There continued to be reports that local police and Shia militia killed Sunni detainees. International and local NGOs reported the government continued to use the antiterrorism law as a pretext for detaining Sunnis without timely access to due process. Community leaders said forced conversion was the de facto result of the national identity card law. Some Yezidi and Christian leaders continued to report harassment and abuses by KRG Peshmerga and Asayish forces in the portion of Ninewa Province controlled by the KRG or contested between the central government and the KRG. Displaced members of certain religious groups report they were prevented from returning to their homes after their cities were liberated from ISIS. Yezidi groups said the presence of armed affiliates of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Sinjar and the imposition of security restrictions on the district by the KRG hindered the return of IDPs. In May KRG representatives revoked permission for Yazda, the largest Yezidi-run humanitarian and political advocacy organization, to operate in IDP camps. Officials restored access in October. In some parts of the country, non-Muslim religious minorities, as well as Sunni and Shia in areas where they formed the minority, faced harassment and restrictions from the authorities. The Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) continued to deploy police and army personnel to protect religious pilgrimage routes and sites, as well as places of worship, during Islamic and non-Islamic religious holidays. The KRG also offered support and funding to some non-Muslim minorities, but other minorities in the IKR, such as evangelical Christians, faced difficulties registering and proselytizing. Because religion, politics, and ethnicity were often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International (AI) reported evidence of torture and ill-treatment of Sunni detainees by Iraqi Security Forces (including PMF fighters), as well as the deaths of Sunni men who were in custody, detained under the antiterrorism law.
In October, AI reported that men in Federal Police (a Shia-dominated organization) uniforms carried out multiple unlawful killings of Sunnis suspected of being ISIS militants or sympathizers in and around Mosul. In some cases, AI stated individuals were tortured before they were shot and killed execution style or run over with armored vehicles. In October in the Al-Shora subdistrict, men in Federal Police uniforms reportedly brutally beat and killed Ahmed Mahmoud Dakhil and Rashid Ali Khalaf, villagers from Na’na’a, as well as a third man from the village of Tulul Nasser.
In an October report, AI reported Sunni Arab IDPs from parts of Salah al-Din and Diyala Provinces feared attacks by Shia militias in control of those towns, and said the militias had committed gross human rights abuses against residents. AI documented what it referred to as “war crimes and gross human rights violations,” including extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings, torture, and enforced disappearances, committed against Sunnis fleeing Saqlawiya and al-Sijir and accused of being complicit in ISIS crimes or having supported the group. AI stated the violations were committed by Shia PMF militias and fighters wearing military or Federal Police uniforms. For example, AI reported the extrajudicial execution of at least 12 men and four boys from the Sunni Jumaila tribe in al-Sijir by armed men in various security force uniforms. The Iraqi Federal Police denied any involvement in the abuses.
Hundreds of men seized by the PMF on May 27 and June 3 remained unaccounted for at year’s end. According to the testimonies of some survivors, ISF and the Shia militia group Kata’ib Hizballah had been close by when these individuals were captured. Iraqi forces had been stationed near the sites of crimes in Tarek’s Military Camp (Mu’askar Tarek), located along the old Baghdad-Falluja road. On June 5, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi established a committee to investigate the May and June disappearances, vowing to punish those responsible, and announced the arrest of an unspecified number of individuals who had committed the crimes. The prime minister, however, said the abuses were not part of a systematic pattern, and should not overshadow the battlefield successes and the assistance provided by Iraqi forces to Sunni Arab IDPs. In many cases, Shia PMF units reportedly operated independently and without oversight or direction from the government.
International and local NGOs stated the government continued to use the antiterrorism law as a pretext for detaining Sunni men – and their female relatives – for extended periods of time without access to a lawyer or due process. In October courts in Basrah announced 1,251 Sunni detainees had been affected by the new Amnesty Law, which allowed some individuals convicted under the antiterrorism law to apply for judicial review, and 538 had already been retried. The Ministry of Interior’s spokesperson reported that in June, 700 Sunni men were detained following the battle of Falluja based on their confessions of being ISIS supporters. According to the Anbar Police Command, out of 19,400 Sunni men initially arrested under the antiterrorism law for suspected connections to ISIS, 2,046 men were detained, while the remaining individuals were released. AI reported evidence of torture and ill-treatment of Sunni detainees, as well as deaths of Sunni men who were in custody, detained under the antiterrorism law. Religious organizations such as the Association of Muslim Scholars spoke publicly about human rights abuses in prisons in their annual report.
Official investigations of abuses by government forces, armed groups, and terrorist organizations continued to be infrequent, and the outcomes of investigations which did occur continued to be unpublished, unknown, or incomplete, according to NGOs.
According to local human rights organizations, the KRG internal security service had temporarily detained Yezidi activists and demonstrators in Dahuk.
Yezidi groups said the presence of armed affiliates of the PKK in Sinjar and the KRG’s impositions of security restrictions on the district have hindered the return of IDPs.
Christian groups and political leaders accused members of the KRG Peshmerga and other security forces of taking over homes abandoned by Christians as they fled from ISIS to safety in Erbil and other areas of the IKR.
According to the Hammurabi Human Rights Organization and a Christian political leader, Peshmerga fighters removed generators and water pumps from the town of Tal Skuf after liberating it from ISIS in May, and restricted some Christians from entering the town.
Advocacy groups and representatives of religious minority communities reported continued emigration of minority community members subjected to ISIS violence in Mosul and across the Ninewa Plain.
Members of religious minority communities, civil society organizations, and the media continued to report some non-Muslims, including Yezidis and Christians, chose to reside in the IKR and areas under KRG control because they continued to consider these areas to offer greater security, tolerance, and protection for minority rights.
Christian, Yezidi, and Kaka’i community leaders said that forced conversion was the de facto result of the national identity card law, which stated that children of one Muslim parent would be automatically identified as Muslim. Christian leaders said, in some cases, families formally registered as Muslim, but actually practicing Christianity or another faith, reportedly fled to avoid being forced to register their child as a Muslim or to have the child remain undocumented.
The KRG MERA banned 14 Muslim preachers from preaching Friday sermons because of defamation and incitement against religious minorities, including Christians. The imams were placed on administrative leave, and drew salaries while undergoing required rehabilitation training. The KRG MERA announced as of September, the KRG had shut down 10 media outlets accused of promoting extremism; they also lacked proper licenses.
While the government continued to support the establishment of armed volunteer groups to counter ISIS, Prime Minister Abadi repeatedly called for these groups to place themselves under the command and control of the security forces. In 2015, the Council of Ministers announced the PMF was an official body reporting to the prime minister, but the prime minister’s ability to control the PMF remained a source of disagreement and debate.
NGOs continued to state constitutional provisions on freedom of religion should override laws banning the Bahai Faith and the Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam, but there continued to be no court challenges lodged to invalidate them, nor was legislation proposed to repeal them.
According to evangelical Christian representatives, evangelical Christian groups could not register with the MERA in the IKR without first obtaining clearance from the KRG Ministry of Interior. Evangelical Christian pastors in Erbil stated other religious groups were not required to undergo this step. The evangelical Christians also reported they were unable to meet the minimum requirements for registration, resulting in their lack of recognition by the Council of Iraqi Christian Church Leaders. They said the inability to register also constrained the ability of evangelical Christians to proselytize, and subjected them to unfair scrutiny by the government.
The KRG recognized two evangelical churches with Muslim-background membership; other evangelical Christian churches proselytizing to Muslims said the registration process was onerous, and their groups were subject to scrutiny and harassment by the internal security service.
The KRG provided several religious groups with offices within the KRG MERA following the passage of the KRG Rights of National and Religious Minorities Protection Law. In September Zoroastrians opened a temple in Sulaimaniya with KRG MERA approval and support. Additionally, representatives from the Zoroastrian and Bahai faiths were provided with offices housed within MERA.
The ISF continued to deploy police and army personnel to protect religious pilgrimage routes and sites, as well as places of worship, during religious holidays. For example, during the Shia religious ceremony of Arbaeen, ISF deployed security to protect pilgrims walking to Karbala. Even with added protection, many worshippers said they did not attend religious services or participate in religious events because of the repeated attacks on religious pilgrims in the past and the continued threat of violence.
Non-Muslims said they had difficulties persuading local authorities to take steps to resolve issues involving their holy sites, such as evicting squatters from the grounds of churches, temples, and cemeteries.
The government continued to provide increased protection to Christian churches during the Easter and Christmas holidays. Bahais reported they continued to celebrate the festivals of Naw-Ruz and Ridvan without government interference or intimidation. Provincial governments also continued to designate these as religious holidays in their localities. Followers of the Bahai and Yezidi faiths reported the KRG allowed them to observe their religious holidays. Yezidis used Kurdish, one of the languages officially sanctioned by the constitution, in their worship services. The Maysan Provincial Council reportedly continued to recognize a Sabaean-Mandaean holiday as an official holiday, to provide physical protection for the Sabaean-Mandaean community during times of worship, and to excuse the group from Shia Islamic dress codes during times of mourning.
Government policy continued to require Islamic religious instruction in public schools, but non-Muslim students were not required to participate. In most areas of the country, primary and secondary school curricula included three classes per week of Islamic education, including study of the Quran, as a graduation requirement for Muslim students. Syriac and Christian religious education was included in the curricula of 152 public schools in Baghdad, Ninewa, and Kirkuk. Private Islamic religious schools continued to operate in the country, but had to obtain a license from the director general of private and public schools and pay annual fees.
In the IKR, private schools were required to pay a registration fee of 750,000 to 1,500,000 Iraqi dinars ($640 to $1,290) to the Ministry of Education or Ministry of Higher Education, depending on the type of school. To register with the KRG, private schools needed to provide information on the school’s bylaws, number of students, size, location, facility and safety conditions, financial backing, and tax compliance, and undergo an inspection. In February the Catholic University in Erbil opened with KRG approval, open to students of all faiths.
While the government continued not to require non-Muslim students to participate in religious instruction in public schools, some non-Muslim students continued to report pressure to do so from teachers and classmates. There were also continued reports that some non-Muslim students felt obliged to participate because they could not leave the classroom during religious instruction. Christian and Yezidi leaders reported continued discrimination in education and lack of minority input into issues such as school curricula and language of instruction. By year’s end, schools had not universally adopted the 2015 Ministry of Education curriculum incorporating lessons of religious tolerance. Many Christians who spoke the Syriac language stated it was their right to use and teach it to their children as a matter of religious freedom. The Chaldean church in Basrah, seeking to establish private Christian schools, said local authorities mandated the inclusion of Islamic religious instruction in their curricula for the Muslim students enrolled.
The KRG Ministry of Education continued to fund the religion curriculum for Islam and Christian classes for students of those faiths per ministry regulations. The KRG Ministry of Education continued to fund Syriac-language public schools (elementary and high school), intended to accommodate Christian students, in its territory; the curriculum does not contain religious or Quranic studies. In June Salahaddin University, a government-run institution in Erbil, approved the creation of a Syriac language department.
Christian leaders reported the KRG continued to provide land and financial support for construction of new, and renovation of existing, structures for use as educational facilities, although budget cuts halted some projects.
Non-Muslims have generally not held positions in the Iraqi Council of Ministers (COM), or in the KRG’s COM, although there is no legal bar to ministerial appointments for members of religious minorities. Members of minority religious communities held senior positions in the national parliament and central government, as well as in the KRG, although minority community leaders said they were proportionally underrepresented in government appointments, in elected positions outside the Council of Representatives, and in public sector jobs, particularly at the provincial and local levels. Minority community leaders continued to say this underrepresentation limited minorities’ access to government-provided economic opportunities. The federal Supreme Court continued to represent a cross section of ethnicities and religions in its nine-member composition.
Some Sunni Muslims continued to say they perceived an ongoing campaign of “revenge” by Shia government officials against them in retribution for the Sunnis’ favored status and abuses against Shia during the Saddam Hussein regime. Sunnis continued to complain about discrimination in public sector employment as a result of de-Baathification, a process originally intended to target loyalists of the former regime. According to Sunnis and local NGOs, the government implemented the de-Baathification provisions of the law selectively and used the law to render many Sunnis ineligible for government employment. The government established a committee to rectify sectarian imbalances in ministries, but to date have implemented no reforms. Sunni Arab government officials, particularly those from ISIS-stricken Ninewa Province, have complained about a political “witch hunt” against Sunni Arab ministers, led by allies of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The parliamentary Reform Front movement’s political targets have largely been Sunni Arabs from Ninewa, a proposition leading Sunnis stated came from Shia majoritarian sectarian tendencies.
Human rights NGOs and Yezidi leaders stated KRG authorities discriminated against organizations providing humanitarian assistance to Yezidi communities. Starting in April, KRG authorities maintained a blockade of goods into Sinjar District that prevented the return of most Yezidi families. While the KRG said the blockade was designed to constrain the PKK, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization that had established a presence in the Sinjar area, HRW stated that these restrictions caused “unnecessary harm to people’s access to food, water, livelihoods, and other fundamental rights.” Security forces restricted items such as food, medicines, and farming supplies needed for local livelihoods.
The 2015 national identity card law, adopted by the Council of Representatives, did not clarify whether the national identity card would continue to identify the holder’s religion. The law has prevented Yezidis (many of whom consider themselves to be a distinct ethnic group as well as a religious group) and Shabaks from self-identifying with their religious and ethnic group and from official government recognition through official documentation. President Fuad Masum returned the bill to parliament for further debate, however, following protests from minority communities.
Christian groups said the KRG did not consistently enforce court decisions regarding land disputes, many of which stemmed from the Saddam Hussein regime’s Anfal campaign. Many Christians left the country during the Saddam Hussein regime, they stated, and when these Christian families returned home, they found Kurdish families occupying their residences. On July 26, KRG security forces demolished buildings built on land illegally occupied by a Muslim Kurd and owned by Christians, pursuant to a court order. The demolition sparked violent reactions from Muslims in the neighboring town of Bakrman, who harassed some Christians in response.
In May KRG representatives revoked permission for Yazda, the largest Yezidi-run humanitarian and political advocacy organization, to operate in IDP camps. Officials restored access in October.