile fire at a Baghdad hotel and the August 17 death of a reporter whose camera was mistaken for a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, claiming that internationally recognized rules of engagement were breached. Ahmed Shawkat, the editor of the liberal weekly Bila Ittijah, was gunned down by suspected Islamist militants in October. At least a dozen foreign journalists were detained, most of them briefly, by coalition forces and Iraqi police during the year, including several cameramen and photographers from Arab media outlets suspected of having advanced knowledge of insurgent attacks. In November, a Portuguese journalist was kidnapped in southern Iraq and held for ransom.

Islam is the state religion in Iraq and is likely to remain so under the new political system taking shape. Baathist-era restrictions on freedom of worship and controls over religious institutions have been lifted. Newly constructed Shiite mosques proliferated in the latter half of the year. Religious and ethnic groups in Iraq are represented in the IGC (which has 13 Shiites, 5 Sunni Arabs, 1 Christian and 1 Turkman) and civil service in proportion to their demographic strength. Most government restrictions on academic freedom have been abolished by the CPA, but some new limits have been imposed. De-Baathification of Iraq's universities led to the firing of more than sixteen hundred Baathist professors and other university employees in May, though some were later reinstated. While faculties were permitted to elect university administrators for the first time, nominees were vetted by the CPA.

Freedom of association and assembly are generally recognized by the CPA. Although the Baath Party has been banned, political organizations representing a wide range of viewpoints are allowed to organize freely. Public demonstrations, ranging from strikes by public sector workers to pro-Saddam rallies, occurred almost daily during the year without coalition interference. While coalition forces reportedly killed several unarmed demonstrators in 2003, most deaths appear to have resulted from soldiers returning fire at armed militants. Baathist-era laws banning worker strikes are no longer in effect.

The Iraqi judiciary is not independent. In June 2003, the CPA established the Judicial Review Committee to screen judges and prosecutors for past links to the Baath Party, involvement in human rights violations, and corruption, and to appoint replacements. Although Iraq's 1971 Criminal Procedure Code, which stipulates that suspects cannot be held more than 24 hours without an examining magistrate's ruling of sufficient evidence, remains in force and is generally observed in ordinary criminal cases, thousands of people suspected of security offenses were detained without charge by coalition troops and Iraqi police in 2003. At year's end, the CPA had roughly 12,800 such detainees in custody, including around 4,000 members of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization, an Iranian dissident group backed by the former Iraqi regime.

Relatives of detainees are rarely granted access to prisons, though most are eventually able to communicate with family members through handwritten messages exchanged through the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). In November, coalition forces began detaining relatives of wanted men, including the wife and daughter of Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, the former deputy head of the Baath party.

Public security for Iraqi women, who by some estimates constitute nearly 60 percent of the population, deteriorated significantly after the fall of the Baathist regime. In July 2003, Human Rights Watch reported that insecurity in major Iraqi cities and the "low priority" given to cases of sexual violence by police was preventing many female Iraqis from working and attending school. Islamist groups have used their newfound freedom to harassed unveiled women in many parts of the country. Although the CPA has pledged to protect and empower women, only three were appointed to the 25-member ICG and only one was given a ministerial position. In order to secure support from conservative and Islamist groups in Iraq, the CPA has declined to establish quotas for Iraqi women in the transitional assembly to be formed in 2004.