Populations at Risk
The armed extremist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has committed genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Iraq. As they confront ISIL, some Iraqi Security Forces, Kurdish Peshmerga and Shia militias have also committed possible war crimes.
During July 2014 the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized vast territory across northern Iraq. Since then, a coalition comprised mainly of the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Kurdish Peshmerga, operating with United States air support, has been fighting to recapture cities from ISIL. On 21 November the government announced the end of major anti-ISIL military operations following the liberation of the last districts under ISIL control in Anbar governorate. Nevertheless, sporadic clashes with ISIL fighters have continued across parts of Nineveh governorate, where approximately 1 million people remain displaced.
According to a joint report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), at least 2,521 civilians were killed during the October 2016-July 2017 military operation to retake Mosul from ISIL. During the battles for Mosul and Hawija ISIL fighters used civilians as human shields and targeted and killed civilians attempting to flee areas under their control.
Despite their overall military defeat, ISIL fighters continue to pose a threat to vulnerable ethnic and religious minorities, including Christians, Shabak, Yazidis and Turkmen. UNAMI and OHCHR have reported that ISIL's past violations, "may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and possibly genocide." OHCHR and UNAMI have reported that at least 94 mass graves have been found in formerly ISIL-held territory since June 2014. On 12 November the ISF reported the discovery of a mass grave near Hawija which contains up to 400 bodies of civilians and security personnel.
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria has also reported that ISIL "has committed the crime of genocide as well as multiple crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Yazidis" in Iraq. It is estimated that at least 6,450 Yazidi men, women and children have disappeared. ISIL also routinely targets civilians from the majority Shia population in sectarian terrorist attacks.
The United States-led coalition has been conducting airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq since August 2014, following the Iraqi government's request for assistance after the group seized the northern town of Sinjar. The coalition was responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths during 2017, including up to 200 civilians killed in a single airstrike in Mosul on 17 March.
OHCHR has expressed concern at reports of forced evictions and killings committed by Iraqi and Kurdish security forces and affiliated militias against Sunni communities in parts of Iraq that have been reclaimed from ISIL. Since Mosul was retaken, there have been reports of torture, extrajudicial killings and other reprisals against suspected ISIL members and their families. Additionally, UNAMI has expressed concerns at mass executions of alleged ISIL members, including the hanging of 42 condemned prisoners on 25 September and 38 prisoners on 14 December.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that as of November 11 million people in Iraq – one third of the population – were still in need of humanitarian assistance, with 3 million people still internally displaced.
Despite losing its territory within Iraq during 2017, ISIL still poses a threat to Iraq's ethnic and religious minorities, as well as members of the majority Shia community. ISIL is committed to the extermination of all religious communities that do not conform to its strict interpretation of Islam.
Having jointly defeated ISIL, conflict between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the central government in Baghdad poses a threat to the safety and security of vulnerable civilians. Some Shia militias, mobilized by the government to fight ISIL, now pose a direct threat to Sunni civilians and threaten the stability and cohesion of the country. Cultural identities and religious loyalties continue to be manipulated by various political forces in Iraq. The Iraqi government must take active steps to facilitate reconciliation amongst the various ethnic and religious communities in Iraq and minimize the risk of recurring armed conflict.
The Iraqi government needs ongoing international assistance to uphold its Responsibility to Protect.
On 14 July the UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted Resolution 2367, renewing the mandate of UNAMI until 31 July 2018.
Following a request by the Iraqi government for international assistance to pursue accountability for atrocities perpetrated by ISIL, on 21 September the UNSC authorized the establishment of an Investigative Team to support domestic accountability efforts by collecting evidence regarding potential war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Iraq. The team will be headed by a Special Adviser to be appointed by the Secretary-General, and will consist of both international and domestic experts.
While continuing to battle ISIL and other armed extremist groups, it is essential that the Iraqi government protects all civilians and addresses the underlying sources of conflict between Sunnis, Shias and Kurds. The government of Iraq and the KRG should actively prevent any further political polarization and armed conflict.
As anti-ISIL operations end, all relevant authorities should investigate and punish human rights abuses and actively prevent reprisals against Sunni civilians in areas recaptured from ISIL. The Iraqi government should take steps to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate members of the "Popular Mobilization Forces," and accelerate security sector reform.
UN member states should fully cooperate with the Investigative Team established by Iraq and the UNSC, and provide technical assistance. The government of Iraq should adopt enabling legislation to incorporate genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity into domestic law. All perpetrators of atrocities in Iraq, regardless of affiliation, should be held accountable for their crimes.
Last Updated: 15 January 2018