Populations at Risk
The potential for recurring armed conflict in Iraq leaves civilians at risk of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
During July 2014 the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) seized vast territory across northern Iraq. A military coalition comprised mainly of the Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdish Peshmerga, operating with United States air support, has successfully recaptured all major cities once occupied by ISIL. On 21 November the government announced the end of major anti-ISIL military operations. Nevertheless, sporadic clashes continue across parts of Nineveh governorate, where 641,400 people remain displaced.
The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (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 94 mass graves have been found in formerly ISIL-held territory since June 2014. 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.
Despite losing all their territory within Iraq during 2017, ISIL fighters continue to pose a threat to vulnerable ethnic and religious minorities, including Christians, Shabak, Yazidis and Turkmen. ISIL also continues to target civilians from the majority Shia population in terrorist attacks. Despite an increase in attacks against political figures, on 12 May Iraq successfully held national parliamentary elections.
OHCHR and human rights organizations have expressed concern at reports of forced evictions, killings, torture, sexual violence and denial of humanitarian aid to Sunni communities in parts of Iraq that have been reclaimed from ISIL. Iraqi courts have also reportedly sentenced 3,130 prisoners accused of links to ISIL to death. UNAMI has expressed concerns regarding the mass hanging of 42 ISIL prisoners on 25 September and 38 prisoners on 14 December. Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) security forces have also reportedly carried out extrajudicial executions of captured ISIL members.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that as of March 8.7 million people in Iraq – one third of the population – were still in need of humanitarian assistance, with 2.2 million people still internally displaced.
Cultural identities and religious loyalties continue to be manipulated by some forces in Iraq, posing a threat to the country's long-term political stability and social cohesion. Following successful parliamentary elections on 12 May the new Iraqi government must take active steps to facilitate reconciliation, counter violent extremism, 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.
On 21 September UNSC Resolution 2379 authorized the establishment of an Investigative Team to support domestic accountability efforts by collecting evidence regarding potential atrocities committed by ISIL in Iraq. The team has not yet been operationalized.
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, Kurds and other minorities within Iraq.
All relevant authorities must actively prevent reprisals against Sunni civilians in areas recaptured from ISIL. The Iraqi government should take steps to demobilize and reintegrate members of the Popular Mobilization Forces, and accelerate security sector reform.
UN member states should support the Investigative Team established by Iraq and the UNSC by providing financial and 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 May 2018
The five most recent issues of R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert are available in the side-bar. To see previous assessments of this country, please see R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert on our Publications page. Iraq has been featured in the R2P Monitor since the July 2013 issue.