- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2008

NEW YORK — The United Nations warned that private armies on all sides — Shi’ite and Sunni militias, as well as contractors hired by the United States — threaten human rights in Iraq and threaten to undo the benefits of the surge.

Violent attacks in Baghdad “decreased significantly” in the second half of 2007, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq, or UNAMI, said in a report. But it warned that the security situation continues to deteriorate in other parts of the country.

“As security improved in parts of Baghdad and other locations, it deteriorated elsewhere with heightened activity by insurgent groups and others in [areas] such as Mosul and Diyala.”

The 37-page report released over the weekend noted that both Sunni and Shi’ite insurgent groups continue to target civilians and combatants indiscriminately, attacks that are “tantamount to crimes against humanity.”

“The extent to which the decrease in violence was sustainable remained unclear, with the security situation still precarious in many parts of the country,” the report said.

UNAMI issues a report every six months.

“While the level of violence decreased gradually during the last three months of 2007, deliberate attacks on civilian targets by armed groups continued to be perpetrated in various locations throughout Iraq, with numerous attacks reported though not on the scale witnessed in the third quarter,” the report said.

The report also noted that prominent members of civil society — religious figures, journalists, doctors, teachers, politicians, judges, human rights advocates and others — are still in the cross hairs.

“While some were killed in the context of the general ongoing violence, many others were deliberately targeted for assassination or were abducted and subsequently killed,” the report said. “Scores of others were wounded in attacks or escaped attempts on their lives.”

UNAMI repeated calls to monitor more closely the conduct of private security contractors, who have largely fallen between the jurisdictions of their own nations and the Iraqi courts.

The killings of 17 Iraqis in a traffic circle in September by a Blackwater convoy heightened frustration with the largely unregulated but heavily armed security personnel.

Blackwater is a private U.S. security firm based in North Carolina.

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