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Commentary
State Dept Reports on Forced Labor in Iraq
Advises Iraqi Gov to Do More on Trafficking for Involuntary Servitude
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 06/12/2007 4:40 PM ET
Washington, UNITED STATES: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announces the release of the 7th Annual Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 12 June 2007 at the US Department of State in Washington, DC.
Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty
Washington, UNITED STATES: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announces the release of the 7th Annual Department of State "Trafficking in Persons Report" 12 June 2007 at the US Department of State in Washington, DC.

In its 2007 Human Trafficking Report released Tuesday, the US State Department criticizes the Iraqi government for not doing enough to combat the influx of low-wage workers being brought in from South and Southeast Asia under conditions of involuntary servitude, but fails to acknowledge the role the US government plays in creating the jobs that are being filled by this forced labor.

Instead of being ranked with most countries, Iraq appears under a "Special Cases" heading, because it was in political transition during the reporting period. The description of the problem of involuntary servitude is lifted directly from the 2006 report, which was the first year that the State Department identified non-sexual labor trafficking in Iraq since the invasion.

Iraq is also a destination country for men and women trafficked from South and Southeast Asia for involuntary servitude as construction workers, cleaners, and domestic servants. Some of these workers are offered fraudulent jobs in safe environments in Kuwait or Jordan, but are then forced into involuntary servitude in Iraq instead; others go to Iraq voluntarily, but are subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude after arrival. Although the governments of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the Philippines have official bans prohibiting their nationals from working in Iraq, workers from these countries are increasingly coerced into positions in Iraq with threats of abandonment in Kuwait or Jordan, starvation, or force....

But the 2007 edition went to greater lengths in criticizing the inaction of the Iraqi government in combating human trafficking within its borders.

The government did not prosecute any trafficking cases this year; nor did it convict any trafficking offenders. Furthermore, the government could not offer protection services to victims of trafficking, and it reported no efforts to prevent trafficking. Iraq should significantly increase criminal investigations of internal and transnational trafficking for both commercial sexual exploitation and involuntary servitude.

While the Iraqi government certainly has the responsibility to prosecute crimes committed on its soil, it seems unfair to shift the burden of enforcement for this problem onto its fledgling security forces, particularly since their presence would not even be allowed on construction sites such as that of the new US embassy, where rumors of forced labor have run rampant.

Following up on complaints of abusive labor practices by First Kuwaiti, the contractor managing the embassy project, Howard J. Krongard, the State Department’s inspector general, flew to Baghdad for what he describes as a “brief” review on Sept. 15.

“Nothing came to our attention,” he wrote in a nine-page memorandum following his inspection of the work conditions at the Baghdad embassy construction site. After interviewing an unstated number of workers from the Philippines, India, Nepal and Pakistan, Krongard concluded there was no evidence of labor smuggling, trafficking or other abuses.

One former labor foreman at the embassy site who recently read Krongard’s review told Slogger it was “bull shit.” Another former First Kuwaiti employee viewed it as “a whitewash.”

Meanwhile, Justice Department trial attorneys Andrew Kline and Michael J. Frank with the civil rights division have been contacting former First Kuwaiti employees and others for interviews and documents, but declined to comment on the ongoing investigation other than to say they are looking into allegations of labor trafficking. This week, Slogger reported that the Philippines government is also investigating the recruiting firms that supply workers for First Kuwaiti's embassy project.

Even as it challenges Iraqi leaders for failing to take on labor trafficking, the State Department still considers First Kuwaiti a contractor in good standing. But beyond the specific example of the embassy project, it's still difficult to stomach the arrogance of the State Department's criticism, considering that most of the foreign nationals working in Baghdad could, through multiple levels of subcontracting, trace their top boss back to the US government.

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