Overview:  The primary terrorist threats within Iraq are the remnants of ISIS’s Iraq province and Iran-aligned militia groups (IAMGs), which include U.S.-designated Kata’ib Hezbollah, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, and Harakat al-Nujaba.  The U.S.-designated Kurdistan Workers’ Party, headquartered in the mountains of northern Iraq, operates in the vicinity of Sinjar, Ninewa province, in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR).

There was a significant decrease in terrorist attacks in 2022, compared with the previous two years, thanks to the increasing effectiveness of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) in combating terrorism.  The ISF generally acted decisively in engagements and demonstrated increasing capabilities in counterterrorism (CT) planning, operations, and investigations.  After the killing of ISIS leaders Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi in February and Abu al-Hasan al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi in October, new ISIS leader Abu al-Husayn al-Husayni al-Qurayshi assumed control of the group in November per ISIS social media accounts.  Despite the decline in ISIS’s ability to carry out large attacks in Iraq, it maintained operational outposts in locations along the border of Syria.  During 2022, ISIS continued to conduct operations, but at a smaller scale, particularly in the North and the West of Iraq and in rural areas with limited ISF presence.  ISIS sought to reestablish footholds in Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Ninewa, and Salah al-Din provinces, particularly in areas infrequently patrolled by the Kurdistan Regional Government or ISF.

Iraqi counterterrorism functions are principally executed by the Counterterrorism Service (CTS), a Cabinet-level entity reporting directly to the prime minister, as well as by various security forces under the Ministries of Defense and Interior and the Kurdish Peshmerga.  In limited instances, Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) augment Iraqi Army- and CTS-led operations.  While all PMF are required by law to operate as part of the ISF, many PMF groups continued to defy central government command and control and engaged in violent and destabilizing activities in Iraq and neighboring Syria.  Attacks by IAMGs against U.S. interests in Iraq decreased in 2022.

Terrorist Incidents

During 2022, Iraq saw a decrease in the volume of terrorist attacks, but ISIS and other groups continued to execute attacks using complex tactics.  Iraq’s CTS estimates that 408 terrorist attacks occurred in 2022.  Noteworthy incidents included these three:

  • On January 21, ISIS members launched a complex attack on an Iraqi Army outpost in Diyala province, killing 11 soldiers, according to national and international press reports and government sources.
  • On May 24, in two separate ambushes, ISIS killed 12 and wounded six victims in the South of the Kirkuk province, per Iraqi press and government sources.
  • On December 18, nine Iraqi federal police members were killed in an IED attack against a patrol in the Riyadh district of Kirkuk province, according to government

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security  

Iraq has multiple security, law enforcement, and intelligence organizations with overlapping responsibilities, including the CTS, the National Security Services, the Iraqi National Intelligence Service, military intelligence, and assorted Ministry of Interior units, including national and local police.  The United States assisted Iraqi CT efforts by providing training, equipment, and other assistance to these organizations.

Iraq made no significant changes to its CT legal and law enforcement framework in 2022.  Human rights groups reported that authorities arrested suspects in security sweeps without warrants and frequently held them for prolonged periods without charge.  Human rights groups allege that security forces use the threat of terrorism to detain, arrest, prosecute, and harass independent journalists and civil society activists perceived as critical to the government.  Courts routinely accepted forced confessions as evidence; in some ISIS-related cases, this was the only evidence.

The Government of Iraq (GOI) issued Executive Order 237 in 2019 to further its control over Iran-aligned, Iraq-backed PMF.  However, several of these groups continued to defy central government command and control and instigated violent and destabilizing activities in Iraq and neighboring Syria.

Border security and corruption remained a critical vulnerability.  The ISF has limited capability to fully secure Iraq’s borders with Syria and Iran.  Border security along Iraq’s borders (including in the IKR) is administered by the Border Guard Security Force, with the ISF or Peshmerga deployed in support.  The border with Syria near Türkiye remained especially porous.  Iranian-backed PMF units continued to maintain a presence at and around Iraq’s major border crossings.  The GOI reopened the Iraq-Syria border crossing in al-Qa’im under the Federal Border Police’s control.  However, various PMF units positioned themselves north and south of the main checkpoint.

The Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the Export Control and Related Border Security continued a two-year train-the-trainer program for several hundred Iraqi border guards.

While the Ministry of Interior shared biometric information on suspected terrorists upon request with the United States, INTERPOL, and other partners, a biometric information-sharing program was not finalized by the government.  The GOI engaged in preliminary discussions with INTERPOL to eventually make use of INTERPOL databases.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism:  Iraq is a member of the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, and its FIU is the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Office.  There were no significant changes in 2022.

Countering Violent Extremism:  Iraq continued strategic messaging to discredit ISIS, in part by providing significant content to the Coalition Communications Cell.  Many Iraqi ISIS fighters remained in Iraqi custody, while many Iraqi civilians, including some family members of ISIS members, remained in displaced persons camps.  Iraq acknowledged that the return and social reintegration of family members of suspected ISIS supporters, as well as the provision of fair and equal justice, is important to prevent future terrorism and radicalization to violence.

However, almost 1.2 million Iraqis remained displaced within Iraq and an estimated 27,000 Iraqis — predominantly women and children — resided in the al-Hol refugee camp in Syria.  The GOI repatriated 200 suspected ISIS fighters from detention facilities in northeastern Syria, as well as 2,366 Iraqi nationals, mostly women and children, from al-Hol.  IAMGs routinely used threatening messaging to promote violent extremism and protect their power throughout Iraq.

International and Regional Cooperation:  Iraq continued to work with multilateral and regional organizations — including the United Nations, the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, NATO, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, INTERPOL, and the League of Arab States — to support counterterrorism efforts.

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