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:

There were numerous reports that Da’esh and other terrorist groups, some government forces, and militias acting outside government orders, had committed arbitrary or unlawful killings (see section 1.g.). During the year the security situation remained unstable due to widespread fighting between the ISF and Da’esh, and, to a lesser extent, the Shia PMF and Da’esh. During the year the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) recorded a total of 19,266 civilian casualties: 6,878 killed, and 12,388 wounded. These casualty figures do not include the civilian casualty figures for Anbar for the months of May, July, August, and December. The corresponding period in 2015 showed 7,515 killed and 14,855 wounded.

Some security forces were alleged to have committed extrajudicial killings, although the government’s identification and prosecution of specific killers were rarely made public. Ministry of Interior personnel allegedly tortured detainees to death, according to reports from human rights organizations. For example, Amnesty International (AI) reported receiving information that men wearing military and federal police uniforms unlawfully killed men and boys in a village north of Fallujah in October and in some cases tortured them beforehand (see section 1.c.).

Although officially under the command and control of the prime minister, some Shia PMF operated independently and with limited government oversight or accountability. According to multiple nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), more than 643 men and boys were reported missing near Saqlawiyah following the June liberation of Fallujah after PMF units intercepted them at ad hoc security screening sites. All 643 reportedly remained missing.

During the year Iraq witnessed frequent unlawful killings by unidentified gunmen throughout the country. For example, on February 11, a Kurd and a Turkmen Shia in Salah al-Din Governorate were killed in the center of Tuz Khurmatu in separate attacks; on April 29, a Sunni man in his 70s was killed in the Ma’qal area of Basrah; and on May 17, a local council member was killed outside his home in al-Amal al-Sha’abi neighborhood, northwest Kirkuk.

Terrorist activities continued throughout the year, particularly with Da’esh’s attacks on cities. Baghdad was most affected, and was the site of more than half of the total fatalities. UNAMI reported that Baghdad experienced attacks of IEDs on a nearly daily basis from January to October. Some attacks targeted government buildings or checkpoints staffed by security forces, while others targeted civilians. Da’esh reportedly carried out attacks against civilians in Baghdad’s Shia-majority neighborhoods. The largest was on July 3, when a coordinated bomb attack in Baghdad’s Shia district of Karrada resulted in 292 civilians killed and hundreds wounded.

During the year authorities discovered several mass graves. On August 30, the Associated Press reported that analysis of satellite imagery identified a possible mass grave site at Badoush Prison near Mosul, where more than 600 inmates died. Approximately 35 mass graves in Sinjar District were found. In May media outlets reported the discovery of a mass grave in western Mosul containing the remains of 80 Yezidis. A representative from the Yezidi Affairs Council in the IKR reported these individuals were likely victims of Da’esh, and the remains showed signs of brutal treatment in captivity.

UNAMI reported that IEDs, suicide vests, and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) caused at least half of all verified casualties during the year. Media reported that Da’esh IEDs infested Ramadi, which was nearly destroyed during fighting, which began with air strikes in July 2015 and ended with the capture of the city on February 6. Many civilians could not return to their homes because of the destruction and the threat of IEDs. UNAMI reported that IEDs placed in homes in Ramadi killed at least nine people in April. Spillover across the porous border from the conflict in Syria continued to destabilize the security situation in the country. The government’s lack of the border with Syria facilitated Da’esh’s movement of fighters and materiel into the country.

Ethnic-based fighting escalated in ethnically mixed governorates after liberation operations. For example, according to a January 31 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, following January 11 bombings claimed by Da’esh, members of Shia militias reportedly abducted and killed scores of Sunni residents in Muqdadiya, in Diyala Governorate, and demolished Sunni homes, stores, and mosques. None of those responsible within the Shia militias were brought to justice by year’s end. Media also widely reported instances when, after Sunni tribes turned against Da’esh and allied with the ISF, Da’esh conducted mass executions of tribesmen.

There were significantly fewer reports of killings or other sectarian violence in the IKR than in the rest of the country. Minority groups reported threats and attacks targeting their communities in non-IKR areas that the KRG effectively controlled.

On May 3, the IKR press reported several killings for which the families of the deceased alleged KRG security forces were responsible. On August 13, Wedat Hussein Ali, a journalist working for ROJ News, was abducted and later found dead. Media reports indicated his injuries were consistent with torture and quoted Wedat’s family as saying the KRG internal security service had previously questioned him about his ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The press reported that the KRG internal security service temporarily detained several other journalists.

There were no known developments in other cases of arbitrary or unlawful killings reported in 2015.

Da’esh orchestrated most abductions, which focused on members of various ethnic and religious communities. There was no comprehensive account publicly available on the extent of the problem of disappeared persons.

In areas it controlled, Da’esh engaged in frequent abductions of members of the security or police forces, ethnic and religious minorities, and other non-Sunni communities. According to the director general for Yezidis in the KRG Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, more than 2,900 kidnapped Yezidi men, women, and children had been rescued from Da’esh captivity by year’s end, while another 3,735 Yezidis, mainly women and children, were believed to remain in Da’esh captivity. According to officials from the Turkmen Women’s Association, Da’esh militants have kidnapped 500 Turkmen Shia women and children from Tal Afar and Mosul since June 2014, all of whom remained in captivity at year’s end.

There were a number of disappearances and kidnappings that appeared to have been politically motivated. For example, on December 27, the Interior Ministry reported that unidentified gunmen broke into the home of female journalist and political activist Afrah Shawqi al-Qaisi in Baghdad and abducted her. Al-Qaisi regularly criticized the rampant corruption in the country. Prime Minister al-Abadi ordered the security forces to investigate the kidnapping and to “exert the utmost effort” to save her. There were no further developments by year’s end.

Some militias exploiting the security situation carried out kidnappings, either for personal gain or for sectarian reasons. On June 22, the council of al-Quarnah District raised concern about the rise of child abduction, demanding that the security forces take decisive actions against it.

In December 2015, unknown gunmen kidnapped 27 members of a Qatari hunting party in the Muthanna Desert. The kidnappers released one Qatari and one non-Qatari member of the hunting party. There were no further developments in the case, and the 25 other members of the hunting party remained missing at year’s end.

There were no known developments in other cases of disappearances from prior years.

Although the constitution expressly prohibits torture in all its forms under all circumstances, including cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, government officials as well as local and international human rights organizations documented instances of government agents committing torture and other abuses. Police throughout the country continued to use abusive and coerced confessions as methods of investigation, and courts continued to accept forced confessions as evidence. Da’esh, however, committed the overwhelming majority of such abuses.

As in previous years, abuse and torture occurred during arrest, pretrial detention, and after conviction. Former prisoners, detainees, and human rights groups reported that methods of torture and abuse included: putting victims in stress positions, beating, including on the soles of feet with plastic and metal rods, suffocating, burning, removing fingernails, suspending from the ceiling, overextending spines, denying sufficient water and the use of sanitation facilities, sexual assault, denying medical treatment, and threatening to rape female relatives of detainees or kill family members. A number of inmates reported that prison guards mistreated their families during visits.

International human rights organizations documented credible cases of torture and abuse in facilities of the Ministry of Interior and to a lesser extent in detention facilities of the Ministries of Justice and Defense, as well as in facilities of the KRG. The Human Rights Ministry and the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) noted that torture cases were underreported because many detainees were afraid to file complaints. HRW reported that widespread torture and systematic abuses continued in detention facilities and reported several instances of torture and rape of detainees. For example, according to NGOs, the men who had been convicted after confessing to taking part in the 2014 Camp Speicher massacre showed signs of torture. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported police and investigators continued to rely heavily on the evidence of secret informants or coerced confessions. Following confession, the coercion generally ceased.

The IHCHR could not confirm allegations of torture and systematic abuses in prisons and detention centers in part because the ministry was disbanded and the commission’s last meeting of the year was in May. In February the parliamentary Human Rights Committee confirmed one case of torture in a Ministry of the Interior detention center in Baghdad; it was the only case the committee reported.

Abusive interrogation under certain conditions reportedly occurred in some detention facilities of the KRG’s internal security unit, the Asayish, and the intelligence services of the major political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s (KDP) Parastin and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’s (PUK) Zanyari. During monitoring visits to IKR prisons and places of detention between January 2015 and June 2016, UNAMI reported 70 detainees had raised allegations of torture or other ill treatment during the interrogation phase, or both.

Abuses by terrorist groups were widespread. For example, in March HRW reported Da’esh fighters beat a man in custody every day for 18 days to force him to confess to selling cigarettes. The report also said witnesses reported 15 female Da’esh guards biting a woman in public as punishment for not covering her face. On September 13, Da’esh reportedly cut off the feet of seven civilians from Hawija southwest of Kirkuk for urging residents to take up arms and rise-up against the organization. Human rights and humanitarian groups reported numerous cases of rape, forced labor, forced marriage, forced religious conversion, material deprivation, and battery.

There were no known developments in cases of torture and abusive treatment or punishment first reported in 2015.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Conditions at some prison and detention facilities remained harsh and life threatening due to overcrowding, abuse, and torture. There were also cases of food shortages and inadequate access to sanitation facilities and medical care.

Both the government and the KRG operated secret detention facilities during the year, according to international observers and to the head of the KRG parliamentary Human Rights Committee. There was no information available to verify whether–or the extent to which–they remained in use. In May HRW reported that Da’esh had set-up at least three prisons where former prisoners reported regular floggings and torture.

The Ministry of Justice reported that there were no accommodations for disabled inmates and the previously announced initiative by the ministry to establish facilities for disabled detainees had not been implemented by year’s end.

Physical Conditions: NGOs, such as AI, reported overcrowding in prisons was a serious problem as the number of detainees increased as a result of the capture of suspected Da’esh members. Detainee conditions and treatment of detainees were generally poor, according to UNAMI’s 2016 report, with overcrowding becoming a growing problem in most facilities. NGO contacts reported that due to the closure of prisons after Da’esh’s 2014 advances, some remaining prisons held more than twice their designed inmate capacity. Three of the 24 correctional facilities managed by the Iraqi Corrections Service (ICS)–the only government entity with legal authority to hold persons after conviction–were not operational due to the security situation.

Prisons also became overcrowded in the South due an increased incarceration rate of criminals involved in drugs and kidnapping, and the transfer of 1,000 prisoners from northern governorates to Basrah. For example, the sole prison in Muthanna Governorate should hold no more than 50 prisoners in each cell; however, observers reported more than 100 persons in one cell. Basrah central prison, with capacity of 1,100, held more than 2,500 inmates, and Ma’aqal Prison, with a capacity of 250, held 500 prisoners. Overcrowding exacerbated corruption among some police officers and prison administrators in the South, who reportedly took bribes to reduce or drop charges, cut sentences, or release prisoners early.

Many inmates lacked adequate food, water, exercise facilities, vocational training, and family visitation. Access to medical care was inconsistent. Some detention facilities did not have an onsite pharmacy or infirmary, and authorities reported that existing pharmacies were undersupplied. Moreover, NGO contacts reported a significant shortage of social workers at prisons. Women’s prisons often lacked adequate child-care facilities for inmates’ children, whom the law permits to remain with their mothers until the age of four. Limited infrastructure or aging physical plants in some facilities worsened marginal sanitation, limited access to potable water, and led to preparation of poor-quality food.

Authorities separated detainees from convicts in most cases. Prisoners facing terrorism charges were isolated from the general population and were more likely to remain in Interior Ministry facilities in harsher conditions.

Although the government held most juvenile pretrial detainees and convicts in facilities operated by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, international and local NGOs reported that authorities held some juveniles in Justice Ministry prisons, Interior Ministry police stations, and other Interior Ministry detention facilities. Due to a lack of facilities in Maysan Governorate, juvenile offenders and adults were jointly incarcerated.

On May 3, AI reported that Shia militia units were holding more than 1,000 detainees, including some as young as 15, without charge in “horrendous conditions at makeshift holding centers” in Anbar Governorate (see section 1.g.).

Da’esh reportedly continued to operate three facilities in areas under its control, including the Justice Ministry’s Badoush Prison in Mosul, and two Interior Ministry prisons in Ninewa Governorate. The condition of individuals detained in these facilities was unknown.

Published in its January-June report, UNAMI found overcrowding driven by terrorism-related detentions, such as in the Anti -Terrorism Directorate facility in Erbil. According to UNAMI, the KRG’s new detention facilities in major cities were well maintained, although conditions remained poor in many smaller detention centers operated by the KRG Ministry of Interior. In some KRG Asayish detention centers and police-run jails, KRG authorities occasionally held juveniles in the same cells as adults.

Administration: Although there were credible allegations of mistreatment in both central government and KRG facilities, especially in pretrial detention, there was no information indicating that authorities undertook credible investigations into the allegations, and no prosecutions resulted therefrom (see section 1.c.). According to the Iraqi Kurdistan Independent Human Rights Commission and IKR parliamentary Human Rights Committee, instances of torture have occurred in IKR prisons. UNAMI reported during monitoring visits to prisons and places of detention in the IKR that 70 detainees raised allegations of torture or other ill-treatment during their interrogation.

The Ministry of Justice reported that budgetary constraints had significantly reduced the number of its visits to prisons. There was no information available about censorship or action on the complaints.

Recordkeeping on prisoners and detainees was generally inadequate. The Ministry of Justice reported it employed new technology to keep track of prisoners and detainees. The fully digitalized ministry-wide tracking system keeps track of judicial records relating to detainees and decreased the likelihood of individuals being detained past their release date. Moreover, it reduced corruption opportunities as prison officials could no longer alter prisoners’ records in exchange for bribes. Despite these attempts at modernization, however, officials at the Ministries of Interior, Justice, and Defense, and at the Counterterrorism Service, indicated each entity maintained its own records, although some facilities held individuals detained by several entities, making it difficult to account for a facility’s total population. Additionally, human rights organizations reported that prison guards or arresting officers released detainees after the detainees paid a bribe, a practice that further contributed to inaccurate detainee recordkeeping.

International and local human rights groups reported that authorities in numerous cases denied family visits to detainees and convicts. In many cases guards allegedly demanded bribes when detainees asked to call their relatives or legal counsel.

Independent Monitoring: ICS prisons allowed regular visits by independent nongovernmental observers. The ICRC continued to have its customary access to Justice, Interior, Defense, and Labor and Social Affairs Ministry prisons and detention facilities. Authorities also granted UNAMI access to Justice Ministry prison and detention facilities in Baghdad. There were reports of institutional interference in prison visits, and in some cases institutions required advance notification to wardens and prison officials of visits by outside monitors.

The KRG generally allowed international human rights NGOs and intergovernmental organizations to visit convicted prisoners and pretrial detainees but occasionally delayed or denied access to some individuals, usually in cases involving terrorism. The UNAMI Human Rights Office and ICRC continued to receive regular access to IKR prisons and detention facilities.

Improvements: The Ministry of Justice reported that during the year it had installed surveillance cameras in all federal prisons, providing real-time information to a centralized office responsible for monitoring prisons. The camera system was meant to act as a deterrent to would-be abusers by allowing the government to record possible abuses for later investigation.

The constitution provides some basic legal safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention. Emergency laws give security forces broad discretion over arrest and detention when the government has declared a national emergency, which authorities declared in Baghdad on April 30 after protesters breached the International Zone. During the year there continued to be many reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions.

The government made minimal progress by year’s end in improving enforcement of the rights governing arrest and detentions, despite the encouragement of an executive order and a reform law. In federal prisons the government reported the installation and use of video cameras to deter and record abuse.

In 2014 the prime minister issued an executive order to enforce the existing rights of detainees–a principal concern of Sunnis. The executive order prohibits the arrest or remand of individuals except by an order issued by a competent judge or court or in the conditions warranted by the code of criminal procedures. The authority that enforced the arrest warrant or detention is required within 24 hours of the detention to register in the government’s central electronic and manual registers the detainee’s name, place of detention, reason for detention, and legal article. The Ministry of Justice is then responsible for updating and managing these registers. The order requires the Ministries of Defense and Interior and the National Security Service to establish guidelines and mechanisms for commanders to register detainees’ details in this central register. The executive order also prohibits any entity, other than legally competent authorities, to detain any person.

On August 25, the Council of Representatives (COR) passed the amended amnesty law. The reformed law permits retrials for detainees convicted on the basis of forced confessions or from reliance on evidence provided by secret informants.

After bombings on April 4, security forces in the southern governorate of Dhi Qar arrested persons under the Antiterrorism Law. Local residents alleged that the ISF used the bombing as an excuse to arrest innocent Sunnis, IDPs, and civil activists. For example, security forces arrested Mufeed al-Shanoon and Sala’am Dlejan, civil activists in the reform protests from Nassiriyah. By the end of the year, of the original 31 arrested, authorities released 18 for lack of evidence.

In August the human rights staff of an international organization reported concerns about government security forces, the PMF, and Peshmerga detention and arrest of IDPs. With the cooperation of the Ministries of Interior and Justice, the international organization representative visited IDP detainees, but authorities prevented the representative from conducting confidential interviews. Numerous reports of arrests and temporary detention by government forces, the PMF, and Peshmerga of predominantly Sunni Arab IDPs continued throughout the year.

Prison authorities sometimes delayed the release of inmates who were exonerated or who had served their complete sentence unless the prison authorities received bribes. According to NGO contacts, inmates whom the judiciary ordered to be released continued to face delays from the Interior Ministry or other ministries to clear their record of other pending charges.

There were many reports of Shia PMF forces detaining Sunnis following the liberation of Da’esh-dominated areas. For example, reports persisted that up to 3,000 prisoners were illegally held by the hard-line militias, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq and the terrorist Kata’ib Hizballah, advised by members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force. The prisoners included Sunnis and others suspected of working with Da’esh, and were held in up to five makeshift jails, some for alleged crimes and some to exchange for ransoms that help fund militia activities.

According to the PMF spokesman, the Justice Ministry appointed a judge who was, at year’s end, working his way through 300 reported cases of abuse by militia members ranging from alleged prisoner abuse to summary executions. According to the spokesman, only approximately one-quarter of those accused were “genuine” militia members, and the rest were part of volunteer groups receiving no pay, medical, or survivor benefits from the government.

According to local NGOs and the head of the IKR parliamentary Human Rights Committee, prisoners held in KRG-administered Asayish prisons sometimes remained in detention for more than six months without trial. IKR police and internal security service officers in the IKR arrested protesters and activists critical of the KRG, and detained them for several days, according to NGO contacts and local press reporting. For example, Iraqi Kurdistan authorities in the northern city of Sulaimaniyah arrested 13 teachers on December 1, ahead of a demonstration over unpaid public-sector salaries.

Prime Minister Abadi said in an interview that some fighters participating in the battle for Fallujah had committed “mistakes.” A government spokesperson later announced the establishment of a human rights committee to investigate alleged abuses. As of year-end, there were no updates regarding the men and boys who were missing in Saqlawiyah or concerning the progress of the investigation.

Da’esh continued to seize persons in order to silence its critics in the areas it controlled. In October, Da’esh arrested five former imams in Mosul on charges of sedition, according to local media. During the first week of January, Da’esh abducted five male teachers from around Mosul city for refusing to propagate Da’esh doctrines.


The ISF consists of security forces administratively organized within the Ministries of Interior and Defense, the PMF, and the Counterterrorism Service. Interior Ministry responsibilities include domestic law enforcement and maintenance of order relying on the Federal Police, Provincial Police, Facilities Protection Service, Civil Defense, and Department of Border Enforcement. Energy police, under the Ministry of Oil, are responsible for providing critical infrastructure protection. Conventional military forces under the Defense Ministry are responsible for the defense of the country, but working with elements of the Interior Ministry, they often also carry out counterterrorism and internal security operations. The Counterterrorism Service reports directly to the prime minister and oversees the Counterterrorism Command, an organization that includes the three brigades of special operations forces.

The November 26 PMF law, one and a half pages long, was the latest in a series of efforts to place the PMF, composed of nearly 60 militia groups, under the ISF umbrella but reporting to the prime minister in a similar fashion as the Counterterrorism Service. Details on implementation, mission, and force structure of the PMF were not finalized as of year’s end.

The authorities reportedly initiated some investigations of security forces accused of committing human rights abuses. As in the previous year, the minister of defense publicly called for holding perpetrators of human rights abuses within the security forces accountable, but there was little information available on the outcome of any investigations or of official punishment for human rights violations. On June 4, the government announced an investigation into “transgressions against civilians” and the PMF’s killing of IDPs who fled Fallujah during the more than month-long struggle for its liberation. Authorities did not make public any findings of investigations by year’s end, except the PMF spokesman’s reference to a judge “working his way through” 300 reported cases of PMF abuse of which, he said, approximately one-quarter pertained to genuine militia members, while the rest pertained to “wannabe groups” like the Sunni Knights of Ninewa.

There were reports of torture and abuse throughout the country in Interior and Defense Ministry facilities. According to international human rights organizations, abuse took place primarily during detainee interrogations while in pretrial detention. The Interior Ministry did not release the number of officers punished during the year, and there were no known court convictions for abuse.

An NGO in Muthanna Governorate reported that guards on occasion beat prisoners for talking to outsiders about poor conditions and mistreatment inside the prison. On September 10, local media reported that authorities arrested and charged five police officers in the Rania District of Sulaimaniyah Governorate with torturing a man in their custody.

Problems persisted, including corruption, within the country’s provincial police forces. The army and federal police recruited and deployed soldiers and police officers on a nationwide basis. This practice led to complaints from local communities that members of the army and police were abusive because of ethno-sectarian differences.

Security forces made limited efforts to prevent or respond to societal violence. Although 16 family protection units, located in separate buildings at police stations around the country, operated under police authority to respond to claims of domestic violence made by women and children, they lacked sufficient capacity. The most recent report detailing the units’ work dated from 2014.

The two main Kurdish political parties, the KDP and PUK, had their own security apparatuses. Under the federal constitution, the KRG has the right to maintain regional guard brigades, supported financially by the government but under the KRG’s control. Accordingly, the KRG established a Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs. There are 14 infantry brigades and two support brigades under the authority of the Ministry of Peshmerga Affairs, but the PUK and KDP controlled tens of thousands of additional military personnel.

The KDP had its own internal security unit, the Asayish, and its own intelligence service, the Parastin. The PUK also maintained its own internal security unit, known also as the Asayish, and its own intelligence service, the Zanyari. While the PUK and KDP took some nominal steps to unify their internal and external security organizations, they remained separate, since political party leaders effectively controlled these organizations through party channels. The KRG Independent Human Rights Commission routinely notified the Kurdistan Ministry of Interior when it received credible reports of police human rights violations. Local NGOs reported a sense of impunity among KRG security force officials; local human rights monitors reported an allegation of rape and manslaughter by mid-ranking officers during the year.

KRG security services detained suspects in areas the regional government controlled. The poorly defined administrative boundaries between the IKR and the rest of the country resulted in continuing confusion about the jurisdiction of security forces and the courts. Da’esh’s control of parts of these areas exacerbated this situation.


The constitution prohibits “unlawful detention” and mandates that authorities submit preliminary documents to a competent judge within 24 hours of arrest, a period that may extend in most cases to a maximum of 72 hours. For offenses punishable by death, authorities may legally detain the defendant as long as necessary to complete the judicial process. According to local media and rights groups, authorities arrested suspects in security sweeps without a warrant, particularly under the antiterrorism law, and held some detainees for prolonged periods without charge.

The government arbitrarily detained individuals and often did not inform them promptly of the nature of the charges against them. The government periodically released detainees, usually after concluding that it lacked sufficient evidence for the courts to convict them. Many others remained in detention pending review of other outstanding charges. The law allows release on bond for criminal (but not security) detainees. Authorities rarely released detainees on bail. KRG internal security units held some suspects incommunicado without an arrest warrant and transported detainees to undisclosed detention facilities.

The law provides for judges to appoint paid counsel for the indigent. Attorneys appointed to represent detainees frequently complained that insufficient access to their clients hampered adequate attorney-client consultation. In many cases detainees were not able to meet their attorneys until their scheduled trial date. There were reports that defendants did not have access to legal representation during the investigation phase, appointed lawyers lacked sufficient time to prepare a defense, and courts failed to investigate claims of torture while in detention. The Human Rights Ministry, which was dissolved in August 2015, acknowledged the need for public defenders and judges far exceeded supply, resulting in delayed trials.

Arbitrary Arrest: Police and military personnel arrested and detained individuals without judicial approval, although there were no reliable statistics available regarding the number of such acts or length of detentions. Authorities often failed to notify family members of the arrest or location of detention, resulting in incommunicado detention.

Pretrial Detention: The Ministries of Justice, Defense, Interior, and Labor and Social Affairs are legally entitled to hold pretrial detainees.

Although there were no independently verified statistics concerning the number of pretrial detainees in government facilities, most individuals in Interior and Defense Ministry facilities were reportedly pretrial detainees. In February the Ministry of Justice stated there were approximately 30,000 detainees in the ministry’s correction centers, including 200 foreign detainees. NGOs noted actual detainee figures could be as high as 50,000. As of October 5, there were an estimated 1,681 pretrial detainees, including 82 women, at various KRG facilities, according to the KRG Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.

Lengthy detentions without due process and without judicial action were a systemic problem. The lack of judicial review resulted from several factors, including a large number of detainees, undocumented detentions, slow processing of criminal investigations, an insufficient number of judges and trained judicial personnel, authorities’ inability or reluctance to utilize bail or other conditions of release, lack of information sharing, bribery, and corruption. Overcrowding of pretrial detainees remained a problem in many detention facilities. There were allegations of detention beyond judicial release dates as well as unlawful releases.

According to some observers, authorities held many detainees for months or years after initial arrest and detention, particularly those detained under the antiterrorism law. Authorities sometimes held detainees incommunicado, without access to defense counsel or without formal charge before a judge within the legally mandated period. Authorities at times detained spouses and other family members of fugitives, mostly Sunnis wanted on terrorism charges, as proxies to pressure the fugitives to surrender.

KRG authorities also reportedly held detainees for extensive periods in pretrial detention. According to local NGOs and the head of the Iraqi Kurdistan parliamentary Human Rights Committee, prisoners held in regional government-administered Asayish prisons sometimes remained in detention for more than six months without trial. According to IKR judicial officials, IKR law permits extension of pretrial detention of up to six month under court supervision.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The constitution grants detainees the right to a prompt judicial determination on the legality of their detention, and persons arrested or detained may obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. In practice individuals faced lengthy detentions without possibility of prompt release, regardless of guilt. Despite the 2014 executive order and the August 25 reform law concerning rights of detainees, NGOs widely reported that detainees had limited ability to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court and that a bribe was often necessary in order to gain release. The law does not allow for compensation if a person was found to have been unlawfully detained.

Amnesty: There were no amnesty cases outside of the routine, religious holiday amnesties for minor crimes.

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, although certain articles of law restricted judicial independence. The country’s security situation and political history left the judiciary weak and dependent on other parts of the government. Additionally, in 2013 the Supreme Court overturned a court order mandating the separation of the Federal Supreme Court and the Higher Judicial Council, thus allowing one individual to head both the court, which rules on issues related to federalism and constitutionality, and the council, which manages and supervises the court system, including disciplinary matters. Local and international media claimed the decision was politically motivated and undermined judicial independence.

There were reports that corruption influenced authorities’ willingness to respect court orders. For example, the Integrity Committee of the COR reported that Interior Ministry and Justice Ministry employees frequently demanded bribes from detainees to release them even after court orders for their release had been issued, or after their mandated jail term had expired.

Corruption or intimidation reportedly influenced some judges presiding over criminal cases at the trial level and on appeal to the Court of Cassation. The Commission of Integrity routinely investigated judges on corruption charges, but there were numerous reports that such investigations often were politically motivated.

Numerous threats and killings by sectarian, tribal, extremist, and criminal elements impaired judicial independence. Judges, lawyers, and their family members frequently faced death threats and attacks. Lawyers participated in protests demanding better protection from the government against threats and violence. Judges were also vulnerable to intimidation and violence. In January unidentified gunmen shot and killed an investigating magistrate in Diyala Governorate. In February the president of the Basrah Court of Appeal survived an assassination attempt near his house in Kut al-Hijjaj.

The Kurdistan Judicial Council is legally, financially, and administratively independent from the KRG Ministry of Justice, but the KRG Executive continued to influence politically sensitive cases.


The constitution provides all citizens the right to a fair trial–but not necessarily a public trial–and the right to be present at their trial, with the assistance of free interpretation through all appeals, if necessary. Observers, including some government officials, the United Nations, and NGOs reported that trial proceedings fell short of international standards. Although investigative, trial, and appellate judges generally sought to enforce the right to a fair trial, defendants’ insufficient access to defense attorneys was a serious defect in proceedings. Many defendants met their lawyers for the first time during the initial hearing and had limited access to legal counsel during pretrial detention. Trials were public, except in some national security cases, but some faced undue delays.

Accused persons are innocent until proven guilty under the law, and detainees are required to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, as well as the right to a privately retained or court-appointed counsel, at public expense if needed. Nonetheless, officials routinely failed to inform defendants promptly or in detail of charges against them. Judges assemble evidence and adjudicate guilt or innocence. Defendants and their attorneys have access to government-held evidence relevant to their cases before trial and have the right to confront witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence. In many cases, according to AI, forced confessions served as the only source of evidence without the corroboration of forensic evidence or independent witness testimony. The law provides the right to appeal, although there is a statute of limitations for referral; the Court of Cassation reviews criminal cases on appeal.

KRG officials noted that prosecutors and defense attorneys frequently encountered obstacles in carrying out their work and that prisoners’ trials were unnecessarily delayed for administrative reasons. According to the IKR’s Independent Human Rights Commission, detainees have remained in KRG internal security service facilities for extended periods even after court orders for their release.


The government did not consider any incarcerated persons to be political prisoners or detainees and stated that all individuals in prison had been either convicted or charged under criminal law or were detained and awaiting trial while under investigation.

It was difficult to assess claims that there were no political prisoners or detainees due to the lack of government transparency, prevalence of corruption in arrest procedures, slow case processing, and inaccessibility to detainees, especially those held in counterterrorism, intelligence, and military facilities. Political opponents of the government asserted the government imprisoned or sought to imprison persons for political activities or beliefs under the pretense of criminal charges ranging from corruption to terrorism and murder.

Niaz Aziz Saleh, who was convicted in 2012 of leaking KDP party information related to electoral fraud, remained in prison following the completion of his sentence in 2014, according to the chairman of the IKR Parliamentary Human Rights Committee.


Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for, or cessation of, human rights violations. Administrative remedies also exist, although due to the overwhelming security focus of the executive branch, coupled with an understaffed judiciary dependent on the executive, the government did not effectively implement civil or administrative remedies for human rights violations. In 2014 in collaboration with the IHCHR, the Higher Judicial Council established special courts to investigate human rights violations and reports of abuse wherever there is a court of appeal. On February 3, IHCHR members stated they had referred approximately 4,000 cases of human rights violations from 2015; however, the prosecutor dismissed hundreds of cases for lack of evidence or failure to complete required documents. At year’s end the courts had not issued any convictions for human rights violations.

KRG law provides for compensation to persons subject to unlawful arrest or detention. The KRG’s Ministry of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs handles compensation for unlawful arrests or detentions, and its Human Rights Commission reported that while approximately 8,000 cases (including many historical cases) received approval for compensation, the government was not able to pay compensation due to budget constraints.

The constitution mandates that authorities may not enter or search homes except with a judicial order. The constitution also prohibits arbitrary interference with privacy, but security forces often entered homes without search warrants.

According to accounts by family members provided to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) Protection Cluster, some government forces and militia groups continued to force alleged Da’esh sympathizers out of their homes in Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, and Salah al-Din Governorates. For example, in late October local security forces in Kirkuk allegedly evicted hundreds of households perceived to be affiliated with Da’esh before destroying their homes, although public statements by local authorities denied government participation in the forced evictions. Similarly, the Protection Cluster reported that in Diyala Governorate, local authorities announced in October that more than 6,300 IDP families residing in and around the city of Khanaquin would be required to depart their homes and relocate to IDP camps, or return to their areas of origin. According to the Protection Cluster, the order was in reaction to security concerns regarding the displaced households’ possible affiliation with Da’esh.

A November 16 HRW report, Marked With An “X,” alleged that KRG forces, mostly Peshmerga, destroyed buildings and homes and, in many cases entire villages, making them uninhabitable. On April 4, the KRG, having been given access to HRW’s evidence and findings prior to the publication of its report, set up a committee to investigate the allegations of unlawful destruction of property and movement restrictions on IDPs in territory under KRG control. The committee proposed that the destruction might have resulted from Da’esh IEDs, was part of collateral damage from fighting or bombing, or was required by the de-mining process to ensure returning IDPs were not injured by IEDs and booby-traps left behind by withdrawing Da’esh.

According to a November 3 HRW report, fighters of Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq detained and beat shepherds, including a boy, from a village near Mosul on suspicion of Da’esh affiliation, then stole about 300 sheep–the village’s entire flock.

During the year Da’esh fighters entered homes, destroyed or looted private property, and converted houses into operational bases. Media reported throughout the year that Da’esh opened markets called “Spoils of the Nazarenes” to sell electronics, furniture, and other items looted from Christian homes. In January Christian groups reported that Da’esh arranged a market where they sold 400 houses, 19 high-rise buildings, and 167 stores, warehouses, and shops in the Mosul area belonging to Christians. In September media reported that Da’esh terrorists destroyed more than 17,000 homes in Salah al-Din, according to Governor Ra’ed al-Jabouri. In September, Da’esh reportedly burned approximately 25 homes of ISF members and government employees around Hit, northwest of Ramadi.

Killings: During the year UNAMI recorded a total of 19,266 civilian casualties: 6,878 killed and 12,388 wounded, although how many civilians were intentionally targeted was not indicated.

According to the United Nations and international human rights organizations, some Iran-backed Shia militias, nominally under government control, committed human rights violations. The groups participated in operations against Da’esh as part of the PMF and were implicated in several attacks on Sunni civilians, reportedly avenging Da’esh crimes against the Shia. A few Sunni tribal forces that had rallied to the government, especially in Anbar Governorate, were also implicated in revenge killing of Sunni civilians, some of whom may have simply coexisted with Da’esh during Da’esh’s rule in the area. UNAMI and HRW reported that members of Shia militias allegedly had abducted and killed scores of Sunni residents in Muqdadiya, in Diyala Governorate, and demolished Sunni homes, stores, and seven mosques following January 11 bombings claimed by Da’esh. In early January armed groups targeted Sunni mosques in Babil Governorate. None of those responsible were brought to justice by year-end.

Da’esh was the major human rights violator in the country, responsible for deaths of many innocent civilians. The United Nations, international human rights groups, and media reported that Da’esh executed hundreds of noncombatants. These included not only civilians who did not flee their homes in advance of Da’esh advances but also those who attempted to flee Da’esh held territory, captured or surrendered soldiers, police officers, and others associated or who had been associated with the government. For example, ISF discovered in November several mass graves containing the bodies of at least 400 former local police officers near the village of Hammam al-Alil, 19 miles southeast of Mosul. They appeared to have been killed at the end of October while in Da’esh’s custody.

Media widely reported instances when, after Sunni tribes turned against Da’esh and allied themselves with the ISF, Da’esh conducted mass executions of tribesmen. For example, HRW reported they interviewed 20 residents in May from villages in Makhmur District who had fled to an IDP camp. The villagers said that before government forces retook the area in March, Da’esh executed government security personnel, civilians attempting to flee, and suspected government informants, while many others went missing.

Da’esh also reportedly killed and abducted religious leaders who failed to support the terrorist group. In September, Da’esh reportedly shot and killed two imams in eastern Mosul for not complying with instructions to encourage young men to join Da’esh and fight against the ISF.

Throughout the year Da’esh detonated VBIEDs and suicide bombs in public markets, security checkpoints, and predominantly Shia neighborhoods. For example, on November 24, a suicide truck bomber killed at least 77 persons, largely Iranian Shia pilgrims, in the southern city of Hilla.

On April 26, Yezidi religious leaders in Lalish published an open letter to diplomats and human rights organizations reporting 410 Yezidi men had been missing for a year after Da’esh transported the men to a mosque in the Da’esh-controlled city of Tal Afar.

Abductions: Militias, illegal armed groups, Da’esh, and other unknown actors kidnapped many persons during the year. While in some cases individuals were kidnapped due to their ethnic or sectarian identity, other individuals were taken for financial motives. Da’esh reportedly detained children in schools, prisons, and airports, and separated girls from their families to sell them in Da’esh-controlled areas for sexual slavery. Da’esh also punished minors in areas under its control.

UNAMI reported that Da’esh held approximately 3,500 persons in slavery, predominantly women and children from the Yezidi community, as well as other ethnic and religious minorities from the Sinjar District of Ninewa Governorate. On June 25, according to UNAMI, Da’esh moved 42 Yezidi women to Mayadeen in the Deir ez-Zor Governorate in eastern Syria and sold them to Da’esh fighters for amounts ranging from approximately 500,000 dinars to 2.2 million dinars ($450 to $2,000) each.

Kidnappings also continued to be a common tactic in tribal conflicts. In January members of the al-Halaf tribe abducted a man from the Garamsha tribe after the establishment of a truce between the two tribes failed. A photo of the man, bound and beaten, went viral on social media; the photo caption described him as a “captive of the war between the two tribes.”

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Reports from international human rights groups alleged that government forces and Shia PMF abused prisoners and detainees, particularly Sunnis (see section 1.a.).

Da’esh reportedly used torture and other brutal tactics to abuse and punish individuals connected to the security services and government, as well as those they considered apostates, such as Yezidis, according to international human rights organizations. According to a January-June UNAMI report, thousands of women, particularly those from ethnic and religious communities that Da’esh considered takfiri, or not conforming to their doctrine of Islam, had been subjected to rape, sexual enslavement, murder, and other forms of physical and sexual violence.

Da’esh forces killed civilians who cooperated with the government and anyone who refused to recognize Da’esh and its caliphate, or tried to escape Da’esh-controlled territory. During the first week of January, Da’esh abducted five male teachers near Mosul for refusing to propagate Da’esh doctrines. In March media widely reported that Da’esh electrocuted 15 civilians charged with spying for the government in Baghdad.

Da’esh attempted to attack both ISF units and civilian-populated areas with chemical substances, including chlorine and sulfur mustard gas. They developed a small number of crude chemical weapons that had a negligible effect on the battlefield. On March 16 and May 2, respectively, Da’esh fired chemical weapons into the Salah al-Din villages of Taza and Basheer, injuring more than 400 civilians, primarily Turkmen Shia.

Child Soldiers: There were no reports that regular ISF units conscripted or recruited children to serve in the security services. Some NGOs and an IDP camp manager reported that, while there was no instruction for children to join fighting, children continued to be associated with the PMF and militias in conflict areas. In August, NGOs reported Sunni tribal militias recruiting teenagers aged 15-17 from the Debaga IDP camp. KRG and independent sources alleged the Yezidi Resistance Forces and Yezidi Women’s Protection Units militias employed Yezidi minors in paramilitary roles in Sinjar. For example, an HRW December 22 report documented 29 cases in which two armed groups affiliated with the PKK recruited Kurdish and Yezidi children, and abducted or seriously abused children who tried to leave their forces.

Additionally, armed Shia groups, under the banner of the PMF, continued to give weapons training and military-style physical fitness conditioning to children under the age of 18 at summer training camps. The government and the statements of Shia religious leaders expressly forbid children under the age of 18 from serving in combat; there was evidence on social media, however, of children serving in combat positions. For example, the official “Ideological Guidance” page of the PMF website lauded a 14-year-old volunteer from Basrah for fighting alongside his father in Fallujah. The head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Basrah office said, “children from poor neighborhoods in Basrah are leaving school to volunteer” with PMF groups. The head of a Basrah NGO visited PMF units in Salah al-Din, where she encountered teenage volunteers serving on the front lines. On April 20, the United Nations verified 12 reported cases of recruitment of children by militias affiliated with the PMF, all of whom had been killed in combat. According to the IHCHR, during the year authorities detained 857 juveniles, including 804 on charges of terrorism, murder, theft, and kidnapping. An international organization reported that an estimated 30 percent of juveniles in pretrial or post-trial detention were held on security-related charges.

According to UNAMI, Da’esh forcibly recruited children to serve as informants, checkpoint staff, and suicide bombers. In January international media cited KRG sources who said Da’esh abducted up to 400 Yezidi children and trained them for combat or as suicide bombers. In March, Da’esh moved approximately 25 children from an orphanage in Mosul to a training camp in Tal Afar. The boys, some as young as eight years, included Yezidis and Turkmen, and were reportedly trained on weapons use and other combat skills. On September 20, Da’esh released a video that showed children executing prisoners in Mosul.

According to UNICEF, Da’esh violations against children included killing and maiming, recruitment and use as soldiers or suicide bombers, sexual violence, attacks against schools or hospitals, denial of humanitarian access for children, and abduction. For example, on August 21, police in Kirkuk cut a suicide vest off a 15-year-old boy wearing it under a Lionel Messi football shirt before he could carry out a Da’esh plan to detonate the vest inside a Shia mosque.

See also the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Active areas of conflict continued to disrupt the lives of hundreds of thousands of persons throughout the country, particularly in Baghdad and the IKR, but also in Anbar, Ninewa, Salah al-Din, and Diyala Governorates.

On October 25, UNAMI warned that expulsions of relatives of suspected Da’esh members were becoming widespread without due process, and that “collective punishment” endangered civilian lives and undermined efforts at reconciliation. For example, media reported in August that police forced relatives of suspected Da’esh members to leave 52 houses in Dhuluiya, in Salah al-Din Governorate. On September 9, international media reported that authorities expelled the families of more than 200 suspected Da’esh members from their homes in Hit, northwest of Ramadi.

The government, the PMF, and Da’esh all established roadblocks that impeded the flow of humanitarian assistance to communities in need. The KRG–specifically KDP-run checkpoints–also restricted the transport of food, medicines and medical supplies, and other goods into Sinjar and Rabia Districts. NGO and diplomatic contacts stated the measures appeared to be aimed at limiting the influence of the PKK and their local affiliates, but they claimed unpredictability and the extent of the restrictions limited IDP returns to these areas.

Reports of Da’esh’s targeted destruction of civilian infrastructure were common, including attacks on roads, religious sites, and hospitals.

Da’esh continued to attack cultural and religious heritage sites in areas under its control. On January 21, UNESCO reported Da’esh had destroyed the Monastery of Saint Elijah, which was more than 1,400 years old and the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq. On April 25, Da’esh destroyed Mosul’s Clock Tower Church.

UNAMI stated in an October report that Da’esh violations against Christians, Faili (Shia) Kurds, Kaka’i, Sabaean-Mandean, Shabaks, Shia Arabs, Turkmen, Yezidis and others appeared to be part of a policy to suppress, permanently expel, or destroy these communities.

Da’esh increasingly used civilians as human shields in combat and targeted civilian areas with mortars. In May police chief Lieutenant Colonel Aref al-Janabi told local media that Da’esh took civilians, mostly women, children and the elderly, hostage in Albu Hawi and Hasi villages. He added that Da’esh terrorists used scores of civilians as human shields when tribal fighters, together with security forces, launched an operation to retake the two besieged villages. In October UN human rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani reported Da’esh had forced “tens of thousands of people from their homes in sub-districts around Mosul, and had forcibly relocated civilians inside the city itself” to “use them as human shields.”

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