Iraq's lawyers risk death to take on sectarian cases

Tue Aug 14, 2012 9:23am EDT
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By Aseel Kami

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi lawyer Ahmed al-Abadi put up with years of threatening phone calls for taking on sensitive sectarian cases but, after he narrowly escaped death when three shots were fired at his car last year, he could take no more.

Abadi had just finished successfully defending a woman accused of involvement in a sectarian killing and he thinks this was the reason behind the gun attack - but he decided against seeking legal redress.

"I did not go to the police station to report it. I knew it would not get me anywhere," he said, seated in the lawyers' room of Rusafa appeal court in eastern Baghdad. "It has affected me mentally and sapped my enthusiasm for work. I started to handle only easy cases which do not cause me problems."

After years of vicious sectarian strife between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims, individual cases are increasingly coming to court. But justice suffers because lawyers are an easy target in a country where rule of law remains weak, tribal loyalties take precedence and sectarian armed groups still operate.

Abadi is one of many lawyers who have suffered constant threats and intimidation from relatives of the accused or the plaintiff. Lawyers come into contact with both sides of a case and they must appear in court, where everyone can see their faces. Lawyers say some judges treat them as if they were involved in the crime simply because they defend the accused.

"We are very sensitive about terrorism cases," the 55-year-old Abadi said, employing the term regularly used to describe sectarian cases in Iraq.

"After taking more than one terrorist case, I quit," he said as he removed his robe after attending the guilty verdict in a corruption case of two clients who worked in a government-spending watchdog.


People wait for their cases to be heard at Rusafa criminal court in Baghdad August 14, 2012. REUTERS/Mohammed Ameen