There were reports of arrests and detentions, as well as reports of restrictions and discrimination based on religion by both the central government and the KRG. Sectarian misuse of official authority continued to be a concern. Official investigations of abuses by government forces, illegal armed groups, and terrorist organizations were infrequent, and the outcomes of investigations were often unpublished, unknown, or incomplete. Religious and ethnic minorities residing in the disputed internal boundaries (DIBs) in north-central Iraq faulted the central government and the KRG for the lack of security in the area, creating a security vacuum enabling attacks by armed terrorist groups, including the suicide bombings targeting the Shabak in the towns of Bashiqa on September 14 and Al-Mowafaqiah on October 17.
Many Sunni Muslims alleged an ongoing campaign of revenge by the Shia majority in retribution for the Sunnis’ favored status and abuses of Shia during Saddam Hussein’s regime. Complaints included allegations of discrimination in public sector employment due to the ongoing campaign of de-Baathification. This process was originally intended to target loyalists of the former regime. According to Sunnis and NGOs, however, the Accountability and Justice Law (de-Baathification law) has been implemented selectively – targeting Sunnis – and used to render many Sunnis ineligible for government employment.
Sunnis also reported that central government security forces targeted them for harassment, illegal searches, arbitrary arrest and detention, and torture and abuse. Since politics and religion are often inextricably linked, it is difficult to categorize many incidents specifically as religious intolerance. Grievances over perceived sectarian differences in treatment by security forces were exacerbated after 44 Sunni protesters were killed by security forces when they sought to disband a protest in Hawija in April following months of protests against the government seeking redress for policies they believed were anti-Sunni.
In July government security forces reportedly made mass arrests in predominantly Sunni areas of Abu Ghraib and Taji following a large-scale prison break carried out by AQI terrorists. Government officials denied the arrests targeted Sunni Muslims. Upon release detainees and witnesses reported to NGOs they were not shown arrest warrants and some detainees reported they were tortured while in custody.
In July during Ramadan, armed Shia militants, reportedly with the tacit support of local security forces, raided dozens of businesses in Baghdad, including cafes employing women, restaurants, bars, social clubs, and nightclubs they considered “un-Islamic.” Eyewitnesses reported local police destroyed property and beat staff and patrons; several people were hospitalized for their injuries and at least one individual died. Baghdad municipal officials stated the raids only focused on establishments “engaged in prostitution,” a claim local NGOs dismissed as false. They viewed the attacks as part of a broader assault on secular establishments.
On June 28, the Shia Endowment authorities demolished the house of Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Bahai Faith, in Baghdad. According to local Bahai contacts and the Ministry of Human Rights, the house had been converted into a mosque decades ago and turned over to the Shia Endowment under the Saddam Hussein regime. The mosque had deteriorated and, according to endowment officials, had to be demolished in order to build a new one. The Bahai World Center reported that it had been attempting to regain ownership of the holy site since 2004.
Yezidi political leaders alleged that Kurdish Peshmerga and Asayish forces harassed and committed abuses against their communities in the portion of Ninewa Province controlled by the KRG or contested between the central government and the KRG. Several human rights NGOs and Yezidi political leaders stated the KRG neglected Yezidi neighborhoods and discriminated in the provision of basic public services such as water, sanitation, and electricity. These groups also stated Yezidis were routinely held in arbitrary detention by KRG officials at Asayish checkpoints. For example, on October 20 19-year-old Hadi Hamo was detained incommunicado at a KRG checkpoint for nine days. He was released without charge on October 29. Yezidis stated this form of intimidation was intended to harass Yezidis who did not self-identify as Kurdish.
On December 2, 2011, 300 to 1,000 rioters attacked Christian and Yezidi businesses in Dahuk Province, burning and destroying 26 liquor stores, a massage parlor, four hotels, and a casino, denouncing the businesses as un-Islamic. By the end of the year, the KRG had compensated all of the Chaldean, Syriac, and Yezidi victims of the Dahuk riots, although some victims asserted the compensation was insufficient.
On December 7, the KRG Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs filed a lawsuit against Dr. Abdul Wahaid, a lecturer at Sulaimaniyah University, for making derogatory statements about the Yezidi religion during his lectures. The case was ongoing at year’s end.
Some Christians in the IKR reported the KRG unreasonably delayed the return of church land and land confiscated from members of their community under the former regime. Evangelical churches continued to report they were unable to obtain official registration, and the government registration requirements, including the requirement to have at least 500 members in their congregations, were too onerous. Christian leaders said a Kurdish partner was often required in order to do business in the IKR. Yezidis and foreigners indicated they faced the same obstacle. Despite such reports, many non-Muslims chose to reside in the IKR because of its reputation of offering greater security and tolerance. The KRG denied allegations it discriminated against Christians and other minorities.
On February 27, the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works approved a request by the Dominican Sisters to construct a hospital on a parcel of public land in Hamdaniyah, Ninewa Province, in the KRG, within the DIB area. At year’s end, final approval was pending before the Ministry of Health, which is responsible for issuing permits for hospital construction throughout the country.
To receive assistance from the KRG Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, religious groups are required to register with them. Some Christian pastors not registered with the KRG Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs reported pressure to desist from proselytizing and to provide information about their congregations to the KRG, under the perceived threat of imprisonment and threats to their congregants and families. On April 4, IKR President Barzani honored a private amnesty request for a pastor arrested and charged in 2011 under the KRG’s Anti-Terrorism Law; his family and friends said the charges were false. He was convicted of espionage, a lesser charge, in 2012. Barzani ordered the release of the pastor on humanitarian grounds, and he subsequently relocated abroad.
Members of minority religious groups were underrepresented in government appointments, public sector jobs, and elected positions outside of the Council of Representatives. Although members of minority religious groups held senior positions in the national parliament and central government, as well as in the KRG, they were proportionally underrepresented in the unelected government workforce, particularly at the provincial and local levels. This underrepresentation limited minority groups’ access to government-provided security and economic development. Non-Muslims, particularly Christians and Yezidis, stated they were being politically isolated by the Muslim majority because of their differences in religion. Yezidis and Christians in the IKR alleged discrimination against individuals who refused to self-identify as Kurdish. While some Yezidis considered themselves Kurdish and obtained senior positions in the KRG leadership, others who rejected self-identifying as Kurdish complained of marginalization and even death threats by KRG officials.
The central government and the KRG continued to provide political representation and support to members of minority religious groups. The Iraqi Council of Ministers (COM) had one Christian member (environment), as did the KRG’s COM (communication and transportation).
On April 30, 2012, the Baghdad-Rusafa Federal Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that an 18-year-old could change his religion from Islam to Christianity, setting a legal precedent for the freedom of religion and belief. The plaintiff’s father had converted from Christianity to Islam in 2002 when the plaintiff was under 18, thereby legally changing the plaintiff’s religion to Islam. The plaintiff had subsequently petitioned to change his religion back to Christianity on his national identity card when he turned 18. The court ruled in the plaintiff’s favor based on a provision in the Civil Affairs Law allowing children who come of age to independently choose their religion.
The combination of corruption, attacks against non-Muslim businesses, uneven application of rule of law, and nepotistic hiring practices by members of the majority Muslim population had a detrimental economic effect on non-Muslim communities and contributed to the departure of non-Muslims from the country.
Humanitarian organizations working with displaced Christian families noted that members of this vulnerable population were often unable to sell their homes at a reasonable price if they chose to migrate. They also faced increasing rental costs in their areas of displacement.
Although Easter and Christmas were not national holidays, government policy recognized Christians’ right to observe them, and Christian groups reported they were able to observe the two holidays without government interference. On March 28, the general secretariat of the COM designated Easter Sunday as an official holiday for Christians. The government also provided increased protection to Christian churches during these holidays. In October the Maysan Provincial Council recognized a Sabean-Mandaean holiday as an official government holiday in the province.