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.