Iraq is a constitutional parliamentary republic. The October 10 parliamentary elections were generally considered free and fair. The elections were observed by the European Union and domestic civil society organizations and monitored by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq. Domestic and international elections observers cited procedural and transparency improvements to the electoral process over the 2018 elections. They noted, however, that violence and intimidation by paramilitary militia groups in the months ahead of the elections likely affected voters’ choice and voter turnout. The elections came because of widespread protests that began in October 2019 and led to the resignation of former prime minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi in December 2019. Parliament confirmed Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi in May 2020.
Numerous domestic security forces operate throughout the country. The Iraqi Security Forces are organized administratively within the Ministries of Interior and Defense, as well as within the quasi-ministerial Counterterrorism Service. The Ministry of Interior is responsible for domestic law enforcement and maintenance of order; it oversees 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 protecting energy infrastructure. Conventional military forces under the Ministry of Defense also carry out counterterrorism and internal security operations in conjunction with the Ministry of Interior. The Counterterrorism Service reports directly to the prime minister and oversees the Counterterrorism Command, an organization that includes three brigades of special operations forces. The National Security Service intelligence agency reports directly to the prime minister.
The country’s regular armed forces and domestic law enforcement bodies struggled to maintain order within the country, operating in parallel with the Popular Mobilization Committee, a state-sponsored umbrella military organization composed of approximately 60 militia groups, also known as Popular Mobilization Forces. Although the Popular Mobilization Forces are part of the Iraqi Security forces and receive funding from the government’s defense budget, their operations are often outside government control and in opposition to government policies. Most popular mobilization unit members are Shia Arabs, reflecting the demographics of the country, while Sunni Arab, Yezidi, Christian, and other minority groups tended to organize their own units, generally operating within or near their home regions. All popular mobilization units officially report to the chairman of the Popular Mobilization Committee and are under the ultimate authority of the prime minister, but several units were in practice also responsive to Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The two main Kurdish political parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, each maintain an independent security apparatus. Under the federal constitution, the Kurdistan Regional Government has the right to maintain internal security forces, but the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party separately control additional Peshmerga military units, as well as separate police forces under nominal Kurdistan Regional Government Ministry of Interior control. The constitution also allows for a centralized, separate Asayish internal security service; however, the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan also each maintain Asayish forces. The Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan also maintain separate intelligence services, nominally organized under the Kurdistan Region Security Council.
Federal civilian authorities did not maintain effective control over some elements of the security forces, particularly certain Iran-aligned Popular Mobilization Force units and the Popular Mobilization Committee. Poorly defined administrative boundaries and disputed territories between the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and the central government led to confusion over the jurisdiction of security forces and the courts. Members of the security forces committed numerous documented abuses.
The country experienced large-scale protests in Baghdad and several Shia-majority provinces beginning in 2019 and lasting through mid-2020, with reports of more than 500 civilians killed and 20,000 or more injured. During the year sporadic protests continued amid a campaign of targeted violence against activists. The government took minimal steps to bring to justice those responsible for the violence.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; punishment of family members for offenses allegedly committed by an individual; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by the Popular Mobilization Forces; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and existence of criminal libel laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on freedom of movement of women; forced returns of internally displaced persons to locations where they faced threats to their lives and freedom; threats of violence against internally displaced persons and returnee populations perceived to have been affiliated with ISIS; serious government corruption; lack of investigation and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes involving violence targeting members of ethnic minority groups; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; significant restrictions on worker freedom of association; and the existence of the worst forms of child labor.
The government, including the Office of the Prime Minister, took some steps to identify, investigate, and prosecute, but rarely punished, those officials responsible for perpetrating or authorizing human rights abuses. Many senior government officials and security force personnel, including the Iraqi Security Forces, Federal Police, Popular Mobilization Forces, and certain units of Kurdistan Regional Government Asayish internal security services, operated with impunity. The government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who were involved in corruption.
Despite a reduction in numbers, ISIS continued to commit serious abuses and atrocities, including killings through suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices. The government continued investigations and prosecutions of allegations of ISIS abuses and atrocities and, in some instances, noted the conviction of suspected ISIS members under the counterterrorism law.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but there were numerous reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions. Government forces often entered homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization.
Authorities reportedly detained spouses and other family members of fugitives – mostly Sunni Arabs wanted on terrorism charges – to compel the fugitives to surrender.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The government occasionally limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The constitution provides for freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration “regulated by law,” and the government generally respected this right. Regulations require protest organizers to request permission seven days in advance of a demonstration and submit detailed information regarding the applicants, the reason for the protest, and participants. The regulations prohibit all “slogans, signs, printed materials, or drawings” involving “sectarianism, racism, or segregation” of citizens. The regulations also prohibit anything that would violate the constitution or law; encourage violence, hatred, or killing; or prove insulting to Islam, “honor, morals, religion, holy groups, or Iraqi entities in general.” Authorities generally issued permits in accordance with the regulations.
In June Amnesty International reported its investigation of 14 out of the more than 100 cases from the IKR’s Duhok Province known as the Badinan detainees. Observers alleged the detainees were arbitrarily arrested between March and October 2020 by Asayish and Parastin forces (Kurdistan Democratic Party intelligence) in connection with their participation in protests, criticism of local authorities, or journalistic work. Amnesty International found all members were held incommunicado for up to five months and at least six were forcibly disappeared for periods of up to three months; eight of them claimed they had been tortured or otherwise ill-treated during detention. Amnesty International further documented four instances of harassment or intimidation of family members of these individuals in detention or hiding, including by arrest and verbal threats. A December UNAMI and OHCHR report raised similar concerns. While trials for some Badinan detainees have concluded (see section 1.e), others remained in detention without charges.
Freedom of Association
The constitution provides for the right to form and join associations and political parties, with some exceptions. The government generally respected this right, except for the legal prohibitions against groups expressing support for the Baath Party or “Zionist principles.”
NGOs registered in Baghdad could operate in the IKR, but NGOs registered solely in the IKR could not operate in the rest of the country. As a result, some NGOs registered only in the IKR could not operate outside the IKR and KRG-controlled disputed territories.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape and sexual assault of women, men, and children, but does not specifically mention spousal rape; it 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 survivor, with a provision protecting against divorce within the first three years of marriage. The survivor’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.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, UNAMI reported a significant increase in the reports of rape, domestic violence, spousal abuse, immolation and self-immolation, self-inflicted injuries due to spousal abuse, sexual harassment of minors, and suicide due to increased household tensions because of COVID-19 lockdowns, as well as economic hardship due to the country’s declining economy. In February the Federal Police stated that domestic violence increased by nearly 20 percent because of the pandemic.
In the absence of legislation to combat domestic violence, each relevant central government ministry devised its own way to respond to domestic violence. Although the constitution prohibits “all forms of violence and abuse in the family,” the law does not specifically prohibit domestic violence. Men may discipline their wives and children “within certain limits prescribed by law or by custom” and reduced sentences for violence or killing are applicable if the perpetrator had “honorable motives” or if the perpetrator caught his wife or female relative in the act of adultery. Domestic violence remained a pervasive problem.
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 central government and KRG also struggled to address the physical and mental trauma endured by women who lived under ISIS rule. The Yezidi Survivors’ Law, passed by the COR in March, mandates a new Survivors’ Affairs Directorate under the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs to provide psychosocial support to victims of ISIS, including women and members of minority groups.
The Ministry of Interior maintained 16 family protection units under police authority, 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 survivors. NGOs stated that survivors of domestic violence feared approaching the family protection units because they suspected that police would inform their families of their testimony. 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.
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 these programs were not effective at combating gender-based violence.
Throughout the year the KRG General Directorate for Combatting Violence against Women and Families provided workshops and seminars to its law-enforcement officers and awareness campaigns about the impact of domestic violence on individuals and society. There was also a 24/7 hotline that received reports of violence: an average of 11,000 calls annually. Furthermore, the directorate, in coordination with the UN Population Fund, developed a mobile phone app to facilitate access to the hotline, which provided access to live consultations with psychologists and psychiatrists.
Two privately operated shelters and four KRG Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs-operated shelters provided some protection and assistance for female survivors of gender-based violence and human trafficking. Space was limited, and NGOs reported psychological and therapeutic services were poor. NGOs played a key role in providing services, including legal aid, to survivors 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.
The Council of Ministers of the Kurdistan Region formed a judicial body after ISIS took control of the Sinjar Region and surrounding areas to investigate and document claims of ISIS crimes including with recorded testimonies of victims, survivors, claimants, and witnesses. Cases filed with the courts through November totaled 4,206, including 1,191 cases that pertained specifically to ISIS crimes committed against women during the period of ISIS’s control over Sinjar district and other areas in the Mosul Province. Similarly, in Duhok Province an additional 2,036 cases of ISIS violence against women were filed with the courts; the cases were elevated to the level of the International Criminal Court.
The KRG also maintained a genocide center in Duhok for treatment, support, and rehabilitation for women who survived ISIS captivity, including investigating and documenting rape crimes; provides health and psychological services within camps; and ran a center through the KRG Directorate of Yezidi Affairs in the Ministry of Religious and Endowment Affairs for the rehabilitation of approximately 163 liberated women.
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, Sulaymaniyah, and Kirkuk Provinces, despite a ban on the practice in IKR law. Rates of FGM/C, however, reportedly continued to decline. NGOs attributed the reduction in FGM/C to the criminalization of the practice and sustained public outreach activities by civil society groups. FGM/C was not common outside the IKR.
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 a murder conviction to a maximum of three years in prison if a man is on trial for killing his wife or a female dependent due to suspicion that the victim was committing adultery or engaged in 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.
The KRG Ministry of Interior’s Directorate General of Combating Violence against Women confirmed 19 honor killing cases in the IKR as of September.
There were reports that women and girls were sexually exploited through so-called temporary, or pleasure, 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. Young women, widowed or orphaned by ISIS offensives, were especially vulnerable to this type of exploitation. In similar cases 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 months later, sometimes pregnant.
Government officials and international and local NGOs also reported that the traditional practice of nahwa, where a cousin, uncle, or other male relative of any woman may forbid or terminate her marriage to someone outside the family, remained a problem, particularly in southern provinces. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani called for an end to nahwas and fasliya (where women are traded to settle tribal disputes), but these traditions continued, especially in areas where tribal influence outweighed that of government institutions.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment, including in the workplace. Penalties for sexual harassment include fines of up to only 30 dinars (approximately two cents), imprisonment, or both, not to exceed three months for a first-time offender. The law provides relief from penalties if unmarried participants marry. No information was available regarding the effectiveness of government enforcement, but penalties were very low. In most areas there were few or no government-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.
Female political candidates suffered harassment online and on social media, including posting of fake, nude, or salacious photographs and videos meant to harm their campaigns and their reputations – often labeled as “staining their family’s honor.” The Iraqi Women’s Network NGO cited several cases of women candidates being targeted because of their gender during the election campaign. Local human rights NGOs stated that the harassment was particularly targeted against independent women candidates or those from new political parties that lacked recourse or political connections to government security services.
During the year NGOs reported security personnel asked female IDPs for sexual favors in exchange for provision of basic needs. This was especially prevalent among female IDPs previously living under ISIS control. In other cases criminal gangs exploited female IDPs and forced them into commercial sex.
The KRG’s High Council of Women’s Affairs and Directorate General of Combating Violence Against Women (DCVAW) stated there was a spike in online harassment of girls and women. Per the DCVAW, 75 percent of gender-based violence cases resulted from social networking sites.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. Hospitals provided menstrual health services free to women.
Various methods of contraception were widely available, including in the IKR; however, women in urban areas generally had greater access than those in rural parts of the country. A married woman could not be prescribed or use contraception without the consent of her husband. Unmarried single women were unable to obtain birth control. Divorced or widowed women did not have this same restriction.
Due to general insecurity in the country and attendant economic difficulties, many women received inadequate medical care. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that in some provinces the work of reproductive health and pregnancy care units, as well as health-awareness campaigns, had ceased almost entirely because of COVID-19’s impact on the health-care system.
In the IKR the KRG Ministry of Health reported that survivors of sexual violence received treatment from provincial health departments and emergency rooms. Judges, however, rarely considered forensic evidence that was collected. The government stated it provided full services for survivors of sexual violence and rape in all provinces because the law requires that survivors receive full health care and treatment. Emergency contraceptives were available as part of the clinical management of rape through government services and in private clinics, although advocates who worked with survivors reported many barriers to women accessing those contraceptives, as well as significant gaps in service delivery.
Discrimination: Although the constitution provides for equality between men and women, the law does not provide women the same legal status and rights as men. Criminal, family, religious, personal status, labor, and inheritance laws discriminate against 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 does not entitle a divorced woman to alimony other than child support or in some cases two years’ financial maintenance; 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 children may choose with which parent they wish to live.
All recognized religious groups have their own personal status courts responsible for handling marriage, divorce, and inheritance matters. Discrimination toward women on personal status matters varied depending on the religious group. The government’s interpretation of sharia is the basis of inheritance law for all citizens except members of recognized religious minority groups. 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.). 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.
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.
The KRG provided some additional legal protections to women, maintaining a High Council of ’s Affairs and a ’s Rights Monitoring Board to enforce the law and prevent and respond to discrimination, but such protections were applied inconsistently. Other portions of KRG law continue to mirror federal law, and women face discrimination. 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.
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; such registration 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 the widespread problem of children born to ISIS members or in ISIS-held territory failing to receive a government-issued birth certificate. As a result, an estimated 15,000 displaced children still lacked civil documentation, including birth certificates.
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 free to citizens. Equal access to education for girls remained a problem, particularly in rural and insecure areas.
Schools continued to be closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic through the end of the 2020-21 school year, keeping more than 10 million students out of school. UNICEF supported the Ministry of Education to broadcast lessons through education television and digital platforms. Children’s access to alternative learning platforms via the internet and television, however, was hindered by limited connectivity and availability of digital devices, as well as lack of electricity. Moreover, the Ministry for Directorates of Education had not issued directives for guiding the delivery of distance learning.
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 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 up-to-date, 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.
UNICEF reported that during the year at least 1.8 million children, half of them girls, were estimated to need at least one type of protective service. In addition, 1.3 million children needed assistance to continue their education; 38 percent of all children lived in poverty. UNICEF and its implementing partners continued to deliver psychosocial support; case management and specialized protection services for children, including birth registration; civil documentation and legal assistance; and capacity development for national partners.
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. Multiple reports of child abuse surfaced during the year. Activists reported sexual abuse and assault by relatives was widespread and that some victims did not report crimes due to fear of retribution by family members.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18, but the law allows a judge to permit children as young as 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. UNICEF data from 2018 indicated that 7 percent of girls were married by age 15 and 28 percent by age 18. UNHCR reported the continued prevalence of early marriage due to conflict and economic instability, since many families arranged for girls to marry cousins or into polygamous households. Others gave their daughters as child brides to armed groups to ensure 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 a child as young as 16 to marry if the individual is entering into the marriage voluntarily and has received permission from a legal guardian. 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. Some Kurdish men crossed over into federal Iraqi territory to acquire a child bride since the federal laws are not as strict.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, the offering or procuring of commercial sex, and practices related to child pornography. Child sex trafficking was a problem, as were temporary marriages, particularly among the IDP population. The minimum age of consensual sex is 18. 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. No information was available regarding the effectiveness of government enforcement.
Displaced Children: Insecurity and active conflict between government forces and ISIS caused the continued displacement of large numbers of children (see section 2.d.). 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