Rights group says Iraq is a 'budding police state'

An international rights group says Iraq's government cracked down harshly on dissent during the past year of Arab Spring uprisings, turning the country into a "budding police state" as autocratic regimes crumbled elsewhere in the region.

Human Rights Watch, in its annual report, says Iraqi security forces routinely abuse protesters, harass journalists, torture detainees and intimidate activists.

"Iraq is quickly slipping back into authoritarianism," said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director for the group. "Despite US government assurances that it helped create a stable democracy, the reality is that it left behind a budding police state." Iraqi officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

In February last year protests erupted across the country. The government clamped down, sometimes leading to bloodshed – 14 people were killed in clashes between security forces and civilians during the 25 February protests billed as the "Day of Rage".

A year later, with US troops withdrawn and Iraq's government mired in a political crisis and growing sectarianism, anti-government protests have all but died out.