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Iraq

Executive Summary

Iraq is a constitutional parliamentary republic. The 2018 parliamentary elections, while imperfect, generally met international standards of free and fair elections and led to the peaceful transition of power from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to Adil Abd al-Mahdi.

Civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over some elements of the security forces, particularly certain units of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) that were aligned with Iran.

Violence continued throughout the year, largely fueled by the actions of ISIS. The government declared victory over ISIS in December 2017 after drastically reducing the group’s ability to commit abuses and atrocities, but members of the group continued to carry out deadly attacks and kidnappings. The government’s reassertion of federal authority in disputed areas bordering the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR), after the Kurdistan Region’s September 2017 independence referendum, resulted in reports of abuses and atrocities by the security forces, including those affiliated with the PMF.

Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by some members of the Iraq Security Forces (ISF), particularly Iran-aligned elements of the PMF; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; legal restrictions on freedom of movement of women; widespread official corruption; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by Iran-aligned elements of the PMF that operate outside government control; trafficking in persons; criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status or conduct; violence targeting LGBTI persons; threats of violence against internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnee populations perceived to have been affiliated with ISIS; and restrictions on worker rights, including restrictions on formation of independent unions and reports of child labor.

The government, including the Office of the Prime Minister, investigated allegations of abuses and atrocities perpetrated by the ISF, but it rarely made the results of the investigations public or punished those responsible for human rights abuses. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) High Committee to Evaluate and Respond to International Reports reviewed charges of Peshmerga abuses, largely against IDPs, and exculpated them in public reports and commentaries, but human rights organizations questioned the credibility of those investigations. Impunity effectively existed for government officials and security force personnel, including the ISF, Federal Police, PMF, Peshmerga, and KRG Asayish internal security services.

ISIS continued to commit serious abuses and atrocities, including killings through suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The government continued investigating and prosecuting allegations of ISIS abuses and atrocities and, in some instances, publicly noted the conviction of suspected ISIS members under the 2005 counterterrorism law.

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

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were numerous reports that some government forces, including the PMF and Asayish, committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, as did ISIS and other terrorist groups (see section 1.g.). During the year the security situation remained unstable in some areas, due to: regular raids and attacks by ISIS and their affiliated cells, particularly in remote areas; sporadic fighting between the ISF and ISIS holdouts in remote areas; the presence of militias not fully under the control of the government, including certain PMF units, in many liberated areas; and sectarian, ethnic, and financially motivated violence. From January 1 to August 31, the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) reported more than 700 civilians killed in the country.

Government security forces reportedly committed extrajudicial killings. The government rarely made public its identification and prosecution of specific perpetrators of abuses and atrocities. Human rights organizations reported that both Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defense personnel tortured detainees to death. For example, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in August that at least three individuals died from torture in the Mosul police station and Faisaliya Prison in east Mosul. The August report details the experiences of “Mahmoud,” who reportedly was detained and tortured at Faisaliya Prison from January to May and who recounted the death of a cousin of another detainee named “Ammar.” “Mahmoud” reportedly heard screams as prison officers beat “Ammar’s” cousin unconscious on two consecutive nights. After the second night, “Mahmoud” recounted taking off the man’s clothes to care for him, finding he had two big bruises to his waist on either side, green bruises on his arms, and a long red burn down the length of his penis.

Security forces fired upon and beat demonstrators protesting unemployment and poor public services related to water and electricity in Basrah Governorate and elsewhere in southern Iraq between July and September. HRW reported that the security forces, largely from the Ministry of Interior, used excessive and unnecessary lethal force in controlling protests that at times turned violent. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media reported at least eight deaths related to the protests in July. On September 5, at least seven died in clashes with security forces during protests in Basrah. Some demonstrators also turned to violence and set fire to government buildings, the Iranian Consulate, and the offices of pro-Iran militias and political parties. Local and international human rights organizations accused ISF, including Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) PMF units, of using excessive force, including live ammunition, against the protesters and called for the government to conduct an investigation into the deaths and violence during the protests.

In response to the protests, Prime Minister Abadi dismissed the head of Basrah’s military operations. As of October, the government had not reported any progress in investigating the killing of the protesters.

In 2017 the Office of the Prime Minister announced the establishment of a committee to investigate allegations of ISF abuse during the operation to retake Mosul from ISIS. It stated the government had arrested, and planned to prosecute, several ISF officers. HRW reported in April that the government disposed of evidence of a potential war crime committed against members of ISIS, removing an estimated 80 bodies from a damaged house in Mosul and burning the house. HRW added that at least one of the bodies appeared to have its legs bound, that there was no indication that the government was collecting evidence, and that government officials refused to tell its researchers where they were taking the bodies. As of October the government had not published specific information on judicial proceedings against any members of the security forces.

Human rights organizations reported that Iran-aligned PMF militia groups engaged in killing, kidnapping, and extortion throughout the country, particularly in ethnically and religiously mixed governorates. Media reported that in April members of the Peace Brigades PMF militia and Federal Police killed Brigadier General Shareef Ismaeel al-Murshidi, a brigade commander whose forces were tasked with protecting the prime minister and Baghdad’s Green Zone, as well as two of his guards at a PMF checkpoint in Samarra, Salah al-Din Governorate. Media reported in August that members of the Banu al-Khazraj tribe in Dujail, Salah al-Din Governorate, alleged that AAH kidnapped and killed three tribal sheikhs in August the week after clashes between the two groups.

Civil society activists said Iran-aligned militias, specifically AAH, were also responsible for several attacks against prominent women. Human rights organizations reported that militia groups and their supporters posted threats on social media against specific female activists participating in protests in Basrah in September, and on September 25, activist Suad al-Ali was shot and killed in Basrah. Human rights activists stated they believed AAH was responsible, although police were also investigating the woman’s former husband. On September 27, armed gunmen shot and killed Iraqi social media star and model Tara Fares in Baghdad. Civil society groups said they believed an Iran-aligned militia, most likely AAH, killed Fares as well as the owners of three beauty centers in August and October (see section 6, Women).

Terrorist violence continued throughout the year, including ISIS attacks (see section 1.g.).

Unlawful killings by unidentified gunmen and politically motivated violence frequently occurred throughout the country. For example, in May police reported two unknown masked gunmen killed three people in a drive-by shooting in Basrah, and unidentified attackers shot and killed the mayor of Hammam al-Alil, near Mosul, as he left his home.

Ethnic and sectarian-based fighting continued in mixed governorates, although at lower rates than in 2017. While minority advocacy groups reported threats and attacks targeting their communities, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as based solely on ethnic or religious identity because religion, politics, and ethnicity were often closely linked.

On July 23, three gunmen, whom KRG authorities said had links to a terrorist group, forcibly entered a government building in central Erbil and killed a Christian employee. Authorities stated they believed the attackers, whom police eventually killed, targeted the victim because of his religion.

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

The constitution and law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Despite violence and other irregularities in the conduct of elections, citizens were generally able to exercise this right.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: In May the IHEC conducted elections for the Council of Representatives (COR)–the national parliament. International and local observers monitored the elections. Although observers declared the elections peaceful, allegations of fraud prompted parliament to order a recount of ballots in areas of Anbar, Kirkuk, Baghdad, and the IKR. Allegations of fraud included manipulation of electronic ballot tallies, ballot stuffing, and voter intimidation. The International Crisis Group reported in May on allegations in Kirkuk Governorate, noting that the Kurdish PUK party won in several non-Kurdish areas with historically low PUK support, and turnout in Kurdish areas was low compared both to past elections and to turnout in Turkmen and Arab areas. After the four main KRG opposition parties rejected the results of the May election, an armed force reportedly loyal to the PUK attacked the headquarters where top officials of the four parties were meeting in Sulaimaniyah Governorate. In June authorities arrested three police officers and an IHEC employee in connection with a fire that damaged IHEC warehouses in Baghdad where ballots and equipment from the May elections were stored. IHEC concluded its recount in August with no major changes to the initial results, and the Federal Supreme Court certified the results the same month.

Due to challenges in obtaining or replacing civil documentation, as well as last-minute changes to IHEC identification requirements, many IDPs were disenfranchised during the May elections.

The Kurdistan Independent High Electoral Commission held elections in September for the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament (IKP). Most observers witnessed only minor irregularities and saw no evidence of systemic fraud, but opposition parties alleged voter intimidation and systemic fraud, such as ballot stuffing and falsification of documents–without providing specifics–by the KDP and PUK.

Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties and coalition blocs tended to organize along either religious or ethnic lines, although some parties crossed sectarian lines. Membership in some political parties, particularly KDP and PUK in the IKR or major parties in central government-controlled territory, conferred special privileges and advantages in employment and education.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.

The constitution mandates that women constitute at least 25 percent of parliamentary and provincial council membership. In parliamentary elections during the year, 19 women received sufficient votes to win seats in the 329-seat COR without having to rely on the constitutional quota, compared with 22 in 2014. Sixty-five additional women were awarded seats based on the quota, raising the total number of seats women held to 84. Nonetheless, political discussions often reportedly marginalized female members of parliament. One woman was appointed to the cabinet formed during the fall.

As electoral candidates, women faced gender-based intimidation and abuse (see section 6, Women). For example, Intidhar Ahmed Jassim withdrew from the race after a sex video was circulated on social media purporting to show her in bed with a man. Local and international press reported similar social media incidents in April and May, including sex tapes and photos allegedly showing women candidates kissing, posing in underwear, or dancing in revealing outfits.

Of the 329 seats in parliament, the law reserves nine seats for minorities: five for Christian candidates from Baghdad, Ninewa, Kirkuk, Erbil, and Duhok Governorates, respectively; one Yezidi; one Sabean-Mandaean; one Shabak; and, following a parliamentary decision in February, one for Faili Kurds in Wasit Governorate. One Christian was appointed to the new cabinet.

Following complaints by Yezidi activists, the Federal Supreme Court ruled in January that the Yezidi minority must have more seats in the country’s parliament, reflective of the size of the community, but the decision was not implemented during the year. The Yezidi member of parliament welcomed the decision, stating to local media that this meant there should be five Yezidi representatives in the parliament, as the minority numbered more than 500,000 in the country and the court ruled that there should be one seat per 100,000 population.

The KRG reserves 30 percent of parliamentary and provincial council membership for women. Female candidates won 34 of 111 seats in the IKP in the 2018 elections, compared with 33 in the 2013 IKP elections.

Of 111 seats in the IKP, the law reserves 11 seats for minorities along ethnic, rather than religious lines: five for (predominantly Christian) Chaldo-Assyrian candidates, five for Turkmen candidates, and one for Armenian candidates. No seats are reserved for self-described groups whom the KRG considers ethnically Kurdish or Arab, such as Yezidis, Shabak, Sabean-Mandaeans, Kaka’i, and Faili Kurds.

Major political parties partnered with, or in some cases created, affiliated minority political parties in both the central government and IKR elections and encouraged other Iraqis to vote for allied minority candidates for quota seats in the COR and IKP. Minority community activists complained that this process disenfranchised them, and they advocated for electoral reform to limit voting for minority quota seats to voters of the relevant minority, as well as for additional quota seats in the COR and IKP.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and sexual assault of women, men, and children, but not specifically spousal rape, and permits a sentence not exceeding 15 years, or life imprisonment if the victim dies. The rape provisions of the law do not define, clarify, or otherwise describe “consent,” leaving the term up to judicial interpretation. The law requires authorities to drop a rape case if the perpetrator marries the victim, with a provision protecting against divorce within the first three years of marriage. The victim’s family sometimes agreed to this arrangement to avoid the social stigma attached to rape. There were no reliable estimates of the incidence of rape or information on the effectiveness of government enforcement of the law.

Humanitarian protection experts assessed that conditions in IDP camps were highly conducive to sexual exploitation and abuse. Amnesty reported in April that women in IDP camps with alleged ties to ISIS were particularly vulnerable to abuse, including rape by government forces and other IDPs (see sections 1.c. and 2.d.).

Although the constitution prohibits “all forms of violence and abuse in the family,” the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence but stipulates that men may discipline their wives and children “within certain limits prescribed by law or by custom.” The law provided reduced sentences for violence or killing if the perpetrator had “honorable motives” or if the perpetrator caught his wife or female relative in the act of adultery or sex outside of marriage. Domestic violence remained a pervasive problem.

The government made some progress on implementation of its 2016 joint communique with UNAMI on the Prevention and Response to Conflict-related Sexual Violence in 2016, but human rights organizations reported that the criminal justice system was often unable to provide adequate protection for women.

Likewise, NGOs reported that the government made minimal progress in implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security despite an implementation plan launched in 2016. The KRG High Council of Women’s Affairs reported that neither the central government nor the KRG had allocated a budget for implementing this resolution.

Harassment of legal personnel who sought to pursue domestic violence cases under laws criminalizing assault, as well as a lack of trained police and judicial personnel, further hampered efforts to prosecute perpetrators.

The government and KRG also struggled to address the physical and mental trauma endured by women who lived under ISIS rule. In September, UNHCR reported almost 30 suicides, most by Yezidi women, in six IDP camps in Duhok Governorate since the beginning of the year, a number UNHCR believed to be underreported.

While the law does not explicitly prohibit NGOs from running shelters for victims of gender-based crimes, the law allows the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to determine if a shelter may remain open, and the ministry did not do so. As a result, only the Ministry could operate shelters in central government-controlled territory. NGOs that operated unofficial shelters faced legal penalties for operating such shelters without a license (see section 5). NGOs reported that communities often viewed the shelters as brothels and asked the government to close them; on occasion, shelters were subject to attacks. In order to appease community concerns, the ministry regularly closed shelters, only to allow them to reopen in another location later.

The Ministry of Interior maintained 16 family protection units under police authority around the country, located in separate buildings at police stations around the country, designed to resolve domestic disputes and establish safe refuges for victims of sexual or gender-based violence. These units reportedly tended to prioritize family reconciliation over victim protection and lacked the capacity to support victims. NGOs stated that victims of domestic violence feared approaching the family protection units because they suspected that police would inform their families of their testimony. Amnesty’s April report details similar concerns from women in IDP camps. Some tribal leaders in the south reportedly banned their members from seeking redress through police family protection units, claiming domestic abuse was a family matter. The family protection units in most locations did not operate shelters.

In December the BBC visited secret shelters for domestic violence victims in the country, reporting a call for help from one woman who claimed to be imprisoned in Mosul, Ninewa Governorate, by family members and physically abused on a daily basis during a three-year period.

KRG law criminalizes domestic violence, including physical and psychological abuse, threats of violence, and spousal rape. The KRG implemented the provisions of the law and maintained a special police force to investigate cases of gender-based violence and a family reconciliation committee within the judicial system, but local NGOs reported that these programs were not effective at combating gender-based violence.

In the IKR one privately operated shelter and four KRG Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs-operated shelters provided some protection and assistance for female victims of gender-based violence and human trafficking. Space reportedly was limited, and service delivery reportedly was poor. NGOs played a key role in providing services, including legal aid, to victims of domestic violence, who often received no assistance from the government. Instead of using legal remedies, authorities frequently mediated between women and their families so that the women could return to their homes. Other than marrying or returning to their families, which often resulted in further victimization by the family or community, there were few options for women accommodated at shelters.

As of September authorities reported more than 3,200 Yezidis, mainly women and children, remained in ISIS captivity, where they were subject to sexual slavery and exploitation, forced marriage, and other abuses.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): NGOs and the KRG reported the practice of FGM/C persisted in the IKR, particularly in rural areas of Erbil, Sulaimaniyah, and Kirkuk Governorates, and among refugee communities, despite a ban on the practice in IKR law. Rates of FGM/C, however, reportedly continued to decline. FGM/C was not common outside the IKR.

A 2016 study (the most recent data available) by UNHCR, the KRG, and the international NGO Heartland Alliance, found almost 45 percent of women surveyed had been subject to FGM/C in the IKR, a decrease from previous years. NGOs attributed the reduction in FGM/C to the criminalization of the practice and sustained public outreach activities. For example, in April media reported on the efforts of activists like Kurdistan Rasul, a victim of FGM/C who encouraged men and women in IKR villages to end the practice.

Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law permitted honor as a lawful defense in violence against women, and so-called honor killings remained a serious problem throughout the country. A provision of the law limits a sentence for conviction of murder to a maximum of three years in prison if a man is on trial for killing his wife, girlfriend, or a female dependent due to suspicion that the victim was committing adultery or sex outside of marriage. UNAMI reported that several hundred women died each year from honor killings. Some families reportedly arranged honor killings to appear as suicides.

In August media reported that a bridegroom returned his bride to her parents the day after their wedding, complaining that she was not a virgin. A family member then reportedly beat her to death. Media reported that police arrested a male relative, but the motive remained a subject of public debate as of November.

During the year the KRG began prosecuting murders of women, including by honor killings, as homicides, meaning culprits convicted of honor killings were subject to penalties up to and including the death penalty. The KRG Ministry of Interior Directorate General of Combating Violence against Women confirmed that sentences in such cases sometimes reached 20 years. The ministry reported 14 cases of honor killings occurred in the IKR during the year, as of September.

There were reports that women and girls were sexually exploited through so-called temporary marriages, under which a man gives the family of the girl or woman dowry money in exchange for permission to “marry” her for a specified period. Destitute IDP families living in camps reportedly were especially vulnerable to this type of exploitation, as detailed in an April Amnesty report. NGOs reported some families opted to marry off their underage daughters in exchange for dowry money, believing the marriage was genuine, only to have the girl returned to them, sometimes pregnant, only months later.

Government officials and international and local NGOs also reported that the traditional practice of fasliya, whereby family members, including women and children, are traded to settle tribal disputes, remained a problem, particularly in southern governorates.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual relations outside marriage, including sexual harassment. Penalties include fines of up to only 30 dinars (2.5 cents) or imprisonment or both not to exceed three months for a first-time offender. The law provides relief from penalties if unmarried participants marry. The law prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. No information was available regarding the effectiveness of government enforcement, but penalties were very low. In most areas there were few or no publicly provided women’s shelters, information, support hotlines, and little or no sensitivity training for police. Refugees and IDPs reported regular sexual harassment, both in camps and cities in the IKR.

In the absence of shelters, authorities often detained or imprisoned sexual harassment victims for their own protection. Some women, without alternatives, became homeless.

Female political candidates suffered harassment online and on social media, including posting of, often fake, nude or salacious photos and videos meant to harm their campaigns (see section 3).

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization by government authorities. Unlike previous years, there were no reports of coerced abortion by ISIS or other armed groups of pregnancies of Yezidi captive women.

Discrimination: The Council of Ministers’ Iraqi Women Empowerment Directorate is the lead government body on women’s issues. Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. Criminal, family, religious, personal status, labor, and inheritance laws discriminate against women. Women experienced discrimination in such areas as marriage, divorce, child custody, employment, pay, owning or managing businesses or property, education, the judicial process, and housing.

For example, in a court of law, a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man in some cases and is equal in other cases. The law generally permits women to initiate divorce proceedings against their spouses, but the law does not entitle a divorced woman to alimony other than child support or two years financial maintenance in some cases; in other cases the woman must return all or part of her dowry or otherwise pay a sum of money to the husband. Under the law the father is the guardian of the children, but a divorced mother may be granted custody of her children until age 10, extendable by a court up to age 15, at which time the child may choose with which parent he or she wishes to live.

All recognized religious groups have their own personal status courts responsible for handling marriage, divorce, and inheritance issues, and discrimination toward women on personal status issues varies depending on the religious group. The government’s interpretation of sharia is the basis of inheritance law for all citizens except recognized religious minorities. In all communities, male heirs must provide financial support to female relatives who inherit less. If they do not, women have the right to sue.

The law provides women and men equal rights in owning or managing land or other property, but cultural and religious norms impeded women’s property rights, especially in rural areas.

Law and custom generally do not respect freedom of movement for women. For example, the law prevents a woman from applying for a passport without the consent of her male guardian or a legal representative (see section 2.d.). Women could not obtain the Civil Status Identification Document–required for access to public services, food assistance, health care, employment, education, and housing–without the consent of a male relative.

In March media reported on the work of the Shahrazad Center to fight gender discrimination. One female journalist, Israa Tariq, went to the center for legal assistance after the television station she worked for, al-Nahar, did not pay her salary for three months. Another woman, “Houda,” went to the center for legal assistance after her husband left her to raise their two children without paying legally required child support.

NGOs also reported cases in which courts changed the registration of Yezidi women to Muslim against their will because of their forced marriage to ISIS fighters.

Although the KRG provided some additional protections to women, in most respects, KRG law mirrors federal law, and women faced discrimination. Beginning in May, public prosecutors in Kurdistan began accepting the testimony of women in court on an equal basis with that of men. KRG law allows women to set as a prenuptial condition the right to divorce her husband, beyond the limited circumstances allowed by Iraqi law, and provides a divorced wife up to five years alimony beyond childcare.

The KRG maintained a High Council of Women’s Affairs and a Women’s Rights Monitoring Board to enforce the law, and prevent and respond to discrimination.

Children

Birth Registration: The constitution states that anyone born to at least one citizen parent is a citizen. Failure to register births resulted in the denial of public services such as education, food, and health care. Single women and widows often had problems registering their children. Although in most cases authorities provided birth certificates after registration of the birth through the Ministries of Health and Interior, this was reportedly a lengthy and at times complicated process. The government was generally committed to children’s rights and welfare, although it denied benefits to noncitizen children. Humanitarian organizations reported a widespread problem of children born to members of ISIS or in ISIS-held territory failing to receive a government-issued birth certificate.

Education: Primary education is compulsory for citizen children for the first six years of schooling–and until age 15 in the IKR; it is provided without cost to citizens. Equal access to education for girls remained a challenge, particularly in rural and insecure areas. Recent, reliable statistics on enrollment, attendance, or completion were not available.

In January, UNICEF reported that children comprised almost one-half of Iraqis displaced by conflict. Displacement limited access to education; at least 70 percent of displaced children missed a year of school. In February, UNICEF reported that one-half of all schools in Iraq required repairs following the territorial defeat of ISIS and that more than three million children have had their education interrupted.

Child Abuse: Although the constitution prohibits “all forms of violence and abuse in the family,” the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence but stipulates that men may discipline their wives and children “within certain limits prescribed by law or by custom.” The law provides protections for children who were victims of domestic violence or were in shelters, state houses, and orphanages, including access to health care and education. Violence against children reportedly remained a significant problem, but recent, reliable statistics on the extent of the problem were not available. Local NGOs reported the government made little progress in implementing its 2017 National Child Protection Policy.

KRG law criminalizes domestic violence, including physical and psychological abuse and threats of violence. The KRG implemented the provisions of the law, but local NGOs reported these programs were not effective at combating child abuse. The KRG’s Ministries of Labor and Social Affairs, Education, and Culture and Youth operated a toll-free hotline to report violations against, or seek advice regarding children’s rights.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18, but the law allows a judge to permit children as young as age 15 to marry if fitness and physical capacity are established and the guardian does not present a reasonable objection. The law criminalizes forced marriage but does not automatically void forced marriages that have been consummated. The government reportedly made few efforts to enforce the law. Traditional early and forced marriages of girls, including temporary marriages, occurred throughout the country.

In July the Ledia Organization, a local NGO, released a report finding a significant increase in early marriage due to conflict and economic instability, as many families arranged for girls to marry cousins or into polygamous households to prevent forced marriages to ISIS fighters. Others gave their daughters as child brides to ISIS or other armed groups as a means to ensure their safety, access to public services in occupied territories, or livelihood opportunities for the entire family.

In the IKR the legal minimum age of marriage is 18, but KRG law allows a judge to permit children as young as age 16 to marry under the same conditions applied in the rest of the country. KRG law criminalizes forced marriage and suspends, but does not automatically, void forced marriages that have been consummated. According to the KRG High Council of Women’s Affairs, refugees and IDPs in the IKR engaged in child marriage and polygamy at a higher rate than IKR residents.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering or procuring for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. Child prostitution was a problem, as were temporary marriages, particularly among the IDP population. Because the age of legal criminal responsibility is nine in the areas administered by the central government and 11 in the IKR, authorities often treated sexually exploited children as criminals instead of victims. Penalties for commercial exploitation of children range from fines and imprisonment to the death penalty. No information was available regarding the effectiveness of government enforcement.

Child Soldiers: Certain PMF units, including AAH, HHN, and KH, reportedly recruited and used child soldiers, despite government prohibition. The PKK HPG and YBS Yezidi militias also reportedly continued to recruit and use child soldiers. ISIS was known to recruit and use child soldiers (see section 1.g.).

Displaced Children: Insecurity and active conflict between government forces and ISIS caused the continued displacement of large numbers of children. Abuses by government forces, particularly certain PMF groups, contributed to displacement. Due to the conflict in Syria, children and single mothers from Syria took refuge in the IKR. UNICEF reported that almost one-half of IDPs were children.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

A very small number of Jewish citizens lived in Baghdad. According to unofficial statistics from the KRG Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs, there were approximately 430 Jewish families in the IKR. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts in the country during the year.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The constitution states the government, through law and regulations, guarantees the social and health security of persons with disabilities, including through protection against discrimination and provision of housing and special programs of care and rehabilitation. Despite constitutional guarantees, no laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities. Persons with disabilities had limited access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services.

Although the Council of Ministers issued a decree in 2016 ordering access for persons with disabilities to buildings and to educational and work settings, incomplete implementation limited access. Local NGOs reported many children with disabilities dropped out of public school due to insufficient physical access to school buildings, a lack of appropriate learning materials in schools, and a shortage of teachers qualified to work with children with developmental or intellectual disabilities.

The minister of labor and social affairs leads the Independent Commission for the Care of People with Disabilities. Any Iraqi citizen applying to receive disability-related government services must first receive a commission evaluation. The KRG deputy minister of labor and social affairs leads a similar commission, administered by a special director within the ministry. In July a group of persons with disabilities burnt their wheelchairs in front of the IKP office in Sulaimaniya in protest, alleging that the KRG commission arbitrarily denied benefits to those who qualified.

There is a 5 percent public-sector employment quota for persons with disabilities, but employment discrimination persisted, and observers projected that the quota would not be met by the end of the year (see section 7.d.). Mental health support for prisoners with mental disabilities did not exist.

The Ministry of Health provided medical care, benefits, and rehabilitation, when available, for persons with disabilities, who could also receive benefits from other agencies, including the Prime Minister’s Office. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs operated several institutions for children and young adults with disabilities. The ministry maintained loans programs for persons with disabilities for vocational training.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The country’s population included Arabs, Kurds, Turkmen, and Shabaks, as well as ethnic and religious minorities, including Chaldeans, Assyrians, Armenians, Yezidis, Sabean-Mandaeans, Baha’i, Kaka’i, and a very small number of Jews. The country also had a small Romani (Dom) community, as well as an estimated 500,000 citizens of African descent who reside primarily in Basrah and adjoining governorates. Because religion, politics, and ethnicity were often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as based solely on ethnic or religious identity.

The law did not permit some religious groups, including Baha’i, Zoroastrian, and Kaka’i, to register under their professed religions, which, although recognized in the IKR, remain unrecognized and illegal under Iraqi law. The law forbids Muslims to convert to another religion (see sections 2.d. and section 6, Children).

Government forces, particularly certain PMF groups, and other militias targeted ethnic and religious minorities, as did remaining active ISIS fighters.

For example, following the return of central government control in Kirkuk in October 2017, Kurds, Turkmen, Kaka’i, Christians, and other minorities faced discrimination, displacement, and in some cases, violence from government forces, particularly Iran-aligned PMF groups. Media outlets carried numerous reports of PMF groups invading, looting, and burning the houses of Kurds, Sunni Turkmen, Sunni Arabs, and other ethnic minorities in Kirkuk Governorate. Kurds faced similar violence in Khanaqin, a majority Kurdish city in Diyala Governorate that also passed from KRG to central government control in October 2017. Discrimination continued to stoke ethnosectarian tensions in the disputed territories throughout the year. In August, four Kurds, including a Peshmerga, were beheaded by unknown attackers. The Kaka’i community in Daquq, Kirkuk Governorate, continued to suffer threats, attacks, and assassinations, which Kaka’i civil society groups claimed accelerated under PMF occupation of the area.

Many persons of African descent, some stateless, lived in extreme poverty with high rates of illiteracy and unemployment. They were not represented in politics, and members held no senior government positions. Furthermore, they stated that discrimination kept them from obtaining government employment. Members of the community also struggled to obtain restitution for lands seized from them during the Iran-Iraq war.

There were reports of KRG authorities discriminating against minorities, including Turkmen, Arabs, Yezidis, Shabaks, and Christians, in the disputed territories. For example, courts rarely upheld Christians’ legal complaints against Kurds regarding land and property disputes.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

While the law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults per se, authorities used public indecency or prostitution charges to prosecute such conduct. Authorities used the same charges to arrest heterosexual persons involved in sexual relations with anyone other than their spouse. The constitution and law do not extend antidiscrimination protections to LGBTI individuals based on their sexual orientation.

Despite repeated threats and violence targeting LGBTI individuals, specifically gay men, the government failed to identify, arrest, or prosecute attackers or to protect targeted individuals.

LGBTI persons often faced abuse and violence from government and nongovernmental actors that the government did not effectively investigate. In June LGBTI advocacy NGO IraQueer reported 96 percent of surveyed LGBTI individuals experienced threats or violence between 2015 and June. IraQueer reported in June that more than 220 LGBTI individuals were killed in 2017 and stated that the government had not taken steps to prosecute those responsible. In October a video circulated on social media showing a 14-year-old boy dying after being stabbed in an apparent homophobic attack in central Baghdad. In the video the attackers taunted the victim, asking who his boyfriend was and telling him his guts were coming out of his body. In addition to targeted violence, LGBTI persons remained at risk for honor crimes. For example, in July media reported that a father had killed his 12-year-old son because he was playing with his friends in Hamza al-Sharqi, al-Qadisiyah Governorate, but some commentators claimed he was killed for same-sex sexual conduct with his friends.

Local contacts reported that certain PMF groups, including specifically AAH, drafted LGBTI “kill lists” and executed men perceived as gay, bisexual, or transgender, as did ISIS when it still retained territorial control.

LGBTI individuals also faced intimidation, threats, violence, and discrimination in the IKR. In June IraQueer reported the experience of Rawa, a 26-year-old gay man from Duhok Governorate who said he was unable to keep his job because of sexual harassment and violence. Rawa told IraQueer, “I was raped by my boss when I was working as a barista. He then threatened that he would report me to the police if I said anything. I had no choice but to escape.” An IKR-based human rights NGO director reported that otherwise-dedicated members of his staff refused to advocate for LGBTI human rights based on their misperception that LGBTI persons are mentally ill.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Because religion, politics, and ethnicity were often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as based solely on ethnic or religious identity.

Media reported criminal networks and some PMF groups seized Christian properties in Baghdad, as well as areas of Anbar, Babil, Basrah, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninewa, and Wasit Governorates, with relative impunity, despite pledges by the Prime Minister’s Office to open investigations into the seizures. Yezidis likewise complained about property seizures, intimidation, threats, abuses, and discrimination by certain Iran-aligned PMF groups operating in and around Sinjar, Ninewa Governorate.

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