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Last updated: June 2022

This profile refers to persons with (perceived) ISIL affiliation, and family members of individuals with (perceived) ISIL affiliation.

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.

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, the timing of a decision to leave or remain in an area held by ISIL, the stage of the conflict when an IDP arrived in a particular camp, absence of documents or false accusations. In this regard, see in particular the profiles 2.2 Sunni Arabs and 2.15.1 Turkmen, as well as the profile 2.7 Former Baath party members.

a. Individuals with (perceived) ISIL affiliation

[Targeting 2022, 1.1, 1.1.1, 1.1.2, 1.3; KSEI 2021, 1.1, 3.3.3, 3.3.4]

People were reportedly arrested at checkpoints for not carrying identification documents. It was reported that the military and security forces would assume that men and boys who left ISIL-controlled areas without documents must be affiliated with ISIL and were therefore trying to conceal their identities. Reportedly, thousands of men disappeared after being arrested.

In Iraq, there is no national legislation for the prosecution of international crimes. Iraq charges and tries ISIL suspects under the Iraqi Anti-Terrorism Law No. 13 of 2005, which was criticised by the UN as ‘ambiguous’ and overly broad in its definition of terrorism. The law can lead to arbitrary trials on terrorism charges and death sentences, including for non-violent crime committed without the intent to terrorize the population. KRG charges and tries ISIL suspects under the KRI counter-terrorism law.

Iraqi forces have continued to arbitrarily and regularly arrest and to detain ISIL suspects, often for months and sometimes years, without a court order or an arrest warrant. 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. The terrorism trials were criticised by the UN as ‘unfair’ and based on extracted confessions allegedly obtained by torture, leading to convictions for terrorism crimes that can carry the death penalty. In January 2021 there were 22 380 people detained in Iraqi prisons convicted of terrorism-related offences, including 950 women. In November 2020, there were 4 000 prisoners on death row, most of whom convicted of terrorism charges. Reportedly, Iraq executed 21 death row prisoners in October 2020, another 21 in November 2020 and 8 people during January and February 2021.

Lawyers who have provided legal services to individuals and families with perceived ISIL affiliation have also been reported as being threatened for providing their services.

Iraqi authorities can prosecute child suspects as young as 9 with alleged ISIL affiliation in Baghdad-controlled areas and 11 in the KRI. Security forces often apprehend children based on ‘wanted lists’ of names collected from villagers or from other suspects through interrogation and torture. Children were reportedly often forced by torture to confess alleged affiliations to ISIL. Cases of children being detained by Iraqi and Kurdish authorities for their alleged affiliation with ISIL without evidence of a committed crime were reported. 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. Children were exposed to a heightened risk of sexual violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect. Allegations of torture in detention or pre-detention facilities were rarely investigated. Contact with family members for detained children is often ‘little’ and when they are released from detention, they are often perceived as ISIL affiliates.

In January 2021, an estimated 2 294 children remained in detention in Bagdad due to their (perceived) ISIL affiliation with sentences averaging between 5 to 15 years. Iraqi’s juvenile penal justice system is reported to be overwhelmed and overcrowded. In KRI, most children associated with armed groups left prisons, but reintegration services remain limited for children and returning children have faced many challenges reintegrating into their communities.

Those who had served their sentences in the KRI, including child suspects, were reportedly at risk of being arrested and tried twice for the same terrorism crime upon their return to their areas of origin in other parts of Iraq as the two systems exist in parallel and lack coordination. Dozens of Sunni Arab men in the KRI were examples of those at risk of rearrest and retaliation if they try to reunite with their families in areas controlled by Baghdad. Moreover, they were reportedly at risk of being arbitrarily detained or killed by armed groups due to their suspected ISIL affiliation with ‘near impunity’.

There are also several reported cases of the PMF and security forces threatening family members of ISIL members or suspects to return home and provide information or face retaliation. Former ISIL suspects also reportedly had problems obtaining civil documentation.

b. Family members of individuals with (perceived) ISIL affiliation

[Targeting 2022, 1.3, 1.3.1, 1.3.2, 1.3.3, 4.3.3; KSEI 2021, 3.1.3, 3.2, 3.2.2]

The term for ISIL-associated family members (awa’il Dawa’ish) is explained by sources as being understood to have a broad definition:

The term ‘ISIL families’ is used quite broadly to describe families in which one member, normally a son or husband, joined or collaborated with ISIL. The degree of affiliation varies from membership in ISIL’s security apparatus as fighters to having been employed as cooks or cleaners.

The UN reportedly uses the term ‘families with perceived affiliations’ to refer to ‘a group that does not include people accused or suspected of extremism or committing a terrorism offence, but who are nevertheless stigmatised due to a tribal or family connection to a Da’esh supporter’. In Iraqi culture, this could include anyone from a first degree to a sixth degree relative.

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 PMF, ISF, militias, and by camp authorities. Once labelled as an ‘ISIL family’, they lose the support of their extended families, village or tribe.

Iraq has made official efforts to close camps in the second half of 2019. Many IDPs were unable to return to areas of origin due to barriers such as housing destruction, security concerns or risks of violence, inability to access civil documentation, re-displacement, etc. 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. By January 2021 Iraq had closed 26 camps, many of which were headed by female IDPs and whose families have been labelled as ISIL-affiliated. It has been reported that in late 2020, in the context of the Iraqi authorities efforts to close all IDP camps, they granted many more people security clearance and issued them new civil documentation. It has also been reported that in 2021, more people were allowed to return to their places of origin even if they were (allegedly) connected to ISIL, but some communities in southern Ninewa refused to take back families. In several cases, the PMF and security forces reportedly threatened family members of ISIL members or suspects to return home and provide information or face retaliation.

There were reports that individuals or families with perceived ISIL affiliation have been prevented from returning to their home areas or encountered barriers due to local decrees and other preventive measures stopping their return such as communal rejection, threats, harassment, physical violence and attacks on families attempting to return, threats of eviction, and inability to obtain civil documents and security clearances, etc.

If a person was found to have a family member who was suspected of ISIL affiliation, security clearance was denied. The security screening process is not standardized and there are differing rules, appeals, and processes which leave individuals vulnerable to exploitation while those that are issued to people leaving IDP camps are not always recognised by other security actors, meaning those returning or resettling are subjected to additional checks even as security clearance holders. There were also reports that families have been compelled by civilian authorities, security/armed actors of community/tribal groups to undergo procedures that involve reporting ISIL affiliated relatives to the authorities (ikhbar) or disavowing these relatives by the tribal mechanism called tabrea’a in order to obtain security clearance. The practice of tabrea’a (disavowal) and ikhbar (denunciation) enabled some women to eventually apply for civil documentation. However, it was reported that female IDPs and heads of household ‘may be exposed to additional threats’ when trying to access civil documentation or when undergoing ikhbar due to harassment and sexual exploitation by officers. Similarly, it was reported that these women’s main avenue for pursuing legal autonomy is tabrea’a (disavowal) but this procedure is freighted with additional burdens and perils including putting her detained or missing husband at risk by testifying, that he is connected to ISIL. Additionally, the process is administratively difficult, costly, and surrounded by corruption.

Families with missing identity documents have been marginalised and denied access to education, healthcare, the state justice system, social welfare, etc. Moreover, the lack of civil ID and security clearance is giving rise to fear of arrest or detention at checkpoints.

Female-headed households with perceived ISIL affiliation encounter particular difficulties and challenges in obtaining documents for themselves or their children in case the father died or disappeared.

Women whose husbands are missing or dead also face additional obstacles to obtain humanitarian and government assistance. Moreover, these women are reportedly limited in their ability to participate in tribal mechanisms to facilitate return, obtain security clearances, or engage in paid work, and may be rejected by their communities.

Many children of families perceived to have ISIL affiliation lack civil documentation. 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

In itself, the prosecution of the criminal acts of insurgents does not amount to persecution.

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). When the acts in question are (solely) discriminatory measures, the individual assessment of whether discrimination could amount to persecution should take into account the severity and/or repetitiveness of the acts or whether they occur as an accumulation of various measures.

In case of individuals with (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.

For family members with (perceived) ISIL affiliation, the individual assessment of whether there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk impacting circumstances such as: family status (eg. single or widowed woman, female heads of households, child with single or widowed mother and/or a foreign, dead or missing father), tribal affiliation, area of origin.

Nexus to a reason for persecution

Available information indicates that persecution of this profile is highly likely to be for reasons of (imputed) political opinion.

Exclusion considerations could be relevant to this profile (see the chapter 6. Exclusion).