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Iraq poll uncertainty threatens civilians, says Amnesty

Men carry the coffin of a relative killed by a bomb in Baghdad (23 April 2010)
A string of bombings across Baghdad on Friday killed more than 60 people

Continuing political uncertainty in Iraq is contributing to a rise in the number of civilian deaths, a new report by Amnesty International has warned.

The human rights group said that more than 100 civilians were killed in the first week of April alone.

Many were targeted by armed groups because of their religious, ethnic or sexual identity, it said.

Last month's parliamentary election returned an inconclusive result, and political tensions have been rising.

On Monday, former prime minister Iyad Allawi said his Iraqiya alliance would appeal against having 52 candidates in the poll disqualified.

Election officials have ruled that votes for the candidates were invalid, because of their alleged links to the outlawed Baath Party.

Correspondents say the decision is likely to affect two prospective members of the Council of Representatives from Iraqiya, which is just two seats ahead of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's State of Law bloc.

Repatriation

Seven years after the US-led invasion, "Iraqis are still living in a climate of fear", according to the report published by Amnesty.

The continuing uncertainty as to when a new government will be formed following last month's election could well contribute to a further increase of violent incidents of which civilians are the main victims
Malcolm Smart,
Amnesty International

The organisation accuses the Iraqi authorities of not doing enough to protect civilians - in particular ethnic and religious minorities, as well as women and homosexuals.

Human rights defenders, journalists and political activists are among those who have been killed or maimed because of their work, the report warns.

"Over and over they are failing to help the most vulnerable in society," said Malcolm Smart, director of Amnesty's Middle East programme.

The authorities frequently fail to carry out thorough and impartial investigations into attacks on civilians, arrest suspects or bring perpetrators to justice, the report says.

As a result of the insecurity, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including a disproportionately high number of minority communities, have been forced to flee their homes, it adds.

Electoral workers at a vote counting centre in Baghdad  14 March 2010
Election officials have ruled that votes for two winning candidates were invalid

The report also criticises several European countries, including the UK, for forcibly repatriating refugees to parts of Iraq still considered unstable under the guidelines set out by the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR.

"The continuing uncertainty as to when a new government will be formed following last month's election could well contribute to a further increase of violent incidents of which civilians are the main victims," Mr Smart said.

The BBC's Gabriel Gatehouse in Baghdad says that despite improvements in the security situation in recent years, Iraq remains a violent and dangerous place, and security forces are still struggling to prevent the explosions and targeted killings that have become a daily reality.

But it is not only minorities who face the threat of violence - on Friday a string of bombings near mosques across Baghdad killed more than 60 people, most of them worshippers from the majority Shia Muslim community, he adds.



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