[JURIST] US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice released the annual State Department Report on International Religious Freedom [text] Friday, criticizing what it considered to be sharp decreases in religious freedom and an increase in religious strife in several nations, including Iraq. The report found that Iraqis' ability to freely practice the religion of their choice is severely hampered by rising violence, mostly between Shia and Sunni Muslims but also directed against practitioners of less conservative Muslim faiths and non-Muslim religions.
Although the study said that government policy in Iraq generally does not interfere with the free practice of religion, it found that an atmosphere of lawlessness permits criminal and terrorist gangs to target outsider religious groups with impunity:
Individuals were victims of not only harassment and intimidation but also kidnapping and even killings. Women and girls were often threatened for refusing to wear the hijab, for dressing in Western-style clothing, or for failing to adhere sufficiently to strict interpretations of conservative Islamic norms governing public behavior. During the reporting period, numerous women, including Christians, reported opting to wear the hijab for security purposes after being harassed for not doing so. One Sabean-Mandaean woman reported that she was burned in the face with acid for not wearing the hijab.The report also criticized religious violence in several other US-allied nations, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia [JURIST news archives].
The State Department assessment designated a number of states as "countries of particular concern" (CPC) for their systematic repression of religious freedom, including Saudi Arabia, Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Uzbekistan [JURIST news archives]. All eight countries have previously been listed as CPC. The most recent addition to the list was Uzbekistan, which was first designated as a CPC in 2006 for a series of raids against conservative Muslims whose beliefs differed from state-sanctioned dogma. AP has more.