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Iraq

Executive Summary

Note: This report was updated 3/29/17; see Appendix F: Errata for more information.

Iraq is a constitutional parliamentary republic. The outcome of the 2014 parliamentary elections generally met international standards of free and fair elections and led to the peaceful transition of power from former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Civilian authorities were not always able to maintain effective control of all security forces which include: the regular armed forces and domestic law enforcement bodies; the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), a state-sponsored umbrella military organization composed of nearly 60, predominantly Shia components , which report directly to the prime minister; and the Peshmerga–the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) principal military force. Prime ministerial decrees on February 22 and July 27, as well as a November 26 parliamentary vote, boycotted by most Sunnis, established prime ministerial authority over the PMF; however at year’s end the command and control over the PMF remained inconsistent and ineffective.

Violence continued to divide the country, largely fueled by Da’esh’s actions. Violence occurred throughout the year as government forces fought to liberate territory lost to Da’esh, principally in Arab Sunni and some other minority and mixed areas. Armed clashes between Da’esh and government forces caused civilian hardship. At year’s end the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) declined to 3.03 million from a peak of 3.4 million in March. The decrease in IDPs was primarily due to Iraqis returning to their homes after those areas were liberated from Da’esh. The country also accommodated approximately 225,000 Syrian refugees, mostly in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR). Although donor funding increased, the government’s response fell short of rapidly rising humanitarian demands, and displaced populations became destitute, leading some citizens to seek refuge abroad.

Severe human rights problems were widespread. Sectarian hostility, widespread corruption, and lack of transparency at all levels of government and society weakened the government’s authority and worsened effective human rights protections. Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), members of the Federal Police, and the Peshmerga committed some human rights violations, and there continued to be reports of PMF killing, torturing, kidnapping, and extorting civilians. Nonetheless, the terrorist organization Da’esh committed the overwhelming majority of serious human rights abuses, including attacks against: civilians, (particularly Shia but also Sunnis who opposed Da’esh); members of other religious and ethnic minorities; women; and children. Observers also reported other significant human rights-related problems: harsh and life-threatening conditions in detention and prison facilities; arbitrary arrest and lengthy pretrial detention, sometimes incommunicado; denial of fair public trial; insufficient judicial institutional capacity; ineffective implementation of civil judicial procedures and remedies; arbitrary interference with privacy and homes; child soldiers; limits on freedom of expression, including press freedoms; violence against and harassment of journalists; undue censorship; social, religious, and political restrictions in academic and cultural matters; limits on freedoms of peaceful assembly and association; limits on religious freedom due to violence by extremist groups; restrictions on freedom of movement; refugee and IDP abuse; both forced IDP returns and preventing IDPs from returning home; discrimination against and societal abuse of women and ethnic, religious, and racial minorities, including exclusion from decision-making roles; trafficking in persons; societal discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; seizure of property without due process; and limitations on worker rights.

The government announced investigations into reports of PMF abuses, but results of the investigations or convictions were often not publicly available. Information about government investigations or prosecutions of abuses by officials and members of the security forces was also often not publicly available. The KRG High Committee to Evaluate and Respond to International Reports considered charges of Peshmerga abuse, largely against IDPs, and exculpated them in public reports and commentaries. Impunity effectively existed for government officials, security force personnel, including the Peshmerga, and militias.

Terrorists committed the majority of serious human rights abuses. Da’esh members committed acts of violence on a mass scale, including killings through the use of suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), executions including shootings and public beheadings, as well as use of chemical weapons. They also engaged in kidnapping, rape, enslavement, forced marriage, sexual violence, committing such acts against civilians from a wide variety of religious and ethnic backgrounds, including Shia, Sunni, Kurds, Christians, Yezidis, and members of other religious and ethnic groups. Reports of Da’esh perpetrating gender-based violence, recruiting child soldiers, trafficking in persons, and destroying civilian infrastructure and cultural heritage sites were credible and common. Secretary Kerry stated on March 17 that in his judgment, Da’esh was responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims, and was also responsible for crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing directed at these same groups and in some cases also against Sunni Muslims, Kurds, and other minorities.

The government investigated some of Da’esh’s human rights abuses, and in some instances, results were publicly available. For example, on August 21, the Ministry of Justice announced the conviction, sentencing, and execution of 36 men convicted of involvement in the 2014 Camp Speicher massacre of hundreds of Shia Air Force recruits after trials international observers criticized as unfair.

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The constitution broadly provides for the right of free expression that does not violate public order and morality, express support for the banned Ba’ath party, or advocate altering the country’s borders through violent means. The main limitation on individual and media exercise of these rights was self-censorship due to credible fear of reprisals by the government, political parties, ethnic and sectarian forces, terrorist and extremist groups, or criminal gangs.

Freedom of Speech and Expression: Despite the constitutional protection for freedom of expression, government and KRG oversight and censorship interfered with media operations, at times resulting in closures of media outlets, restrictions on reporting, and interference with internet service. Individuals were able to criticize the government publicly or privately, but not without fear of reprisal. On April 27, the Iraqi Communications and Media Commission closed the Baghdad offices of al-Jazeera. The station’s Baghdad bureau chief reported the government closed the office because it did not approve of al- Jazeera’s editorial policies. The bureau chief also said unidentified armed men repeatedly threatened the bureau and its employees.

In April the media provided live coverage of Baghdad demonstrations, including protesters’ first breach of the International Zone. When a second breach occurred, local media were quiet, with no live coverage or commentary. According to directors of two satellite channels, they received calls from “officials” telling them that covering the protests exacerbated the situation and asked them to “tone it down.”

Press and Media Freedoms: An active media expressed a variety of views largely reflecting the owners’ political viewpoints. The media also self-censored to comply with government restrictions against violating public order and because of a fear of reprisal, particularly by nongovernmental forces, but also by political figures. Media outlets, unable to cover operating costs through advertising revenue, overwhelmingly relied upon political funding, which diminished their ability to report unbiased news. Political parties strongly influenced, or controlled outright, most of the several hundred daily and weekly print media publications, as well as dozens of radio and television stations.

On July 13, the parliament introduced legislation on freedom of expression and peaceful demonstrations. NGOs, such as the Iraqi Union for Freedom of Expression, voiced concern about the legislation, specifically, that the law called for a one-year minimum prison sentence for insulting a religious symbol or figure, and required 10 days’ notice to the government to obtain a permit for a protest.

International and local organizations reported arrests and harassment of journalists as well as closure of media outlets covering politically sensitive topics, including poor security, corruption, and weak governmental capacity. The deterioration in the security situation exacerbated harassment of journalists. Government and KRG security authorities sometimes prevented journalists from reporting citing security pretexts.

Local and national media extensively covered recurring protests in the South; however, security forces did not always allow coverage. For example, on February 12, security forces prevented a reporter for al-Baghdadiya TV from passing the security cordon to cover a demonstration. They told the reporter their security procedures prevented it.

On April 9, security forces wearing civilian uniforms reportedly attacked a Kurdistan News Network (KNN) cameraman in an Erbil mosque while the KNN crew was covering a protest there. As the cameraman attempted to film the protest, one of the uniformed security force members placed a weapon against the cameraman’s head to force him to stop.

In the IKR, government authorities continued to try, convict, and take legal action against journalists, despite a 2008 law that decriminalizes publication-related offenses. According to Kurdistan Journalist Syndicate officials, the 2008 law is the sole basis for prosecution of journalists for publication offense under the regional counterterrorism law, for public morality violations and other crimes.

While in December 2015 the KRG reopened Nalia Radio and Television (NRT) offices that it originally closed in October 2015, Gorran-affiliated KNN offices in Erbil and Dahuk Governorates remained closed because of KRG pressure.

Violence and Harassment: According to a report of the Committee to Protect Journalists, 10 journalists and media workers were killed during the year. Five Iraqi journalists were killed covering the war with Da’esh, four by unknown gunmen, and one in a bombing in Baghdad.

Reporting from Da’esh-controlled areas was increasingly difficult. Journalists covering armed clashes involving government, militia, and Da’esh forces faced serious threats to their safety, with several instances of journalists being killed or injured. Military officials, citing safety considerations, sometimes restricted access of journalists particularly to areas with active fighting, but primarily to outlets not affiliated with the ruling party.

Media workers often reported they were under pressure from persons and institutions, including politicians, government officials, security services, tribal elements, and business leaders, not to publish articles critical of them. Media workers reported accounts of government or partisan violence, intimidation, death threats, and harassment. Mohammed al-Jabari, a correspondent for al-Made Satellite TV in Basrah, said he received a threatening phone call from someone at the Basrah Intelligence Directorate. He said this person was upset because al-Jabari reportedly recorded him talking about the deteriorating security situation with other intelligence officers at the governorate building. Al-Jabari left Basrah because of the threat.

During his coverage of a local teachers’ demonstration, one of the security officers guarding the Basrah governor’s office verbally harassed and beat al-Sharqiya News Channel correspondent Mazin al-Tayyar when he asked why the demonstration coordinator and another protester were arrested.

In April according to the Journalistic Freedoms Observatory, Sarmad al-Qasim, the editorial manager of the Lex News agency, received death threats for his work reporting government corruption in Diyala Governorate.

Throughout the IKR there were numerous beatings, detentions, and death threats against media workers. In some cases the aggressors wore military or police uniforms. Many attacks targeted independent and former opposition media, mainly the independent NRT; Payama Television, affiliated with the Kurdistan Islamic Group; and the KNN Television, affiliated with the Gorran Party. According to HRW, Wedat Hussein Ali, a Kurdish journalist who security services had previously interrogated, was abducted and later found dead on August 13 (see section 1.a.).

Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits producing, importing, publishing, or possessing written material, drawings, photographs, or films that violate public integrity or decency. The penalties include fines and imprisonment. Fear of violent retaliation for publishing facts or opinions displeasing to political factions inhibited free expression. Public officials reportedly influenced content through rewarding positive reporting with bribes, providing money, land, access to venues, and other benefits to journalists, particularly to members of the pro-government Journalists’ Syndicate. These restrictions extended to privately owned Iraqi television stations operating outside of the country.

In 2013 the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament passed the Access to Information Law, to provide for access to information for journalists, media outlets, and ordinary citizens. As of September, however, the KRG had not made efforts to implement the law. Moreover, local government, political parties, and officials, regularly discriminated against some media outlets regarding access to information based on party affiliation. For example, in KDP stronghold areas Dahok and Erbil, KDP-affiliated outlets Rudaw and KTV had access to all KRG departments, while in the PUK and Gorran stronghold of Sulaimaniyah, PUK-affiliated outlets such as GK TV and Kurdsat TV received more access to government and party information than other outlets.

All books published in the country as well as imported books required the Ministry of Culture’s approval and were therefore subject to censorship.

Libel/Slander Laws: The law prohibits defamation and provides penalties of up to one month in prison or a fine of 50,000 to 250,000 dinars ($45 to $225). Many in the media complained this provision prevented them from freely practicing their profession by creating a strong fear of prosecution, although widespread self-censorship impeded journalistic performance as well. Public officials occasionally resorted to libel charges under criminal and civil law, which in some cases resulted in punitive fines on individual media outlets and editors, often for publishing articles containing allegations of corruption. When cases went to court, the courts usually sided with the journalist, according to local media-freedom organizations.

Libel is a criminal offense under KRG law as well, and judges may issue arrest warrants for journalists on this basis.

Nongovernmental Impact: Journalists and family members were targets of terrorists, religious groups that rejected media independence, criminals, corrupt officials, and unknown persons or groups wishing to limit the flow of news. Journalists were harassed, kidnapped for ransom, or killed in deliberate attacks for reporting information critical of Da’esh.

In April an armed group threatened two civil activists in Amara after they criticized Ammar al-Hakim, Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq president and Iraqi National Alliance chairman, on their Facebook pages. Hasaneen al-Manshad and Ali al-Dilfi wrote on Facebook that the Islamic parties were not fulfilling the needs of Iraqis and had failed to manage the country, in addition to criticizing Hakim’s speech. The two activists were at a friend’s wedding on April 7 when armed men from the Jihad and Construction Movement forcibly entered and threatened to kill them. The armed men held them at gunpoint until guests negotiated their release in return for the activists’ public apology to Hakim and deleting the offending Facebook posts.

INTERNET FREEDOM

There were overt government restrictions on access to the internet, and there were credible reports, but no official acknowledgement, that the government monitored e-mail and internet communications without appropriate legal authority. Despite restrictions, political figures and activists used the internet to criticize corrupt and ineffective politicians, mobilize protesters for demonstrations, and campaign for candidates through social media channels. According to the World Bank, approximately 17 percent of the population used the internet in 2015, compared with 5 percent in 2011.

The government acknowledged that it interfered with internet access in some areas of the country due to the deterioration in the security situation and Da’esh’s disruptive use of social media platforms. Representatives from the State Company for Internet Services reported they had pursued internet gateway projects that would give them greater control over incoming internet feeds as well as the ability to restrict internet content, but these projects had stalled. During the year there were reports that government officials attempted to have pages critical of the government removed from Facebook and Twitter for communications that the government considered “hate speech,” although they did not succeed in doing so.

There were no reports the Ministry of Communications imposed social media blackouts. Sporadically throughout the year, the government shut down the internet during school exams, reportedly so students could not cheat. Additionally, at times the government shut down the internet during protests for a few hours.

Da’esh also restricted access to the internet and telephone service in areas under its control.

ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS

Social, religious, and political pressures significantly restricted the exercise of freedom of choice in academic and cultural matters. In all regions, various groups reportedly sought to control the pursuit of formal education and granting of academic positions. The country’s universities did not pursue gender-segregation policies. Da’esh continued to limit female education beyond the primary level in areas that it controlled.

Academic freedoms remained restricted in areas of active conflict and in Da’esh-controlled territory. Following Da’esh’s 2014 seizure of Mosul, the group began reshaping education at the elementary, high school, and university levels, including printing textbooks for elementary school children that glorify violence and Da’esh history. For example, local and international media reported that at Mosul University, Da’esh altered the programs of study to comply with Da’esh ideology in the colleges of law, fine arts, physical education, languages, social sciences, and archeology. Da’esh extremists also targeted libraries, museums, and academic institutions in violent attacks and abducted students and faculty.

Extremists and armed groups limited cultural expression by targeting artists, poets, writers, and musicians. For example, Iraqi media continued to report that Da’esh had issued a directive banning all stores in Mosul from selling movies or music CDs, and had instructed businesses to stock only CDs containing Quranic verses or religious programs. On February 16, Da’esh publicly beheaded 15-year-old Ayham Hussein of Mosul for listening to western music, according to an HRW report.

In the IKR, according to local NGOs, senior professorships continued to be easier to obtain for those with links to the traditional KDP and PUK ruling parties.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration “regulated by law.” Regulations require protest organizers to seek permission seven days in advance of a demonstration and submit detailed information about the applicants, the reason for the protest, and participants. The regulations prohibit all “slogans, signs, printed materials, or drawings” involving “sectarianism, racism, or segregation” of citizens. The regulations also prohibit anything that would violate the constitution or law; encourage violence, hatred, or killing; or prove insulting to Islam, “honor, morals, religion, holy groups, or Iraqi entities in general.” Provincial councils traditionally maintained authority to issue permits. Authorities generally issued permits in accordance with the regulations.

In April and May, thousands of protesters took to the streets in response to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s call for protests of the government’s failure to combat corruption and provide security. Protesters stormed the International Zone in Baghdad and overran the Council of Ministers’ Secretariat and the COR buildings, before ISF stopped them. Media reported security forces killed four and injured dozens of demonstrators with tear gas, water cannons, and live fire.

Most protests in the South during the year were accompanied by a heavy security presence and were peaceful. One notable exception was in Nassiriyah on February 2, when a demonstration turned violent after protesters reached the Da’wa Party’s main office. They chanted that Prime Minister Abadi and former prime minister Maliki were “thieves,” “Iran’s spies,” and “corrupt.” Masked men with sticks came out of the office and began to beat the protesters. The police were present but did not intervene to stop the violence. The Dhi Qar Provincial Council formed an investigatory committee but did not identify any of the masked men or hold anyone responsible.

In some cases the government dismissed unauthorized protests or restricted protests for security reasons.

There were limited reports of violence or official interference in protests in the IKR. Media reported that on December 1, PUK authorities in the city of Sulaimaniyah arrested at least 13 teachers before a demonstration over unpaid public-sector salaries.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

The constitution provides for the right to form and join associations and political parties, with some exceptions. The government generally respected this right, except for the legal prohibitions on groups expressing support for the Ba’ath Party or Zionist principles. The law stipulates that any person who promotes Zionist principles, associates with Zionist organizations, assists such organizations through giving material or moral support, or works in any way towards the realization of Zionist objectives, is subject to punishment by death. There were no applications of this law after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime.

On July 30, parliament passed the Banning the Ba’ath, Entities and Racist Parties and Takfiri and Terrorist Activities Party Law, which observers portrayed as addressing the injustices of the de-Ba’athification process. Rather than ending the collective stigmatization of all those associated with the party, however loosely, the Banning of the Ba’ath Party Law arguably amplified rather than limited de-Ba’athification. Notably, while previous de-Ba’athification processes prevented individuals from political participation or certain economic benefits, this law criminalizes the very idea of “Ba’athism,” metes out lengthy prison sentences for those promoting “Ba’athist ideas,” and strikes at the heart of basic freedoms of expression, assembly, and protest, as well as the principle of nondiscrimination. The law specifically criminalizes “Ba’athists” participating “in any rallies, sit-ins, or demonstrations.” Given the broad and wide-ranging definitions of Ba’athist activities and ideas, its stated application to “any entity, party, activity or approach,” political parties, nongovernmental, civil society organizations and groups of citizens, demonstrating, protesting or simply holding meetings may violate the law.

Bureaucratic delays continued in the government’s NGO registration process. The slow process impeded development and legal protection of NGOs. NGOs can only register in Baghdad, and must periodically reregister. The NGO Directorate in the Council of Ministers Secretariat issued registration certificates to 244 NGOs, from January to August. The NGO Directorate reported 2,844 registered NGOs.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement and foreign travel, but the government did not consistently respect these rights. IDPs had limited access to Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Najaf Governorates, and areas controlled by the KRG throughout the year. As of November approximately one million IDPs and 225,000 refugees were present in the IKR and areas under KRG security control. In late November hundreds of Sunni Turkmen IDPs from the Tal Afar area were denied entry into Dahuk, located in the IKR. The governor of Dahuk said he was concerned there were Da’esh elements among these IDPs, whose presence in the IDP camps in Dahuk among Yezidis might provoke revenge attacks on them.

The government generally cooperated with UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM),), and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to IDPs, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other vulnerable populations. The government did not have effective systems to assist all of these individuals, largely due to funding shortfalls, lack of capacity, and lack of access. The security situation and armed clashes between the ISF and Da’esh throughout the year caused significant movement of civilians, further complicating the government’s coordination of relief efforts. The IOM estimated that, since the beginning of 2014, the conflict with Da’esh had caused more than 3.4 million individuals to become displaced, at least one million of whom have returned home. Security considerations in and near active combat areas, unexploded ordinance, destruction of infrastructure, and official and unofficial restrictions continued to limit humanitarian access to IDP communities.

Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: UN agencies, NGOs and the press reported that sectarian groups, extremists, criminals, and, in some alleged but unverified cases, government forces attacked and arrested refugees, including Palestinians, Ahwazis, and Syrian Arabs.

Local NGOs reported that abuse of Syrian refugees–often by other refugees–was common, including violence against women and children, child marriage, forced prostitution, and sexual harassment.

A 2011 memorandum of understanding between the government and the United Nations provided for the closure of Camp Ashraf in Diyala Governorate, and transfer to Camp Hurriya (in Baghdad) of members of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MeK), an Iranian dissident group. The UNHCR relocation program provided the means successfully to relocate all MeK members from Iraq to third countries during the year; the majority of MeK were moved to Albania.

In-country Movement: The law permits security forces to restrict in-country movement pursuant to a warrant, impose a curfew, cordon off and search an area, and take other necessary security and military measures in response to security threats and attacks. There were numerous reports that security forces, including the ISF and Peshmerga, as well as the PMF, selectively enforced regulations requiring residency permits to limit entry of persons into liberated areas under their control. UNAMI and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights received multiple reports that Kirkuk authorities denied Sunni Arab IDPs from Salah al-Din and Ninewa Governorates access to Kirkuk Governorate.

UNAMI reported that in some areas, civilians fleeing conflict zones were intercepted by armed groups and militia operating in support of the ISF, and were targeted for threats, intimidation, physical violence, abductions, destruction of property, and killings. There were a number of reports that IDPs faced hostility from local government authorities and populations, as well as threats of expulsion.

UNHCR reported that Kirkuk authorities also confiscated identification documents or served notices of eviction to IDPs from Salah al-Din, Anbar, and Diyala Governorates, provoking their departure from camps and urban centers. On September 22, authorities forcibly returned 330 IDP families from Laylan Camp to a checkpoint along the road to Salah al-Din, according to the Iraq Humanitarian Protection Cluster. From September 1 to 21, Protection Cluster partners documented the departure of more than 1,000 IDP families who had been targeted for expulsion by local authorities. Amnesty International reported that the PMF Units (predominantly Shi’a militias) and the Peshmerga forces prevented civilians, largely Sunni, from returning to their homes after Da’esh was pushed out.

The KRG, imposing what it stated were necessary security procedures, restricted movement across the areas it administered. Authorities required nonresidents of the IKR to obtain permits that authorized limited stays in the IKR. These permits were generally renewable. Iraqi citizens from outside the IKR who sought to obtain residency permits for KRG-controlled areas required sponsorship from a resident in the region. Citizens (of all ethno-sectarian backgrounds, including Kurds) crossing into the region from the South were obligated to enter at checkpoints and undergo personal and vehicle inspection. The government imposed similar restrictions on IDPs from Ninewa Governorate and the disputed territories.

KRG authorities applied restrictions more stringently in some areas than in others. The United Nations and international humanitarian organizations alleged that practices regarding the entry of IDPs and Iraqi refugees seeking to return were more or less restrictive depending upon the location of the checkpoint and the ethno-sectarian background of the displaced individuals. There were also reports that checkpoints into the IKR were sometimes closed for extended periods, forcing IDPs to wait to enter the region. Officials prevented individuals whom they deemed security threats from entering the region. IKR officials generally admitted minority IDPs into the IKR, although the security checks were occasionally lengthy. Entry often was more difficult for men, particularly Arab men traveling without family.

Due to military operations aimed at defeating Da’esh, ISF, including the PMF and KRG Peshmerga, increased the number of checkpoints and erected makeshift roadblocks in many parts of the country (see section 1.g.). In June, following the liberation of Ramadi and Fallujah from Da’esh in Anbar Governorate, thousands of residents fled those cities for surrounding areas. Most were prevented from leaving Anbar per an official government order, due to security and ethnocentric concerns. Some 70,000 individuals fled Fallujah during a three-day period in June when the Iraqi army secured safe exit routes, overwhelming local and international assistance efforts and leaving many stranded in the desert for days without aid. At least 600 IDPs from Fallujah were missing after Shia PMF units held them for screening. IDPs began returning to Fallujah and outlying areas in September, although there were credible reports that provincial authorities required some government workers to return before they were ready to do so. In September, IDPs in Laylan Camp in Kirkuk were informed that they must return to their areas of origin. UN agencies confirmed that confiscation of identification documents and other measures to force IDPs to return home continued.

Da’esh restricted freedom of movement, particularly in the West and North (see section 1.g.). Da’esh prevented citizens from leaving the cities of Fallujah, Ramadi, Mosul, and other places unless those citizens paid bribes to exit, left family members behind as collateral for their return, or agreed to relinquish property they owned in those cities. Da’esh severely restricted women’s freedom of movement in areas under its control. Patrols checked to make sure women wore suitable attire and that male relatives or guardians accompanied them outside the home. There were credible reports that Da’esh killed civilians trying to flee, including in the cities of Hawija, Qayara, and Mosul, when ISF moved to liberate those areas.

Foreign Travel: The government required exit permits for citizens leaving the country, but the requirement was not routinely enforced.

Exile: The constitution permits forced exile only of naturalized citizens and only if a judicial decision establishes that the individual obtained citizenship based on material falsifications. There were no reported cases of forced exile. After 2003 many former Ba’ath Party members sought refuge in neighboring countries, choosing self-imposed exile over possible prosecutions under de-Ba’athification laws, and later under the Anti-Terrorism Law. In 2011 another wave of prominent Sunni politicians left the country after the government began arresting Sunnis and dissidents, by expansively applying Anti-Terrorism Law provisions.

Emigration and Repatriation: The government failed to provide travel documents to hundreds of citizens awaiting deportation from the United States, essentially rendering these individuals stateless.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS

The constitution and the national policy on displacement address IDP rights, but few laws specifically do so. The central government, the IKR, and international organizations, including UN agencies and NGOs, attempted to provide protection and other assistance to IDPs. Host communities were strained as the number of IDPs outside of camps increased. In 2014 the United Nations designated the humanitarian crisis as a Level Three emergency, its highest level, citing the scale, urgency, and complexity of the situation and has since extended the designation through February 2017.

Since 2014 the armed conflict has displaced more than 3.4 million persons, predominantly from Anbar, Ninewa, and Salah al-Din Governorates. In July and August, Salah al-Din Governorate experienced a significant increase in new IDPs resulting from the positioning of government forces in areas around Mosul in preparation for the operations for its liberation. From mid-June through mid-December, nearly 131,000 persons were displaced from Ninewa, Salah al-Din, and Erbil Governorates. One million IDPs from the 2006-08 sectarian conflict remained as of 2014, presumed to be included in the total IDP figure nationwide.

Sectarian violence and the advance of Da’esh displaced Sunni, Christian, Shia, Yezidi, Turkmen, Shabak, and Sabaean-Mandean families (see section 1.g.). While some of the displaced fled to areas outside their districts of origin, lack of secure corridors and fear of looting made others decide to stay. The government urged civilians in Mosul to remain in their homes, attempting to limit possible displacement during the Mosul operations.

The government’s focus on military operations to expel Da’esh and address IDPs’ immediate humanitarian needs, strained official efforts to promote safe, voluntary return or local integration. This challenge required the government to balance attempts to assist IDPs while maintaining good relations with host communities, including addressing their concerns about security threats posed by IDPs. UNHCR and other international organizations noted there was no national policy on IDP returns to homes of origin. In September the Ministry of Displacement and Migration and IKR’s Ministry of Interior signed a Memorandum of Understanding to develop a coordinated approach on IDP returns and other IDP issues. The Ministry of Displacement and Migration’s strategy recognized local integration as a legal option for IDPs; although in practice, new IDPs arriving from Da’esh-controlled areas (the large majority of whom were Sunni Arabs) faced difficulties being accepted in KRG-controlled areas or in areas held by Shia PMF units. The government attempted to integrate IDPs into local populations but also encouraged families to return to their original homes, in some cases before the families were willing to return.

Government assistance focused on the provision of financial grants, but it made neither the initial nor the successive payments consistently, particularly with the downturn in the economy. Faced with the large movements of IDPs across the country, the government provided food, water, and financial assistance to many but not all IDPs, including in the IKR. Many IDPs lived in informal settlements where they did not receive adequate water, sanitation, or other essential services. According to the IOM, as of November, 17 percent of IDPs lived in shelter arrangements that did not meet minimal safety or security standards, and approximately 64 percent resided in private arrangements, including host family residences, hotels, motels, and rented housing. The government and KRG worked with the United Nations to expand existing camp infrastructure.

In June nearly 85,000 IDPs from Fallujah and surrounding areas fled military operations to expel Da’esh. The unexpectedly large number of IDPs fleeing in a short period of time initially overwhelmed assistance efforts. Since June military shaping operations in villages south of Mosul displaced nearly 131,000 civilians. Many of them fled to overcrowded IDP camps in Debaga and elsewhere. The government worked with UN agencies and NGOs to provide food, shelter, health care, water and sanitation, and other essential services to IDPs in camps and other informal settlements. The government provided many of the IDPs in the camps with basic household goods.

All citizens are eligible to receive food under the Public Distribution System (PDS); however, PDS was implemented sporadically and irregularly. Not all commodities were distributed each month and not all IDPs were able to access the PDS in each governorate. Since the price of oil has dropped, the functioning of the PDS has been even more irregular. Iraqis could only redeem their PDS rations at their place of residence and within their registered governorate, thus losing access and entitlement following displacement.

Persons who did not register as IDPs in their current places of residence sometimes faced limited access to services. Local authorities often determined whether IDPs would have access to local services. Through the provision of legal aid, UNHCR and other humanitarian actors assisted IDPs in obtaining documentation and registering with authorities to improve access to services and entitlements. The IOM reported that some IDPs faced difficulty with registration due to lack of required documentation and administrative delays.

While humanitarian assistance generally reached IDPs in most of the country, access to those remaining in Da’esh-controlled areas was limited. Humanitarian personnel continued to attempt to provide assistance in these areas, but security and movement limitations constrained aid delivery.

PROTECTION OF REFUGEES

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government established a system, albeit flawed, for providing protection to refugees. According to UNHCR, there were approximately 267,000 refugees in the country, most of whom are asylum seekers arriving from Syria, with smaller numbers from Iran and Turkey. The government generally cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees and IDPs in the country.

Refoulement: The government cooperated with UNHCR to prevent the deportation of refugees. UNHCR relocated refugees at risk of deportation to refugee camps or attempted to resettle them.

Employment: Refugees and asylum seekers are legally entitled to work in the private sector. Palestinian refugees, however, faced job insecurity when working in the public sector due to their ambiguous legal status; the government did not recognize their refugee status and did not allow them to obtain citizenship. Syrian refugees were able to obtain and renew residency and work permits both in refugee camps and in Erbil. Authorities, however, did not allow some Syrian refugees to continue their employment in refugee camps.

Durable Solutions: Ethnic Kurdish refugees from Syria, Turkey, and Iran in the IKR generally integrated well, although economic hardship plagued families and prevented many children, especially Syrians, from enrolling in formal school. Local integration remained the best and most likely option for the majority of Iranian Kurds. In September the KRG reported that approximately 60 percent of Syrian refugees in the IKR lived outside camps. Many worked in Erbil or found shelter with relatives in the IKR.

STATELESS PERSONS

UNHCR estimated that approximately 50,000 stateless persons lived in the country, many of them Syrian refugees. Many nonrefugee stateless individuals had previously been citizens and had already begun the process of reacquiring nationality.

As of 2006, the latest year for which data was available, an estimated 54,500 Bidoun individuals living as nomads in the desert near or in the southern governorates of Basrah, Dhi Qar, and Qadisiyah remained undocumented and stateless. Prolonged drought in the southern section of the country forced many individuals from these communities to migrate to city centers, where most obtained identification documents and gained access to food rations and other social benefits. Other communities similarly at risk of statelessness included the country’s Romani population, the Ahwazi community of Shia Arabs of Iranian descent, the Bahai religious minority community, inhabitants of the southern Marshlands, members of the Goyan and Omariya Turkish Kurdish tribes near Mosul, and nationals of South Sudan, which had not established a diplomatic presence in the country.

Stateless persons faced discrimination in employment and access to education. Many stateless persons, particularly Baha’i, were not able to register for identity cards, which prevented them from enrolling in public school, registering marriages, and gaining access to some government services. Stateless persons also faced difficulty obtaining public-sector employment and lacked job security.

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