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6.1. Relevant circumstances

Last updated: January 2021
*Minor updates added: June 2022

In the context of Iraq, various circumstances may require consideration of the potential applicability of exclusion grounds. The Qualification Directive does not set a time limit for the application of the grounds for exclusion. Applicants may be excluded in relation to events occurring in the recent and more distant past, such as during the regime under Saddam Hussein (1968-2003).

In the context of Iraq, the need to examine possible exclusion issues may arise, for example, in cases of applicants under the following profiles. The list is non-exhaustive:

  • Members of the Baath regime, such as by Baath party members of a certain rank or level, intelligence services, members of the military, judicial and administrative institutions
  • Insurgent and/or extremist groups (e.g. ISIL, Al-Qaeda)
  • Members of ISF and Peshmerga, intelligence services (e.g. Asayish) and other security actors
  • Members of PMF
  • Members of PKK
  • Members of Sahwa, a local counterinsurgency movement that cooperated with the US to expel al-Qaeda in Iraq
  • Individuals involved in tribal feuds
  • etc.

Crimes committed by Iraqi applicants outside of Iraq (e.g. participation in ISIL’s international activities, participation in the activities of Iraqi militia in the conflict in Syria), could also lead to exclusion considerations.

The examples mentioned in this chapter are non-exhaustive and non-conclusive. Each case should be examined on its own merits.

6.1.1 Crimes committed in the context of the conflict with ISIL (2014 – ongoing)

In a report from 2015, the UN Human Rights Council found that ISIL’s targeted violence against civilians and minorities in particular may constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity and possibly genocide [Targeting 2019, Context]. Regarding the Yazidis, the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, made it clear, that ISIL has committed the crime of genocide, as well as multiple crimes against humanity and war crimes [Targeting 2019, 2.2.4]. Since 2014, the Yazidis have been severely persecuted by ISIL. Between 2 000 and 5 500 Yazidis were killed by ISIL. More than 6 000 were abducted in August 2014, including 3 500 women and girls, who were subsequently sold or offered as sex slaves to ISIL members. The almost 3 000 men and boys in captivity were enrolled as fighters. As of August 2020, an estimated 3 000 Yazidis are still missing or thought to be in captivity. Other minorities (e.g. Christians) faced numerous abuses by ISIL, including kidnapping, rape, enslavement, forced marriage and sexual violence [Targeting 2019, 2.2.3, 2.2.4; see also 2.15 Religious and ethnic minorities, and stateless persons].

In areas under their control, ISIL committed widespread, systematic violations and abuses against civilians. These acts include executions, targeted killings and enforced disappearances of religious, community and political leaders [Targeting 2019, 2.2.1].

In November 2018, the UN announced that more than 200 mass graves had been discovered allegedly resulting mainly from atrocities perpetrated by ISIL between 2014 and 2017; the graves are believed to contain the remains of thousands of civilians, including women, children, elderly and disabled, as well as members of the ISF [Security 2019,].

ISIL continues to carry out targeted attacks against civilians and asymmetric attacks across Iraq [Targeting 2019, 2.1; Security 2020, 1.2.5].

Although most abuses in the 2014 - 2017 period were committed by ISIL, elements of the PMF, especially Shia militias, but also the ISF, were accused of committing serious human rights abuses in the course of the fighting against ISIL. Security actors have been engaged in unlawful and extra-judicial killings, torturing during arrest, forced disappearances and abductions of civilians, child recruitment, evictions and extortion of civilians, destruction of property and revenge attacks [Targeting 2019, 1.1.1, 1.1.2, 1.2.2, 3.8.1].

PMF and ISF are primarily targeting perceived ISIL affiliates who are often Sunni Arabs. After October 2017, there were reports on PMF human rights violations against the Kurdish population in the disputed territories, especially in Kirkuk and Tuz Khurmatu [Targeting 2019, 1.1.2; Security 2019,, 2.4].

The battle against ISIL has also afforded KRG forces the latitude to carry out serious abuses under the guise of fighting terrorism. There have been retaliatory attacks by Kurdish security forces and associated armed groups, against Sunni Arab civilians and property following the recapturing of the disputed areas, including Kirkuk, from ISIL. Since 2014, units of the KRG have carried out mass destruction of civilian property in these areas [Targeting 2019, 1.2.3].

The Kurdish security actors are targeting primarily political and societal opponents as well as perceived ISIL affiliates, who are often Sunni Arabs [Targeting 2019, 1.1.3, 1.2.3]. There have been reports of Asayish forces torturing perceived ISIL affiliates in order to extract confessions [Targeting 2019, 1.2].

6.1.2 Crimes committed after the fall of the regime of Saddam Hussein (2003 – ongoing)

In the context of the invasion of Iraq (2003) and the conflict between the ISF, the Multi-National-Forces, militias and insurgent groups (especially Al-Qaeda) - including the sectarian conflict (2006 - 2007), the following have been reported:

  • Arbitrary arrest, incommunicado detention, torture, disappearances and summary or extrajudicial executions of civilians, reportedly committed by parts of the ISF, and in particular the Police, Special Police Commandoes/Iraqi National Police and the Federal Police;
  • Abductions, extortion and intimidation, torture, summary or extrajudicial killings and forced displacement of civilians by militias, at times in collaboration with the ISF, and insurgency groups;
  • Abductions, torture, extra-judicial killings and extortion of civilians by members of the Awakening Councils;
  • Forced displacement of Arab settlers in Kirkuk, as well as arbitrary arrests, abductions, incommunicado detention and torture, attributed to the Kurdish Peshmerga, security and intelligence agencies;
  • Abductions, extortion, rape, murder and torture by criminal gangs, at times in cooperation with or on behalf of militias or insurgents;[52]
  • Targeting of civilians with suicide bombs, car bombs, indiscriminate attacks and attacks that ‘are tantamount to crimes against humanity’ committed by Shia and Sunni armed groups [Security 2019, Annex I].

In the context of protests, use of disproportionate violence, extra-judicial killings, kidnappings, forced disappearances and ill-treatment during detention by ISF and PMF forces were reported. Protesters are known to have also used violence in the context of the protests.


[52] UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UNHCR Eligibility Guidelines for Assessing the International Protection Needs of Iraqi Asylum-Seekers, April 2009, available at

6.1.3 Crimes committed during the regime of Saddam Hussein

Saddam Hussein and the Baath party used violence, killing, torture, execution, arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention, enforced disappearance, and various forms of repression to control the population [Targeting 2019, 1.1.1, 1.7].

Kurdish people were systematically persecuted. The al-Anfal military campaign against Kurdistan in Northern Iraq between 1986 and 1989 is qualified by some European countries as genocide. 182 000 Kurds were estimated to have been deported, killed, disappeared in depopulation campaigns in Kurdish areas carried out by Baath party. A particularly well known incident was when the northern Kurdish village of Halabja was gassed with poison in 1988, killing 5 000 and wounding 10 000 Iraqi Kurds suspected of disloyalty to the regime [Security 2019, Annex I; Targeting 2019, 1.7]. Under the former Baath regime, the Fayli Kurds also faced systematic marginalisation and targeted discrimination from the State. Estimated 300 000 Fayli Kurds were deported to Iran by the Baathist regime [Targeting 2019, 3.4.12; see also the profile 2.15.9 Fayli Kurds].

Persons adhering to the Baha’i faith were particularly oppressed by the Baath party regime from the early 1970s. At that time, the UN reported that the religion was banned, Baha’i property was confiscated and members of the community ultimately faced prison or execution [Targeting 2019, 3.4.9; see also the profile 2.15.7 Baha’i].

After the first Gulf War, in the south, up to 200 000 Shia Marsh Arabs were killed between March and October 1991 and the marshlands between Euphrates and Tigris were drained to eliminate the hiding places for many Shia during and after the uprising [Security 2019, 1.1.1].

6.1.4 Criminal activity and other types of violence

ISIL relied extensively on criminality to fund its terrorist activities (e.g. extortion, looting, robbery, trafficking, kidnapping and smuggling). The violent conflict aggravated the vulnerability of Iraqis (especially women and children) to trafficking, forced labour, etc. ISIL is military defeated, but the ISIL crisis had severe impacts on the economy of Iraq; substantial parts of the country have suffered severe destruction. The organised and street-level crime appears to have increased in 2017 and criminally motivated kidnapping by ISIL, but also by Shia militias, continued to be a serious threat. Especially refugees and those IDPs who remain displaced continue to be highly vulnerable to exploitation (e.g. sex and drug trafficking) by criminal networks and gangs [Targeting 2019, 3.1.2].

Although southern Iraq has largely escaped the ISIL violence, problems of criminality, drug abuse, and violence between Shia armed groups involved in militia and tribal groups, also occur there, 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 [Targeting 2019, 3.1.2; KSEI 2019, 1.3.1; Security 2020, 1.3.1].

Violence against women and children is commonly reported in Iraq, for example FGM, domestic violence, honour-based violence, forced and child marriage [Targeting 2019, 3.5; see also the profile 2.16 Women].