Skip to main content

2.1. Persons perceived to be associated with ISIL

Last updated: January 2021

This profile refers to persons perceived to be associated with ISIL, including suspected ISIL members, and family members of ISIL suspects.

COI summary

The primary profile that is targeted by all security actors present in Iraq (including KRI) is people who have or are perceived to have some affiliation to ISIL.

a. ISIL suspects

Iraqi and KRI forces have screened thousands of individuals fleeing ISIL-held areas for ISIL affiliation, based on broad criteria. Suspicion of affiliation with ISIL can arise out of a broad range of circumstances, such as being men or boys of fighting age, family connection with alleged ISIL members, similarity of name to a name on the ‘wanted list’, alleged affiliation with a tribe perceived to have provided support to ISIL, whether a person resided in and/or fled from an area formerly held by ISIL, absence of documents. In this regard, see in particular the profiles Sunni Arabs and Turkmen, as well as the profile Former Baath party members.

The authorities’ list of ISIL suspects has grown to include approximately 100 000 names, including people involved with ISIL in support functions (e.g. drivers, cooks), or due to family members’ involvement, or because community members informed on persons, often based on personal or local grievances, or following forced confessions involving torture. As a result, thousands of ISIL suspects have been arrested based on incorrect information or because their names were falsely reported.

Iraqi forces have continued to arbitrarily and regularly detain ISIL suspects, often for months, without an arrest warrant or providing any reason for the arrest. Due process rights of ISIL suspects, such as seeing a judge within 24 hours, access to a lawyer, and notification of the family, are systematically violated. ISIL suspects, including children, continue to face torture and ill-treatment in detention by Iraqi and KRG authorities. Children are exposed to a heightened risk of sexual violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect. They are often detained with adults, lack access to education and are denied contact with their families. The overall living conditions in most facilities remain dire. Allegations of torture in detention or pre-detention facilities are rarely investigated.

Moreover, according to reports, local mukhtars, lawyers and aid workers were also reported to be at risk of being labelled as ISIL supporters by security forces and beaten, threatened and arrested if they tried to assist perceived displaced ‘ISIL families’ with (re)obtaining ID documents or security clearance.

As of February 2020, the whereabouts of thousands of men and boys who were forcibly disappeared between 2014 and 2018 by ISF, supported by PMU and KRG forces, while fleeing ISIL-held areas, remained unknown. Displaced Iraqis perceived to be associated with ISIL are at risk of being forcibly disappeared following arrest by Iraqi authorities at checkpoints, in camps and in areas of origin they returned to, many of which are former ISIL strongholds. Authorities have yet not taken any steps to investigate enforced disappearances. Iraqi and KRG policies of detention and prosecution for association with ISIL have profound negative consequences for children, including family separation, displacement, long-term stigmatisation and fears of re-arrest and of retaliatory attacks.

Between January 2018 and October 2019, the Iraqi judiciary processed over 20 000 terrorism-related cases, with thousands still pending as of January 2020. Legal proceedings against ISIL suspects, including children, are falling short of fair trial standards, the concerns being an overreliance on anonymous informants, intelligence or security reports, and confessions involving torture. Summary trials often last as short as five minutes.

The Federal Anti-Terrorism Law requires the application of the death penalty for any person who commits any of the terrorist acts detailed in the law. Those who incite, plan, finance, or assist terrorists face the same penalty as the main perpetrator of the terrorist acts. Concerns reportedly also relate to ISIL suspects being prosecuted for association with, or membership of, a terrorist organisation under the Federal Anti-Terrorism Law in an overtly broad manner, such as providing medical care to ISIL members.

ISIL suspects may be eligible for amnesty under the General Amnesty Law (no. 27/2016) in case they can show that they joined ISIL against their will and did not commit a serious offence. In practice, the law is rarely applied by judges.

The KRI Anti-Terrorism Law provides consecutive sentences for different acts of terrorism, ranging from imprisonment for less than 15 years to the death penalty to life imprisonment. Courts in the KRI apply the death sentence less frequently to ISIL suspects than other courts in Iraq. Similarly, Iraqi courts have sentenced children suspected of ISIL association to longer sentences than KRG courts.

b. ‘ISIL families’

Family members of actual or perceived ISIL members remain displaced in camps across Iraq, often for years. They have been subjected to serious human rights violations and collective punishment, such as arbitrary arrests, harassment, sexual violence, exploitation, and forced displacement by armed actors, including PMU, ISF, militias, and by camp authorities. Once labelled as an ‘ISIL family’, they lose the support of their extended families, village or tribe.

Since early 2018 and throughout 2019, the Iraqi government pushed IDPs to return to their places of origin and started closing IDP camps. Families, in particular those with alleged ISIL ties, have been forced to return to their areas of origin despite security concerns. Some have been unable to return to their home areas for various reasons, in particular due to concerns over arbitrary arrests, but also fears of revenge attacks. Other reasons preventing their return home include difficulty obtaining security clearance, damage and destruction of their homes, lack of job opportunities and basic infrastructure in case of return. As tribes are taking on a significant role in the administering of tribal justice for ISIL family members and supporters, IDPs and returnees suspected of ISIL ties are at risk of retaliatory acts and false accusations by tribes which are sometimes blocking their return. Around 250 000 families with perceived ISIL ties could not return home due to objections by federal or local authorities or communities.

In 2019, access to security clearance, which is needed to issue civil documentation and to exercise freedom of movement, remained severely restricted for undocumented families. Undocumented individuals are commonly suspected to be affiliated with ISIL. Officers were wilfully denying clearance, tearing up applications, destroying expired documents, and in some cases, arresting individuals seeking new documentation when an applicant was found to have a relative on the authorities’ list of individuals with links to ISIL suspects. It is estimated that no less than 156 000 displaced persons are missing at least some of their essential civil documentation. Families with missing identity documents have been marginalised and denied access to education, to healthcare, to the state justice system, to social welfare, etc. Moreover, the lack of civil ID and security clearance is giving rise to fear of arrest or detention at checkpoints.

Thousands of children born in areas which were under ISIL control between 2014 and 2017, and/or with parents suspected of ISIL affiliation, have been missing birth certificates and civil documentation. It was estimated in 2019 that 45 000 children were missing birth certificates. Undocumented children are reported to be at risk of statelessness and have difficulty to access essential services, including education and healthcare. See also the section on Children born under ISIL who lack civil documentation under the profile Children.

Risk analysis

The acts to which individuals under these sub-profiles could be exposed are of such severe nature that they would amount to persecution (e.g. arbitrary arrest, death penalty, torture, ill-treatment, forced disappearance, sexual violence).

In case of perceived affiliation with ISIL, in general, a well-founded fear of persecution would be substantiated, as persons perceived to be associated with ISIL are a priority target of all security actors.

Nexus to a reason for persecution

Available information indicates that persecution of this profile is for reasons of (imputed) political opinion.
Exclusion considerations could be relevant to the sub-profile of ISIL suspects (see the chapter on Exclusion).