Forum could increase dialogue and understanding

The Foreign Office this week hosted a very useful Forum on human rights and partnership in Iraq.
With the news that British combat troops are returning home in the next few months, we are moving into a new phase of relations between our countries.
We hope that the bitterness and division over the intervention and the role of our troops can be replaced, not by indifference, but by engagement and a focus on how Britain can assist Iraqis in reconstructing their country.
LFIQ continues to emphasise the need for increased investment, trade and
other exchanges with Iraq to help them escape the consequences of a bloody dictatorship which pulverised the country and isolation which denied them access to modern methods and thinking.
Some controversial issues were aired. There were concerns expressed about the unequal application of the law. In part, this is because there is still corruption at an administrative level. It was suggested that those arrested can bribe their way out of prosecution. The other side of this coin is that judges find themselves being threatened and some have been murdered.
There are procedural irregularities at court; those accused may not have the chance to offer a proper defence and allegations may be treated as evidence. There is work via the UK government and EU to improve the standard of judicial proceedings.
We were told that there are approximately 28,000 people in prison in Iraq (this has doubled in 4 years) and a further 24,000 believed to be held by the US forces.
There is a widespread belief that up to 70% of those detained, have not committed any offence. It was reported that even when a court issues an order for the release of a detainee, the local authority does not feel obliged to release them.
As law and order move from the army to the police, there is work to be done. The FCO is supporting this, to get ‘buy in’ from the civilian population and to create, as it were, a new social contract.
There was also a welcome focus on trade union rights. A key LFIQ priority is to back the Iraqi unions in their campaigns to scrap old and new restrictions and win a labour code that brings Iraq into compliance with international standards
The initiation of this Forum is invaluable in providing a space for increased dialogue and understanding.
Clive Furness and Gary Kent for LFIQ