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Human Rights Violations by Iraqi Authorities and Affiliated Forces

In the context of military operations against ISIS between 2014 and 2017, ISF and
affiliated forces are reported to have engaged in arbitrary arrest and detention, abduction,
enforced disappearance, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, as well as extra-judicial killing
of mostly Sunni Arab men and fighting-age boys, whom they perceived to be affiliated with
ISIS, including on the basis of broad and discriminatory criteria. Other reported violations and
abuses included forced evictions, looting, deliberate burning and destruction of homes, and, in
some cases, the deliberate destruction of whole villages, as well as blocking the return of Sunni
Arab inhabitants. Since the end of major military operations, arbitrary arrests of mainly men
and boys of fighting age are reported to continue, mostly under the Anti-Terrorism Law of
2005. It has been reported that thousands of suspected ISIS fighters and affiliates, including
women and children, have been arrested, often in an arbitrary manner, and detained by the ISF
and affiliated forces on suspicion of support for ISIS. Others who have been arrested or
abducted are reported to remain missing.

Various security agencies are reported to be involved in arrests and detentions, including
government affiliated forces and the National Security Service (NSS), which lack a clear
mandate to arrest and detain suspects. Persons of other profiles, including in particular
journalists and media professionals, civil society activists and others perceived to be critical of
the government are also at times subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention, including under
the 2005 Anti-Terrorism Law. Reports indicate that detainees are often held in prolonged pre-
trial detention in official and unofficial detention centres, without timely review of their arrest
and detention status by a competent judge.

Observers report that ISIS suspects and other detainees, including children, regularly
remain without access to a lawyer, medical care and their families are often not informed about
their whereabouts. Human rights organizations have qualified these detentions as “enforced
disappearance”. If and when families are informed, they have reportedly been asked by
officials to pay exorbitant sums to secure visits, better treatment, or the release of their detained
family members even after they were found innocent.
Detainees are reportedly held in poor, overcrowded and in some cases inhumane
conditions, with limited access to food, water and medical care. Children are reported to be
held together with adults or in often overcrowded juvenile facilities with limited options for
rehabilitation and reintegration. The use of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, including
against children, mostly used to elicit confessions such as admitting to membership of ISIS,
has been described as “rampant”, particularly in pre-trial detention in official and unofficial
facilities. Deaths in detention as a result of torture and lack of medical care have been reported.

The multitude of judicial authorities and security actors and the lack of coordination
among them is reported to lead in some cases to the re-arrest of persons previously cleared of
charges or who had already served a sentence. In one reported incident, 12 children who had
been transferred from KRG detention into the custody of the central authorities in mid-2017
have reportedly “disappeared”. The criminal justice system reportedly remains deeply flawed
with regular violations of defendants’ right to a fair trial, in particular for those charged under
the Anti-Terrorism Law. The authorities are reported to rely on expedited trials in
counterterrorism courts to prosecute ISIS suspects under the Anti-Terrorism Law, with trials
often lasting less than 30 minutes. At the hearing, suspects have a private or state appointed
lawyer; however, the lawyers regularly have limited or no access to the defendant prior to the
trial. In March 2019, HRW reported that it had observed improvements in Ninewa’s
counterterrorism court, particularly in relation to the requirement for evidence to detain and
prosecute suspects and reduced reliance on confessions.

Judges are reported to often convict the accused mainly, or solely, based on confessions
obtained under torture or duress, and/or from information obtained through “secret
informants”, and are reported to sentence them to long periods of imprisonment (15 years or
life) or capital punishment, which is mandatory for a wide range of activities defined as
“terrorist acts”. Observers report that judges have rarely ordered forensic medical examinations
to investigate torture allegations, and even when they did and evidence of torture was found,
they are reported not systematically to have called for retrials. Under the Anti-Terrorism Law,
ISIS suspects are prosecuted on the broad charges of ISIS affiliation, irrespective of the level
of individual responsibility and the severity of the charges. In spite of repeated calls by the UN
and human rights organizations for a moratorium on all death sentences and executions over
fair trial concerns, the death penalty continues to be extensively used, with most of the death
sentences reported to be imposed under the Anti-Terrorism Law.
UNAMI described the situation as “large-scale mass executions of persons convicted of
terrorism-related crimes.”

There are reports of individuals who were underage at the time of the commission of the
alleged crime, having been sentenced to death. Although exact figures of those executed are
not known, numerous individuals are reported to have been executed in recent years, including
in mass hangings. It has been reported that among those executed there have been intellectually
disabled individuals. Iraqi law provides for an automatic appeals process in death penalty cases;
however, death sentences are rarely overturned at the appeals level, according to a 2014 report.
Those sentenced to death under the Anti-Terrorism Law reportedly have no right to seek
clemency or pardon as required under international human rights law. Individuals convicted of
terrorism offences stipulated in the Anti-Terrorism Law for crimes committed after 10 June
2014219 are reported to be ineligible to benefit from the General Amnesty Law (Law No.
27/2016), as amended by the Amnesty Amendment Law (Law No. 80/2017).

The ISF and affiliated forces have also been reported to commit a range of human rights
violations amounting to “collective punishment” against civilians, in particular women and
children, associated with actual or perceived ISIS members on account of their family or tribal
relations. Such violations include forced evictions; the destruction, burning, looting and
confiscation of homes; physical attacks; rape and other forms of sexual violence; and blocking
returns. Local authorities (governorate and district councils, neighbourhood leaders
[mukhtars]) have also been implicated in banning families from returning to their home areas,
or, in other cases, ordering their expulsion.

Human Rights Violations by the Kurdish Authorities

In the context of military operations against ISIS between 2014 and 2017, Kurdish
security forces are reported to have been implicated in arbitrary arrest and incommunicado
detention, enforced disappearance, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and extra-judicial
killings of mostly Sunni Arab men and fighting-age boys, whom they perceived to be affiliated
with ISIS, including on the basis of broad and discriminatory criteria. Other reported violations
included the forced displacement and deliberate destruction of homes and other civilian
property, and, in some cases, of whole villages suspected of affiliation with ISIS. Until the re-
establishment of territorial control by the central government in the disputed areas, Kurdish
forces were reported to also have prevented displaced Sunni Arabs and Turkmen from returning
to some of these areas. It has been reported that thousands of suspected ISIS fighters and
affiliates, including women and children, have been arrested by the Kurdish security forces,
mostly under the Region’s Anti-Terrorism Law No. 3 of 2006. Many detainees are reported to
be held without timely review of their arrest and detention status by a competent judge and are
denied access to their family or lawyers. Observers also express concern about the reported use
of torture and ill-treatment of detainees during investigations, including of children. Detainees
are reportedly held in inadequate conditions due to overcrowding, poor hygiene, and lack of
health services.

Children are reported to be regularly detained together with adults or held in

overcrowded conditions in juvenile facilities with limited options for rehabilitation and
reintegration. ISIS suspects are tried in expedited procedures in counter-terrorism courts,
which are reported to lack judicial independence. The justice system is reported to continue to
rely heavily on confessions and, according to UNAMI/OHCHR, there is no effective system in
place to investigate torture allegations. Observers have expressed concern over KRG courts
prosecuting ISIS suspects for crimes carried out outside their territorial jurisdiction. Despite a
de facto moratorium on the implementation of the death penalty, the KRG is reported to have
breached it on two occasions in 2015 and 2016.

On 17 December 2017, the Kurdistan Parliament ratified an Amnesty Law (Law No. 4
of 2017), which, inter alia, provides for the commutation of death sentences to 15 years
imprisonment when reconciliation is reached with the families of the victims. The law is
reported not to apply to certain categories of crimes, including “crimes relating to national
security, repeat offenders, some financial crimes, and rape and torture of children, among
others.” According to reports, the KRG has no amnesty law in place for suspects who joined
ISIS and are found not to have committed any other crimes.

Human Rights Abuses by ISIS

While holding control of territory between 2014 and 2017, ISIS is reported to have
committed acts that would amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and, in the case of
the Yazidi community, genocide. Reports by the UN and human rights organizations have
implicated members of ISIS in gross, systematic and widespread attacks directed against
civilians, including murder, kidnapping, hostage-taking, suicide bombings, torture, rape, sexual
slavery and other forms of sexual violence, sale into or otherwise forced marriage, trafficking
in persons, forced religious conversions, recruitment and use of children as well as attacks on
critical infrastructure and destruction of cultural heritage. To date, more than 200 mass graves
containing the remains of thousands of men, women and children have been discovered in areas
formerly controlled by ISIS, including in Ninewa, Kirkuk, Salah Al‐Din, Al-Anbar, Babel, and
Baghdad Governorates. Following the loss of territory, ISIS is reported to continue to launch
attacks in and around its former strongholds, mainly targeting members of the ISF and affiliated
forces as well as civilians considered to be representing the state or collaborating with it. The
group is further reported to continue to single out religious and minority ethnic groups.
Reported methods of attack include in particular targeted assassinations and kidnappings, the
storming of villages, and IED attacks aimed at causing mass casualties. ISIS is reported to
finance its activities through extortion of civilians, kidnappings for ransom and other criminal

Internal Flight or Relocation Alternative (IFA/IRA)

UNHCR considers that an IFA/IRA is not available in areas formerly controlled by ISIS
or otherwise affected by conflict in light of continued human rights violations and abuses by
state and non-state actors, continued ISIS presence and ongoing anti-ISIS military operations
in these areas. UNHCR further considers that an IFA/IRA is not available in the disputed areas
due to these areas’ sensitive security, political and demographic dynamics and the risk of
further destabilizing the situation through population movements.

For detailed guidance for the assessment of the availability of an IFA/IRA in parts of Iraq
that are neither formerly controlled by ISIS or otherwise affected by conflict, nor part of the
“disputed areas”,

In relation to Sunni Arabs and Sunni Turkmen from formerly ISIS-held or conflict-
affected areas, the assessment of the availability of an IFA/IRA in other areas of Iraq would
need to consider whether the proposed area is practically, safely and legally accessible to the
individual. This requirement entails an assessment of the concrete prospects of the individual

 Able to safely reach and be admitted to the proposed area of relocation, which entails
an assessment of the individual’s ability to pass checkpoints and be admitted to the proposed
area of relocation, including possible sponsorship requirements;
 Permitted to take up residency in the proposed area of relocation, which may the need
for a sponsor;

 Allowed to durably remain in the proposed area of relocation.

Access and residency requirements are reportedly not always clearly defined and/or
implementation can vary or be subject to changes depending mostly on the security situation.
Sponsorship requirements are generally not grounded in law nor are they officially announced

Against the background of prevailing access and residency restrictions in many parts of
the country, UNHCR considers that for Sunni Arabs and Sunni Turkmen from formerly ISIS-
held or conflict-affected areas an IFA/IRA is generally not relevant in areas where the
authorities maintain access and residency requirements and/or where there is pressure on
persons from formerly ISIS-held or conflict-affected areas to return to their areas of origin. The
only exceptions would be for applicants of this profile for whom it can be established that,
based on the individual circumstances of their case, they would be able to access and legally
and durably remain in the proposed area of relocation.

In the specific case of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KR-I) as a proposed area of IFA/IRA,
UNHCR considers that an IFA/IRA is generally not reasonable given the current humanitarian
situation in the KR-I. The only exceptions would be for applicants for whom it can be
established that, based on the individual circumstances of their case, they would have access

i) Adequate shelter in the proposed area of relocation in the KR-I, noting that IDP camps
or informal settlements would not qualify as “adequate shelter”;

ii) Access to essential services in the proposed area of relocation in the KR-I, such as
potable water and sanitation, electricity, health care and education; and

iii) Livelihood opportunities; or in the case of applicants who cannot be expected to

provide for their own livelihood (for example female-headed households, elderly applicants or
applicants with disabilities), proven and sustainable support to enable access to an adequate
standard of living.
4) Exclusion Considerations

In light of the serious human rights abuses and violations of IHL reported during Iraq’s
long history of conflicts and repression, exclusion considerations under Article 1F of the 1951
Convention may arise in individual claims by asylum-seekers from Iraq. In the context of Iraq,
careful consideration needs to be given in particular to the following profiles:

i) (Former) members of ISIS (since 2013);

ii) (Former) members of predecessor groups of ISIS, including the former Islamic State
in Iraq (ISI) and the former Al-Qa’eda in Iraq (AQI) (until 2013);

iii) (Former) members of the ISF, the security/intelligence apparatus and affiliated forces
(since 2003);

iv) (Former) members of the KRG armed forces and the security/intelligence apparatus
(since 2003);

v) (Former) members of other non-state armed groups (since 2003);

vi) (Former) members of groups and networks engaged in organized crime (since 2003).

vii) Former members of the Iraqi military, paramilitary, police and security/intelligence
services, as well as high-ranking government officials (1979-2003);

viii) Former members of armed groups opposing the former regime (1979-2003).

5) Position on Forced Returns

In light of widespread destruction and damage to homes, basic infrastructure and

agricultural lands, limited access to livelihoods and basic services, the contamination of homes
and lands with ERW, ongoing community tensions, including reprisal acts against civilians
perceived to be supporting ISIS, as well as localized insecurity, UNHCR urges States to refrain
from forcibly returning persons originating from areas previously controlled by ISIS or areas
with a continued ISIS presence to their areas of origin. UNHCR also advises against the forcible
return of these persons to other parts of Iraq if there is a risk that they may not be able to access
to and/or reside in these areas, or that they will otherwise end up in a situation where they have
no choice but to return to their area of origin. This guidance pertains to individuals who have
been found not to be in need of international refugee protection.
May 2019. International protection considerations with regard to people fleeing the Republic of Iraq. Retrieved
from: https://www.ecoi.net/en/file/local/2007789/unhcr-2019-05-protection-considerations-iraq.pdf

Violations of civil rights

Since the politico-legal structure of the Republic of Iraq has not changed in the past year,
human rights continue to be violated in Iraq. Not surprisingly, allegations relating to incidents
in all parts of Iraq which detail such violations continue to be received. While the Special
Rapporteur has again received allegations of all types of violations, and while he could,
therefore, again present a long list of such violations (which the Government of Iraq would
again flatly deny or seek to excuse), he will refer only to some recent allegations by way of
example. In this connection, the Special Rapporteur draws attention to his interim report to the
General Assembly (A/50/734) in which he recounts allegations regarding: Kuwaitis and third-
country nationals who continue to be missing five years after the end of the Gulf War; legal
applications of cruel and unusual punishments; arbitrary arrests, torture and other degrading
treatment, particularly during detention; and infringements upon the rights to food and health

Killings of all types have continued to be reported in Iraq during the past year.
Extrajudicial executions have been reported in relation with military operations in the southern
marsh area of Iraq as civilian settlements are said to have been shelled and razed. For example,
during October 1995, it was reported that Iraqi military forces had attacked civilian villages in
Mesan and Basra provinces resulting in the killing or wounding of many civilians. Certain areas
in the northern part of Iraq are also subject to indiscriminate shelling carried out by the Iraqi
forces. On 1 January 1996, the villages of lower Darman and upper Darman, situated on the
lower Zab River in the Sheikh Bazini area were reportedly assaulted by tanks and armoured
battalions of the 8th Infantry Division. In October and November 1995, the outskirts of
Chamchamel in the Governorate of Suleimaniyah in northern Iraq were also subjected to
shelling, reportedly carried out from territory under the control of the Government of Iraq.

A number of cases in which persons are said to have died under torture in detention (their
bodies being returned to their families bearing the marks) also constitute extrajudicial
executions. For example, the body of Kazem Rida Ali Al-Hakim from the city of Karbala was
said to have been returned from the Islah Directorate in Abu Ghraib Prison to his family on 30
January 1995 bearing signs of severe torture. In October 1995, the corpses of Haidar Sayyid
Amr and Sabah Nuri Shukr were also reportedly given back to their families in Abu Ghraib.
Both of the bodies were reportedly mutilated as a result of explosives having been put inside

In the course of the uprising which took place in the city of al-Ramadi in May 1995 as a
consequence of the Government having delivered the tortured body of Brigadier General
Muhamed Madhloum al-Dulaimi to his family, there was allegedly disproportionate and
indiscriminate use of force, which resulted in many arbitrary killings. It was also reported that
persons arrested during the uprising were subsequently extrajudicially executed. In the case of
some executions, it was further reported that the authorities interfered with the burial rites,
preventing relatives from praying for the dead and limiting attendance at the funerals.

March 1996. UN Commission on human rights, report on the situation of human rights in Iraq. Available at:

While many of the active battlefronts between Iraqi forces and the Islamic State (ISIS)
had quieted by 2018, military operations continued against sleeper cells and rural ISIS
holdouts. ISIS continued to capture and extrajudicially kill civilians and Iraqi armed forces
throughout the year. Under the guise of fighting terror, Iraqi forces arbitrarily detained, ill-
treated and tortured, and disappeared mostly Sunni men from areas where ISIS was active and
failed to respect their due process and fair trial rights. The years of fighting across the country
left at least 1.8 million Iraqis still displaced in 2018. Iraqi authorities imposed security
measures against individuals and families perceived as having relatives who supported ISIS in
the past in what amounted to collective punishment.

Other human rights violations persisted, including violations of freedom of assembly and
expression, women’s rights, and the continued use of the death penalty.

May parliamentary elections led to Adil Abd Al-Mahdi taking up the post of prime
minister from Haidar al-Abadi in October and forming a new government.
Freedom of Assembly and Expression

KRG security forces arbitrarily detained dozens of protesters and journalists at March
protests by civil servants demanding unpaid wages. Some protesters alleged security forces
also beat them.

Protests that began in central and southern Iraq in July demanding improved access to
water, jobs, and electrical power turned violent in some areas, particularly in Basra, with
Ministry of Interior forces injuring dozens of protesters, and killing a few through their
excessive use of force when trying to disperse crowds and detain protesters. The protests in
Basra continued through September, with violence increasing on both sides leading to
protesters burning down buildings and leaving at least 15 dead.

Torture and Other Forms of Ill-Treatment

Detainees in Nineveh gave graphic accounts of torture during interrogations in Mosul’s

prisons under the control of the Ministry of Interior, in some cases leading to the deaths of
detainees. These allegations are consistent with reports of widespread use of torture by Iraqi
forces as a method to extract confessions instead of carrying out robust criminal investigations.
Authorities detained ISIS suspects in overcrowded, and in some cases inhumane, conditions.

Despite commitments by the prime minister in September 2017 to investigate allegations

of torture and extrajudicial killings, authorities seemingly took no steps to investigate these

In 16 terrorism trials Human Rights Watch monitored in 2018, defendants alleged torture,
including to extract confessions, but most judges did not take any action to investigate the
allegations, and in only one instance was an officer investigated and sanctioned.

Enforced Disappearances

The International Center for Missing Persons, which has been working in partnership
with the Iraqi government to help recover and identify the missing, estimates that the number
of missing people in Iraq could range from 250,000 to 1 million people. Since 2014, Iraqi
military and security forces have forcibly disappeared predominately Sunni Arab males in the
context of counterterrorism operations, as well as in other cases. A range of military and
security actors are responsible for the enforced disappearances, many of which took place at
checkpoints or the homes of suspects. Despite requests from the families of the disappeared for
information, Iraqi authorities have given none. Authorities did not respond to queries from
Human Rights Watch as to which channels were available to families searching for loved ones.
An initiative in 2015 and in 2017 to pass a new law that prohibits enforced disappearances as
a distinct crime has been stalled in parliament.

Collective Punishment of Families of Suspected ISIS-Affiliates

Iraqi families with perceived ISIS affiliation, usually because of their family name, tribal
affiliation, or area of origin, were denied security clearances required to obtain identity cards
and all other civil documentation. This impacted their freedom of movement, right to
education, right to work, and right to apply for welfare benefits and obtain birth and death
certificates needed to inherit property or remarry.

Denial of security clearances also blocked families with perceived ISIS affiliation from
being able to make claims to the governmental commission to compensate Iraqis affected by
terrorism, military operations, and military errors; to bring court cases; or to challenge the
seizure of property by Iraqi security forces or other local families. In Nineveh, families with
perceived ISIS affiliation also said they were sometimes denied access to humanitarian
assistance, usually by community leaders.

Lawyers providing legal services to ISIS suspects and, their families, or those perceived
to be, reported that security forces threatened, and in some instances, detained, them for
providing these services.

Despite joint government and humanitarian efforts to facilitate the return of displaced
persons to areas once held by ISIS, local decrees and other preventative measures prevented
families with perceived ISIS affiliation from returning home to some areas, including in Anbar,
Diyala, Nineveh, and Salah al-Din. In some instances, these families were forced from their
homes into camps by Iraqi armed forces or were forced into secondary displacement.

2019. Iraq: events of 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/iraq

Iraqi human rights activist shot dead in Basra

A female human rights activist has been shot dead in the southern Iraqi city of Basra,
which has seen violent anti-government protests in recent weeks.

Video posted online appears to show an unidentified man opening fire at Suad al-Ali as
she gets into a car near a supermarket in the Abbasiya area.

Another man, believed to be her husband, was wounded in the attack.

Mrs Ali, who supported the protests, was head of an organisation called al-Weed al-
Alaiami For Human Rights.

Basra, which is home to more than 2 million people, has seen months of violent protests
amid growing public anger at issues including poor infrastructure, contaminated water, and a
lack of jobs.

The demonstrations continued after a two-week pause on Tuesday, with almost 1,000
people reportedly taking to the streets.

Earlier this month, protesters set on fire a number of government and political buildings,
as well as the Iranian consulate and the headquarters of an Iran-backed paramilitary force, after
a number of people were killed in clashes with police.

Local residents say the government is corrupt and has allowed infrastructure to virtually
collapse in a region that generates much of Iraq's oil wealth. They have also denounced what
they perceive as Iran's control of local affairs.

September 2018. Iraqi human rights activist shot dead in Basra. Retrieved from:
Fact-Finding team report on the Humanitarian Situation in Basra

On 17 October 2018, a civil society Fact-Finding Team revealed serious human rights
violations against citizens in Basra for their participation in this past summer’s protests. These
findings correspond with Iraq’s High Commission for Human Rights, which found that
between 1 August and 7 September, 20 people were killed, 492 people were injured (including
80 members of the security forces), and another 425 people were arrested for participating in
the protests.

In many of the incidents investigated, the Fact-Finding Team found that there was a
deliberate use of live bullets by the security forces against demonstrators. Security forces also
beat demonstrators in detention, and used other methods of torture which in some cases killed
detainees. One example is the killing of Harith al-Salami. Security forces broke his skull and
left him to bleed to death in detention. Kidnappings and killings by other unknown parties also
occurred, such as in the case of Ali Abbas, who was found lying on the bank of the Shatt al-
Arab, his bodying showing traces of torture including fractures in his hands. Many of the arrests
were based on lists of names provided to security forces, without the issuance of any judicial
arrest warrants (in some cases random arrests were made during the demonstrations). Charges
were later fabricated to keep detainees in prison. Those detained would only be released if a
friend or relative came to bail them out; they would also have to vow not to demonstrate again.

The Fact-Finding Team also published, for the first time, key information about the water
pollution crisis in Basra which has led to the infection of more than 100,000 citizens. Extreme
rates of cancer, asthma, allergies and birth defects have been reported among people living near
oil facilities.

This report has been sent to key international organizations and governmental bodies in
order to highlight the need for the Iraqi government to take meaningful action – especially after
the involvement of some government officials in serious human rights violations of citizens
that, in many cases, include torture and murder.

Dire environmental conditions in and around Basra

The Fact-Finding Team carried out testing and analysis of drinking water samples from
in and around Basra. The results show that the water is not suitable for human consumption, as
confirmed by Dr. Shukri al-Hassan, an academic and expert in the field of environmental
pollution. Samples showed that water salinity is more than 20 times the recommended
specification by Iraqi government standards. Al-Hassan explained the lethal toxicity in this
water and the impossibility of drinking it. He pointed out that the toxicity of this water is not
due to the spread of salt water coming from the Arabian Gulf; rather, it is because of the
disposal of pollutants (industrial and petrochemical waste) through pipelines, whether from
Iran or inside Basra, and spilling into the Shatt al-Arab. Therefore, the Fact-Finding Team
advises that it should not be used for any form of life sustenance. It is very concerning that the
Iraqi government continues to pump this water into residents’ homes.

The Fact-Finding Team also obtained leaked information from a confidential source, who
stated that oil companies in Basra were improperly disposing of contaminated materials. Waste
from laboratories and oil facilities, which is usually packed with chemicals, was dumped in the
Shatt al-Arab district directly or through sewage channels. When a delegation from the High
Commission for Human Rights visited the Shatt al-Arab (from the Iranian side), they noticed
violations from companies situated on the river bank relating to their disposal of oil and
chemical waste. Iranian waste is disposed of by Iranian petrochemical factories and oil
companies into the Shatt al-Arab. The information also confirms that the process of extracting
oil in Basra produces, at some stages, polluted gases in the air leading to cancer, asthma,
allergies and congenital malformations in some of the residents residing in the general vicinity
of these companies and facilities. In 2015, a government official in Basra said that the province
records 50 new cancer cases each month due to the polluted air that is associated with oil
extraction. In 2018, Basra Province’s Health and Environment Committee also revealed that 4
new cancer cases are registered every day as a result of air pollution.

In short, the pollution in the Shatt al-Arab River is significant, not only due to the saline
tide but also because of the amount of toxic chemicals from industrial waste being disposed of
in the river from oil companies. As well, 30% of Basra sewage water is being dumped into the
Shatt al-Arab. This is further shown in the results of the chlorine test in 60 of 170 water stations
in Basra, where levels reached zero parts per million (ppm).

The team also made clear that there was a deliberate media blackout by the Iraqi media
outlets about these violations. The reason is that political parties are pressuring and repressing
media in order to ensure that there is no negative coverage of events happening in Basra. At
the same time, outlets that do publish the news of violations are exposed to threats and are
described as “destructive” and “inciting demonstrators” merely because they cover the crisis
in Basra. Journalists are threatened with arrest by government agencies if they cover the
demonstrations in Basra again. Some TV correspondents have been beaten and detained for
their role in covering recent demonstrations in Basra. The report confirms the existence of
narrow press coverage of the protests, and that the security forces detained a number of
journalists during the days of the first demonstrations in front of the provincial government
building. Some of them were beaten and their cameras were broken, and two reporters were
threatened with arrest if they continued to cover the protests. To counter media reporting, a
number of political parties launched a campaign of incitement against demonstrators, including
violent attacks against a number of civilian activists in Basra. Activists were accused of burning
the headquarters of the political parties and the Iranian consulate. In spite of these attacks, the
demonstrations persisted.

The reasons for the outbreak and the escalation of demonstrations in Basra

The different, related crises in Basra have been exacerbated by a lack of attention from
the government, and the allocation of jobs and service projects by corrupt political parties. As
a result, many major projects have been suspended, worsening high unemployment in Basra –
except for those with strong connections to ruling parties or who paid bribes of up to $3,000.
Most national factories were closed down, such as fertilizer factories in Al-Zubair and Abi Al-
Khasib, and production factories of Thermoston, petrochemicals, dairy, as well as metal and
carpentry workshops. In contrast, after a short period of time, an iron and steel factory was
opened on the land opposite to where a recently closed factory once operated. It later became
known that the new factory was being operated by one of the political parties which has its
own armed wing.

There are clear and serious violations of oil companies in Basra. Basra is one of the most
cancer-afflicted provinces, especially in areas close to sources of pollution (oil and gas
facilities). Health institutions refuse to disclose their official figures, but experts and specialists
have made it clear that some stages of oil extraction, in particular the flaring of gases, may lead
to the emission of carcinogenic gases such as H2S. Citizens have confirmed that the number
of people who have congenital malformations, cancer and other diseases increased by 30%
since 2003, information confirmed by members of the provincial council.

Some oil companies have been accused of exceeding water-use quotas set by the province
by injecting oil wells with more water than permitted, which causes a drop in the water level
in the Shatt al-Arab. As well, under contracts signed between the Ministry of Oil and oil
companies, farmers have been forced to sell their farmland at low sale prices and/or in exchange
for low compensation. Due to the increasing concentration of salt in water from the Gulf, and
increased pollution in the Shatt al-Arab by chemicals, waste and sewage, large tracts of crops
have also been destroyed. These conditions have also resulted in animals and fish being killed,
and in the migration of some rare fish and birds to the north.

Below is a summary of the key recommendations included in the Humanitarian

Situation Report in Basra

1. The Fact-Finding Team recommends that the Government of Iraq


 Take seriously the events in Basra this past summer and not underestimate the
repercussions and escalation of demonstrations that took place, nor attempt to blackout
or deny the negative on-the-ground realities from the public;
 Fulfill the demands of the people of Basra by opening an investigation into the
violations committed by the security forces against the peaceful demonstrators,
especially those violations which were carried out by the head of Basra Operations
Command, Jamil al-Shammari, during the outbreak of the protests;
 Limit the monitoring, accounting and detention institutions to one security
authority. As well, the Higher Judicial Council must respond to the violations
committed against many demonstrators in Basra, including extrajudicial arrests and
arrests without, and instruct members of the judiciary to release detainees immediately;
 Direct the Iraqi Ministry of Oil to clarify the commitment of oil companies to
the law of improving and protecting the environment (Law No. 23/2009), as it relates
to indicators of pollution in the air, soil, and water. It is necessary to provide any
information that the relevant institutions or agencies have in a transparent manner. This
information must also be publically available, and the Iraqi government should provide
adequate means of communication through which citizens can raise their complaints in
this area;
 Clarify who is responsible for receiving and responding to complaints
concerning violations of oil companies in Basra. Many complaints have been submitted
to the responsible authorities, and no action has been taken to address them. The rights
of citizens were lost without knowing who is ultimately responsible for taking up these
complaints and responding to them;
 Instruct, by order of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Interior to identify and
prosecute those responsible for the “yellow pages,” which publish false and fake news
on social media and have contributed to inciting the killing of a number of activists.
Protection must also be provided to young people whose lives are threatened;
 Use different language to describe current and future demonstrators and
protestors in Basra, rather than describing them as ” infiltrators,” “Baathists,”
“terrorists,” “agents,” or the like. The presence of 50 infiltrators in a demonstration
involving tens of thousands of people does not mean demonstrators’ real demands are
tainted or even illegal. The citizens who the Fact-Finding Team met in Basra also
explained that the government’s aggressive response to the crisis was based on
intimidation and violent attacks on demonstrators, rather than on sending ministerial
delegations and engineering committees to resolve the crisis more peacefully.

2. The Fact-Finding Team recommends that the United Nations and

international and local civil society organizations operating in Iraq should:

 Investigate the violations of human rights committed by the security forces in

light of the protest actions, and press the Iraqi government to intervene and stop killings
by non-state armed groups;
 Form specialized committees to be sent to Basra whose central task should be
to monitor and investigate the issue of increased pollution in Basra, and the suffering
of some citizens from cancer, asthma, allergies and other afflictions as a result of
exposure to pollutants. The cases of pollution to citizens are extremely serious and there
must be an investigation into the causes. There are cases of pollution of citizens living
in areas close to the oil facilities and along the Shatt al-Arab, which has led to death –
cases that have been neglected or obscured by the government;
 Assist Iraqi civil society by forming and sending other specialized teams to
conduct more environmental testing of water quality and pollution levels;
 Form committees under the auspices of the United Nations Assistance Mission
in Iraq (UNAMI) to hear complaints from citizens about arbitrary detention and other
rights violations;
 The Fact-Finding Team recommends that the embassies and consulates in Iraq,
especially the US Embassy in Baghdad and the Iranian consulate in Basra, take a neutral
stance during such crises. The people of Basra believe that their real battle is with the
Iraqi government and local political parties, and do not welcome any external
interference into internal Iraqi affairs.

The original report was conducted by some Iraqi civilists from different civil society
organizations, who are:

1 – Wissam Jaafer – CEO of Tawasoul Organization for Youth Empowerment.

2 – Mustafa Nasser – Head of Society For Defending Press Freedom.

3 – Ahmed Hassen – Manager of Amarchi Center For Media Development.

4 – Rawoof Mohammed Noori – Member of the legal support team

and TawasoulOrganization for Youth Empowerment.

5 – Ghaith Saadoun Muhsin – Tawasoul Organization for Youth Empowerment.

6 – Huthaifa Baher Abd Al – Jabbar – Leader of Al-Maljaa’ (Shelter) team for

humanitarian aid.

November 2018. Fact-finding team report on the humanitarian situation in Basra. Available at:

On 11 September the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
released a statement of concern on the Basra protests, noting that at least 20 people had been
killed in the protests since July and more than 300 injured.

“We urge the relevant authorities to investigate all protest-related deaths and injuries.
and hold those responsible accountable. Among the reported incidents, at least five protesters
were reported to have been killed and 41 others injured on 4 September when unidentified
attackers in a white van threw grenades at demonstrators in Basra City. […] We urge the
authorities to release immediately any person arbitrarily detained, in particular those who were
protesting peacefully. We reiterate the right of individuals to peaceful assembly and
association, and also to freedom of expression.”
To the pattern of arbitrary arrests of protestors over the summer and the injuries to
demonstrators in clashes with security forces, were now added the deaths of activists in
apparently targeted killings by unidentified perpetrators. One Iraqi journalist and political
analyst gave the following assessment of the targeting of activists in southern Iraq

“Officially, the Iraqi government or its security forces did not announce who was behind
the assassination, but it referred to Shi’a armed groups. During the demonstrations in Basra
city there was burning by protestors of headquarters of Shi’a parties and factions in the city.
Basra is a stronghold of the Shi’a factions. These factions accused civilian activists of standing
behind the burning. After demonstrations fell down, the assassinations began. It looked like a
threatening message and revenge tactics.

This report seeks to take a closer look at the cases of civilian activists who have been
targeted to understand better the threats they are facing and the identity of the perpetrators, as
many fear the return of the death squads.

December 2018. Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights and Minority Rights Group International: Civilian Activists
under Threat in Iraq. Retrieved from: https://minorityrights.org/wp-
Internally Displaced Person (IDP) Returns

Following the end of major military operations against ISIS, IDP returns started to exceed
new internal displacement as of January 2018. By the end of April 2019, more than 4.2 million
Iraqis are reported to have returned to their sub-district of origin in nearly 1,600 locations across
the country, primarily to areas formerly held by ISIS in the Governorates of Ninewa, Al-Anbar,
Salah Al-Din, Kirkuk and Diyala. Approximately half a million returnees are considered to be
living in conditions of “high or very high severity of humanitarian need” in several districts in
the Governorates of Al-Anbar, Baghdad, Diyala, Erbil, Kirkuk, Ninewa and Salah Al-Din.

a) Obstacles to Return

Despite the return of a sizable number of IDPs to areas retaken from ISIS, the pace of
returns has been slowing down over the course of 2018 and into 2019 and most remaining IDPs
report planning to stay in their current location rather than returning to their area of origin.
Humanitarian actors anticipate that protracted displacement will continue in 2019. Obstacles
to return include in particular destroyed or damaged housing, unresolved housing, land and
property (HLP) disputes, lack of livelihoods, limited access to education, health and other basic
services, as well as continued insecurity in areas of origin, including as a result of
contamination of homes and land with ERW, sporadic attacks by ISIS, and the presence of
government-affiliated groups. For families associated with actual or perceived ISIS members,
community tensions, discrimination, fear of arrest and reprisal acts as well as the confiscation
of documentation or refusal to issue new documentation are also reported to hamper returns.
Others are reported to be barred from returning, or face secondary displacement following their
return due to stigmatization and acts of retribution.

The return of members of ethno-religious minorities, including Turkmen, Yazidis,

Christians, Shi’ites and Shabak, is reported to have been slow and many remain displaced.
Most IDPs who fled Sinjar, in particular members of the Yazidi community, have not attempted
to return, including due to the widespread destruction of homes and infrastructure, the lack of
livelihoods and basic services, persisting community tensions as well as continued insecurity.
b) Forced and Premature Returns

In spite of continued obstacles to sustainable return and reintegration, authorities and

security actors in Al-Anbar, Baghdad, Kirkuk, Diyala and Salah Al-Din Governorates
encourage, pressure, and at times coerce, IDPs to return to their areas of origin, often resulting
in secondary displacement. As of October 2018, a total of 32 IDP camps have been closed by
the Iraqi authorities, resulting in the eviction and return or renewed displacement of tens of
thousands of individuals. Additional camp closures have since been reported in Al-Anbar and
Kirkuk Governorates. Other IDPs are reported to return due to the precarious humanitarian
conditions in areas of displacement. Severe movement restrictions in IDP camps are reported
to incentivize IDPs’ decisions to return to their areas of origin. IDPs living outside of camps
are at risk of eviction by owners who reclaim their properties, which may similarly result in
pressure to return. Forced and premature returns are reported to frequently result in secondary
displacement, evident also by ongoing readmissions to IDP camps.

c) Barred Returns

Returnees must undergo security screening and obtain approval from various actors in
displacement and return areas, including military and security actors, local authorities and
tribes. Approval to return has reportedly been denied by state and non-state actors on the basis
of discriminatory criteria, including IDPs’ ethnic/religious profile and/or their association with
actual or perceived ISIS members. Such bans on returns leave a significant number of IDPs
involuntary stuck in displacement. Even those who obtain a return clearance are not necessarily
able to return to their home areas in practice, as security actors may still block their return, e.g.
at checkpoints along the return route or in the area of origin.

4) Returns from Abroad

In 2018, over 5,600 Iraqis returned through the Assisted Voluntary Return and
Reintegration (AVRR) Programme operated by the International Organization for Migration
(IOM), mostly from Europe. Others are reported to have returned under Iraqi government-
sponsored return programmes or by their own means. Reasons cited by Iraqi nationals for
returning include, inter alia, homesickness and a wish to reunite with family members in Iraq;
difficult conditions in host countries; and delays in asylum procedures and corresponding
delays in obtaining a secure legal status, access to services, and access to family reunification.

IDPs and returnees

The scale of displacement resulting from four years of intensive conflict made the Iraq
crisis one of the largest and most volatile in the world. The battle of Mosul is described as the
longest urban battle since World War II. The battle against ISIL has had a tremendous and
protracted impact on displacement of civilians within the country and displacement rose
sharply in 2014, remained at a steady peak through 2016-2018 and began to decline in late
2017. In 2014 when the crisis sparked, 2.5 million civilians were displaced in Iraq due to the
ISIL conflict; in 2015, another million civilians were displaced and the displacement of more
than 3 million Iraqis stayed steady until 2017. Population movements during these turbulent
four years have been described as multi- -directional; as hundreds of thousands were displaced,
comparable numbers were returning. In December 2017 after the announcement of ISIL’s
military defeat, the number of returnees began to outpace the number of IDPs. IOM continues
to report on directional; as hundreds of thousands were displaced, comparable numbers were
returning. In December 2017 after the announcement of ISIL’s military defeat, the number of
returnees began to outpace the number of IDPs.

IOM continues to report on steady increase in the numbers of returnees in 2018. Over 4.1
million persons have returned to areas of origin as of 31 December 2018. IOM’s Displacement
Tracking Matrix (DTM), ranks the five top governorates of return as follows: Ninewa, which
had the highest numbers of returnees (1 614 150 individuals), followed by Anbar (1 290 606
individuals), Salah al-Din (590 652 individuals), Kirkuk (319 338 individuals) and Diyala (223
326 individuals). According to the IOM, the majority of the returnees were previously
displaced within their governorate of origin. The December 2018 DTM – Round 107 - recorded
that around 95 % of the returnees have returned to a habitual residence in a good condition and
two percent are living in private settings, like host families or rented accommodation. The
remaining three percent (132 774 individuals) were living in critical shelters, that is to say
damaged or destroyed accommodation, which according to the DTM is an increase from
previous reporting. 393
As of 31 December 2018, IOM recorded 1 806 832 IDPs (300 472 families) remained in
displacement across Iraq. The top five governorates hosting IDPs were: Ninewa (576 030
individuals), Dohuk (337 596 individuals), Erbil (211 920 individuals), Sulaymaniyah (150
894 individuals) and Salah al-Din (137 652 individuals). 395 The majority of the IDPs, some
60 %, are living in private settings, 30 % in camps and 8 % in critical shelters. The United
Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) in Iraq, estimated
that there are 482 000 IDPs, living in 135 camps. In its humanitarian need review for 2019,
UNOCHA asserted the need to improve services and infrastructure in the camps to meet
minimum standards for the camp population. According to the humanitarian needs review, 155
000 IDPs were reportedly living in critical shelters, without adequate assistance.

During the year of 2018, there were 150 222 individuals who became displaced in 2018,
of whom, 121 726 secondarily displacement in 2018 (either being between displacement
locations or due to a failed attempt to return home), and 24 446 individuals were newly
displaced for the first time in 2018.

Despite efforts undertaken by the central government and the KRG to encourage and
facilitate returns, many vulnerable families living in camps and substandard accommodation
are unable to return. In addition, displaced persons from volatile areas are likely to delay their
return in anticipation for conditions to improve. This is likely to put a strain on host
communities, particularly in the KRI, that are already facing widespread socio-economic
grievances, like unemployment and deteriorating public services. The majority of IDPs cite
damage and destruction to housing (71 %), lack of employment opportunities (54 %); and lack
of safety in their place of origin (40 %) as the main obstacles to return. In terms of IDPs’
perceptions about security as reported by IOM in December 2018, these include issues such as
the presence of armed actors, movement restrictions, revenge attacks, kidnapping, armed group
clashes, property disputes and destruction, ISIL attacks, and ethno-religious and tribal tensions.
There were reports that displaced persons with ISIL affiliations were prevented from leaving
camps, subjected to sexual harassment against women, denied access to food, medical health
and civil documentation. UNOCHA’s 2019 Humanitarian Needs Overview noted that ‘many
returnees— in Anbar, Salah al-Din, Kirkuk, Diyala and Ninewa—who are alleged to be
affiliated with extremists have been forcibly evicted from their homes upon return, resulting in
their secondary displacement, with their properties destroyed or confiscated’. Tribal leaders
have banned families with perceived family links to ISIL from returning, and in some cases
issued tribal decrees to this effect as a form of ‘collective punishment’.
According to IOM, families from Kirkuk, Baghdad, and Ninewa, are reportedly more
likely to experience obstacles to return, though returns are still not permitted to some areas of
Babil, Diyala, and Salah al Din. A senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in Iraq who was
interviewed for this report, gave a nuanced explanation of the patterns. Babil is the only
governorate where there is a ‘blanket’ no return position applied to the Jurf al Sakhr area. She
indicated that returns are occurring, though barriers to returns are also reported, explaining that
the returns generally can very much depend on the local dynamics in the area, driven either by
the local who live there or the security forces in control, as to whether returns are allowed or
not. She explained that in Anbar, for example, people can return home if they get a security
clearance, and are not seen as ‘ISIL-affiliated’, or, if they are seen as ‘ISIL affiliated’ the
community might be demanding a compensation payment, which they have to be able to pay.
Those now left in camps are often from those communities where most people have been able
to go home because they have paid the compensation; and those who could not pay have been
remaining in the camps. This tribal payment is additional to the security forces’ clearance
requirement; however, she noted that even if a person gets the clearance, the local community
might still demand payment and will not allow the return if this is not paid. Furthermore, she
said that it is not that the return is not permitted, per se, but that there are stipulations they
cannot meet due to poverty, while those who can afford may be able to return; however, in
other area the locals just refuse to allow families with a perceived ISIL affiliation to return.
There are overlapping reasons for the lack of returns in some areas, relating to security but also
social tensions. This dynamic mainly concerns Anbar, Salah al-Din, and Ninewa, and Diyala.
She remarked that there are differences in this dynamic in different areas of Iraq – for example,
in Anbar, the tribes are very strong and have more of a desire to allow families to return because
they realise the destabilising effect of having families in the camps for the tribal structure;
however, in other places, like in Diyala, this is not present; the PMUs there and in some parts
of Salah al-Din are a deterrent to returns where they do not want certain people returning.

Basrah, Iraq Demographics

Basrah governorate has a population estimated to be about 4.5 million, over half of whom
are under the age of 24.105 According to estimates, the population of Basrah City is about 1.9
million 106 to 2.4 million. 107 The population has a 50-50 gender ratio. 108 About 78.2 % of
Basrah governorate’s population is urban, while 21.8 % is rural.109 Basrah district is the most
populated, with nearly 50 % of the population of the governorate living there, and al-Zubair is
next, with 16.8 %; other districts are less populated.

The vast majority of the population of Basrah governorate and the south of Iraq are Shia
Muslim Arabs. The south of Iraq is populated by African-descended Iraqis, Faili Kurds
(estimated 10 000), Christians and Sabean-Mandaens. Most Sabean-Mandaens live in southern
Iraq, including in Basrah, with a few in Baghdad and the KRI. Assyrian and Chaldean
Christians are also present in Basrah governorate. Basrah also has a considerable Sunni
community. According to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT), previously
religiously mixed areas have become more homogenous and ‘usually Shia or Sunni’.
Nevertheless, the tolerance of religious minorities remains higher in southern Iraq than in
central Iraq. Dr Chatelard commented that there is much less demographic diversity in the
south than in any other region of Iraq. Nowhere in the south is there a ‘critical mass’ of Sunnis
to create religiously homogenous neighbourhoods. She noted that Sunnis, Christians, and
Sabean-Mandaens tend to cluster in neighbourhoods with a similar sect but within the majority
Shia areas. There are hundreds of Arab tribes and clans in the Basrah governorate.

Southern Iraq consists of Basrah, Missan, Najaf, Thi-Qar, Qadissiya and Muthana
governorates. Southern Iraq has largely escaped the ISIL violence that hit the rest of Iraq and
many thousands of Iraqis from southern Iraq went to fight against Islamic State in 2014.
Southern Iraq is ‘more secure’ than other parts of the country, although problems of criminality,
drug abuse, and violence between Shia armed groups involved in militia and tribal groups also
occur, including organised crime by militias, as well as kidnapping, extortion, and sex
trafficking. Criminal gangs in Basrah have exploited the security gap and there has been a rise
in robberies, kidnapping, murder, and drug trafficking while the Iraqi security forces struggle
to keep security among competing armed groups. NRC reported that Basrah tribes are known
to be well-armed and that clashes are the main source of violence in the area. In 2017 this
included tribal fighting between rival Shia tribes over ‘farmland, state construction contracts
and land ownership’ which threatened security at oil installations in the south. Drug usage and
drug trafficking were reported to be widespread in Basrah in 2018, a phenomenon which
officials blamed on corruption and unemployment. Longstanding public grievances over
corruption, government neglect, unemployment and lack of basic services such as water and
electricity, and a developing public health crisis have created
heightened public anger and violent protests in the south in July 2018. The government
promised to create 10 000 jobs and announced plans to create public service projects, such as
refurbishing the water department in Basrah. 15 protesters died and hundreds were injured in
September 2018 as protests continued. The government has used violence to quell protests in
July, killing several protesters, and detaining, beating and firing on protesters. The protests
spread to other parts of southern Iraq in July 2018.

Since 2014, Basrah has received some 10 000 IDPs from northern governorates. A
constant flow of IDPs arrived in Basrah until April 2015. Only sporadic arrivals were recorded
after that. IOM reported in September 2018 that there were 7 914 IDPs living in Basrah
governorate, most of whom have settled in Basrah district. The majority of IDPs in Basrah
came from Ninewa (2 592), Salah al-Din (2 478), Anbar (1 566) and Kirkuk (750). 135 Most
displaced persons in Basrah are Arab Shia (52 %) and Arab Sunni (44 %); 2 % Christian and
1 % Turkmen. IDPs were reported to have been attracted to Basrah due to the availability of
family, friends or relatives in the region (over 40 %), and the presence of security and stability
(25 %). They cited the insecure and unsafe situation in their area of origin as the main obstacle
to return (83 %).

In October 2017 it was reported that over half of Basrah governorate’s IDPs were located
in Basrah district (813 families), followed by about 20 % in Al-Zubaid (368), about 14 % in
Abu Al-Khaseeb (244 persons), and smaller numbers in Shatt Al-Arab (89), Al-Midaina (84),
Al-Qurna (74), Fao (14). About 45 % of the IDP population in Basrah was reported to be under
18; most IDPs were 18-59 (53 %). In March 2017, it was reported that 13 % of the households
in Basrah were femaleheaded; this was the second highest percentage of female-headed IDP
households in Iraq. Basrah is a ‘non return governorate’ according to IOM.

February 2019. EASO Country of Origin Information Report Iraq Key socio-economic indicators. Retrieved from:

Return of Iraqis

Since the last UNHCR return advisory in September 2004, there has been no
improvement in the security situation in most parts of Iraq. To the contrary, the most relevant
indicators signal that the security situation has generally deteriorated between January and
August 2005 when compared to the same period last year. It is thus of serious concern to note
that some States are considering the withdrawal of protection afforded generally to asylum-
seekers from Iraq and that Convention and complementary protection recognition rates are, in
some host countries, extremely low.

Despite the elections which took place in Iraq in January 2005, the Iraqi authorities are
not yet able to provide residents with even a minimum of protection from violent attacks,
including bombings specifically targeting civilians, nor guarantee them access to basic services
needed for a secure and stable life. In addition, it should be taken into consideration that pre-
mature returns could further exacerbate tensions between residents and returnees, thereby
increasing insecurity.

September 2005. UNHCR advisory regarding the return of Iraqis. Retrieved from:

No Security, Military Reason for Arbitrary Restrictions

Iraqi army soldiers at two checkpoints in Anbar governorate have arbitrarily prevented a
group of displaced families from returning home in what appears to be an act of collective
punishment, Human Rights Watch said today.

The families were taken to camps for displaced people in Anbar after being blocked from
returning in late February 2018 and again in early June. The families were displaced by fighting
against the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in 2014 and now want to return. The area has
been under the control of the Iraqi government since February 2015. The families are from the
Sa'ada tribe, whose members have been accused of affiliating with ISIS, Anbar residents told
Human Rights Watch.

"Baghdad authorities have rightly said many times that families from areas retaken from
ISIS should be able to return to their homes if they want to," said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle
East director at Human Rights Watch. "It is unacceptable for soldiers to arbitrarily block
residents from going home, in direct contradiction to the central government's orders to
facilitate safe and voluntary returns."

On May 2, 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed three residents of al-Khalidiya

Central Camp for displaced people who are originally from al-Baghdadi, a town in Anbar
governorate 180 kilometers northwest of Baghdad. They said they fled al-Baghdadi in August
2014 after anti-ISIS forces began fighting ISIS fighters in the town with airstrikes and ground-
fired munitions. Iraqi security forces retook the town in February 2015, and since then the town
has remained relatively stable despite a few attacks in the area over the past months, but no one
has returned. The two women and a man interviewed said they had applied through the camp
managers for security clearance to return home in early 2018 as part of a group of 51 families
from al-Baghdadi living in two camps in al-Khalidiya.

The camp managers said they obtained permission for their return from the camp's
security forces and from both the Anbar Operations Command and the neighboring Jazeera
Operations Command. At about 3 p.m. on a day in late February, 18 of the families boarded
three government buses from Iraq's Transport Ministry planning to return home.

One woman, 43, said the buses reached the al-Akouba checkpoint at about 9 p.m. Soldiers
from the army's 7th division stopped them and checked their identity cards. "After holding us
there for an hour and a half, they said that we were not allowed to return to our homes and had
to go back to the camp," she said. "They didn't give us any reason why."

A Sa'ada sheikh said that even though the families had clearance, forces of the Jazeera
Operations Command, which controls the checkpoint, chose not to recognize the clearance.
The sheikh said that on April 21, the commander of the Jazeera Operations Command assured
him that the military had no problem with the families' returning home, but that the mayor of
al-Baghdadi was pressuring him to get his forces to block the returns.

The sheikh said as he met with the commander, the mayor arrived and told the
commander that the families could not return because they were ISIS supporters. Neither the
mayor nor the commander made any reference to concerns around the security situation in al-
Baghdadi, he said.

"If the government stops me from returning home, that means I am not an Iraqi anymore,"
said a second woman, who is 29. "Otherwise I would have a right to my home."

Three al-Baghdadi residents in al-Khalidiya Central Camp and the sheikh told Human
Rights Watch that in early June, another group of at least nine al-Baghdadi families who had
obtained the necessary security clearances boarded government buses again for al-Baghdadi.
The people interviewed said they were in touch with the families during the journey and that
they said that this time they were allowed to pass through al-Akouba checkpoint, but that they
were stopped at a checkpoint run by the army's 9th division in al-Baghdadi and taken to another
Anbar camp for the displaced. Once the families arrived, the people interviewed lost contact
with them.

Human Rights Watch wrote to Haidar Ukaili, a representative of the Prime Minister's
Advisory Council, on June 12, asking why the families from al-Baghdadi were prevented from
returning home and what measures were being taken to allow their return. He stated in a reply
email on June 14, that a group of 18 families were stopped from returning on April 27 "due to
not having security permits" but that on June 3, 11 families were allowed to return to al-
Baghdadi. Human Rights Watch has not been able to verify that 11 families were allowed to
return and whether these families included those stopped by the 9th division in al-Baghdadi in
early June.

Ukaili's email made clear that other than the 11 families who were reportedly allowed to
return, other families had been blocked from returning either "due to not having security
permits" or because, as his email said, "There is caution with the return of the rest of the
families due to fears of retaliation as some of the family members belong to ISIS. Therefore,
they were told to wait for the time being until the issue is resolved tribally."

In the cases Human Rights Watch documented, the people interviewed said that the
families had the needed security permits, which appears to be supported by the fact that
Ministry of Transport buses were sent to the displacement camp to return them home.

At the same time, Ukaili's email implies that al-Baghdadi families are being penalized
collectively because some have relatives who were members of ISIS. It is not the first time Iraqi
authorities have contended that families related to ISIS suspects cannot remain in their own
communities for their own safety.

Since 2014, Human Rights Watch has reported on scores of incidents across Iraq in
which local authorities prevented families from returning home. All of the reports have been
linked to allegations that the families supported ISIS because their relatives or communities
had been accused of ISIS membership. Displaced people have the right to voluntarily and safely
return home once the reason for their displacement no longer exists.

It is a basic international standard that punishment for crimes should only be imposed on
people responsible for the crimes, after a fair trial to determine individual guilt. Imposing
collective punishments on families, villages, or entire communities is strictly forbidden and is
a war crime. Members of aid groups monitoring returns in Anbar told Human Rights Watch
that the situation with the al-Baghdadi families is just one of many similar incidents there. On
May 27, they said, security forces and tribal leaders prevented more than 50 families from
returning to their homes in various towns in west Anbar, and sent them into secondary
displacement in camps. Lack of coordination on security clearances between the various
operations commands allegedly played a critical role, they said.

The authorities should immediately facilitate the return of families who want to return to
areas not affected by ongoing military operations, including from the camps, Human Rights
Watch said. They should also allow families to choose to stay in camps with unrestricted
movement into and out of the camp and unrestricted communications, or to allow them to
relocate elsewhere.

Anbar's new Returns Committees, established in April along with equivalent committees
in other governorates to facilitate a consultative and principled returns process, should advocate
with local and Baghdad authorities on behalf of the al-Baghdadi families to facilitate their

Baghdad authorities should take transparent steps to sanction all officials, including from
Iraq's military and security forces, who prevent people from returning home unlawfully or as a
form of collective punishment, including considering criminal charges where appropriate.

"If the Iraqi government is serious when it insists that if there is no evidence that
individuals have links to ISIS they are innocent under the law, it needs to demonstrate that any
officials who break the law will be punished," Fakih said.

June 2018. Iraq: displaced families blocked from returning. Retrieved from:

The Situation for Returnees

The number of returnees increased over the reporting period. The majority of returnees
stem from Anbar (45 per cent) followed by Ninewa (8 per cent) and Salah al-Din (7 per cent).
Concerns have been raised over the severity of practices and policies aimed at forcing people
to leave their area of displacement. These practices include forced evictions, forcible transfers
of displaced persons, mass arrests, and demolition of homes. Other coercive measures include
confiscating documents, restricting movement, and applying discriminatory practices with
regard to access to services.

Refugees International published a report Too Much Too Soon that raises concerns about
forced and coerced returns, as well as a lack of humanitarian response from the government of
Iraq to those affected by the campaign against IS, whereby the government has come to rely
heavily on international assistance to IDPs.

The circumstances of return for IDPs differ depending on the person’s place of origin.
One of the most pressing concerns raised by people contemplating returning is security, most
notably the fear of retribution and revenge by people taking the law into their own hands.
Another issue of concern is the prospect of making a livelihood. A lack of documentation
makes it difficult for returnees to gain access to services. A related issue is proof of ownership
of property and land, which is difficult because much of the documentation was destroyed by
IS. Lack of community services is another compelling reason deterring IDPs from returning.

Reportedly, civil servants who were allowed to continue their work in their area of
displacement were later told that they either had to return or forfeit their salaries. Other IDPs
received notifications of eviction. There have also been cases of persons who had their travel
permissions rejected and therefore were prevented from returning.

Despite the challenges facing returnees, many are still opting to return. Of the almost 1
million civilians who fled Mosul, over 300,000 have returned. The majority of these are
residents of East Mosul. Conditions in western Mosul remain difficult because large parts were
completely destroyed. The remainder are still displaced either living in camps or with relatives.

The flow of returnees to Hawija was swift after the area was retaken from IS. Of the
47,000 persons displaced, only 11,000 remained displaced as of the end of October of this year
despite lack return procedures, a shortage of basic services, and explosives hazards.

December 2017. The Security Situation in Iraq: July 2016–November 2017. Retrieved from: