government: federal parliamentary republic
state of civil and political rights: Not free
constitution: ratified on 15 October 2005
(subject to review by the Constitutional Review Committee and a possible public referendum)
legal system: based on European civil and Islamic law under the framework outlined in the Iraqi Constitution;
legislative system: Council of Representatives
judicial system: the Iraq Constitution calls for the federal judicial power to be comprised of the Higher Juridical Council, Federal Supreme Court, Federal Court of Cassation, Public Prosecution Department, Judiciary Oversight Commission and other federal courts that are regulated in accordance with the law
religion: Muslim 97% (Shi'a 60%-65%, Sunni 32%-37%), Christian or other 3%
death row: + 720, as of March, 2015, according to the High Commission for Human Rights in Iraq
year of last executions: 0-0-0
death sentences: 6
international treaties on human rights and the death penalty:
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
In Iraq, Islamic law is the chief source of legislation according to the 2005 Constitution.
The Penal Code does not expressly prohibits homosexual acts, but people were killed by militias or sentenced to death by the courts based on Sharia law.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein on 9 April 2003, the death penalty was suspended by the Provisional Authority of the Coalition. It was reintroduced after the transfer of power to Iraqi authorities on 28 June 2004.
On August 8, 2004 Iraq re-instated the death penalty for a limited range of crimes including murder, kidnapping, rape, drug offences and threats to national security.
On October 4, 2005, Iraqi lawmakers approved the death penalty for anyone financing or “provoking” terrorism. The tough new anti-terrorism law set capital punishment for those who “commit ... terror acts” as well as those who “provoke, plan, finance and all those who enable terrorists to commit these crimes”.
On 30 May 2010, the Iraqi Council of Ministers extended the application of the death penalty for economic crimes to the stealing of electricity.
Currently, the death penalty can be imposed for around 48 crimes, including a number of non-fatal crimes such as – under certain circumstances – damage to public property.
Ratifying the death sentence is one of the prerogatives of Iraq’s head of State, as stipulated in article 73 of the Constitution. All death sentences must be confirmed by the Cassation Court, after which they are referred to the Presidential Council, composed of the President and the two Vice-Presidents, for ratification and implementation. The ex-president, Jalal Talabani, did not use to sign execution orders and he delegated his ratification powers to the two Vice-Presidents. On 13 June 2011, President Talabani appointed his first deputy minister Khudayr al-Khuzaie to sign death penalty verdicts and, on 19 August, he appointed his second deputy minister Tareq al-Hashemi to do the same. However, the new orders now are signed by the new President, Fuad Massoum.
On 9 June 2015, Presidency spokesperson Khalid Shwani told BasNews that 667 execution orders were waiting to be carried out. “Most of them are pending from the previous government,” Shwani said. President Fuad Masum has established a committee to investigate the orders for convicts sentenced during former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government in order to apply justice and avoid sectarian or personal al-Maliki’s decisions.
Executions began in August 2005. Since then, as of 20 June 2016, at least 776 executions were carried out, most of them related to acts of terrorism.
In 2015, Iraq executed at least 30 people.
In 2014, Iraq had executed at least 67 people. In 2013, Iraq had executed at least 177 people (including 3 women), the country’s highest figure since the 2003 US-led invasion. In 2012, Iraq had executed at least 129 people, a significant and worrying increase compared to the previous year when at least 68 people were executed, already four times as many as the 17 executed in 2010.
In 2015, at least 89 death sentences were imposed, according to Amnesty International.
In March 2015, there were 720 convicts who had been sentenced to death and were awaiting execution, most of them convicted of terror related offences, according to the High Commission for Human Rights in Iraq.
On 12 August 2015, a man and his two wives in Iraq's Kurdish region were hanged over the kidnapping and murder of two schoolgirls, making it the first judicial executions in the Kurdistan Region since an “informal moratorium” was set up there in 2008. Kurdistan’s Supreme Court upheld the sentences, and the three convicts were hanged shortly after the Kurdistan President, Masoud Barzani, signed the execution order despite previously refusing to do so. Zebari said the President was asked by local tribes and political leaders to make an exception and sign the verdicts for the three offenders, due to the gravity of the crime. In the region’s three provinces, 205 people are on a list to be executed, but Barzani has not given the final order in those cases.
On 26 August 2015, the European Union called on the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to re-instate a moratorium on executions. The EU deplored what it called “a setback” in a troubled region. “With no executions carried out in the autonomous region of Kurdistan since 2008, the Kurdistan Region Government (KRG) has set a progressive example in a troubled region, and demonstrated that it is possible to ensure a high level of security without resorting to capital punishment,” said EU spokesperson Catherine Ray in a written statement.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and UN Special Representative for Iraq Nickolay Mladenov have urged Iraq to impose a moratorium on the death penalty and called on the Kurdistan region to abolish it permanently.
The war on terror
Iraqi law imposes the death penalty for 48 crimes, but most executions for which the criminal charge has been revealed have been under Article 4 of the October 2005 Anti-Terrorism Law.
The Anti-terrorism Law provides for the death penalty for “whoever commits... terrorist acts,” as well as for “anyone who instigates, prepares, finances and fosters the conditions for terrorists to commit this type of crime.”
The Law contains a broad definition of terrorism that is susceptible to wide interpretation: “Every criminal act committed by an individual or an organized group that targeted an individual or a group of individuals or groups or official or unofficial institutions and caused damage to public or private properties, with the aim to disturb the peace, stability, and national unity or to bring about horror and fear among people and to create chaos to achieve terrorist goals.”
Furthermore, the terrorism law offered amnesty and anonymity to al-mukhbir al-sirri, secret informers who report alleged terrorist activities. Those reports contributed to the detention of thousands of Iraqis, who were sentenced to death shortly after being arrested.
Iraq’s Government has also received criticism for televising many confessions of those who committed acts of terrorism. It’s difficult to find out under what conditions those confessions were given. The fact is that detainees are sometimes tortured and forced to confess crimes or terrorist acts during pre-trial interrogations, confessions they later denounce in court. However, such confessions are highly publicized and regularly broadcast on the State-funded TV channel, a practice which strongly undermines the rule of law and the right to a fair trial.
On 9 March 2006, the first condemnations were carried out under the new anti-terrorism law.
On 5 November 2015, the U.N. Human Rights Committee, which monitors state-parties’ implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, accused Iraq of violating the human rights of its citizens in the name of combating acts of terrorism. The committee of 18 independent experts acknowledged Iraq’s need to adopt measures to combat acts of terrorism. This, especially in light of the grave crimes being committed by the so-called Islamic State (IS), including killings, abductions, enslavement, rape, and torture. But, it said these horrific acts do not justify the human rights violations reportedly being committed against civilians by Iraqi security forces and allied armed groups in their efforts to defeat IS. The experts are concerned by allegations that police often use torture to extract confessions from people suspected of terrorism and other crimes.
Iraq executed at least 30 people in 2015, including 27 for terrorism. At least 55 other people were hanged in 2016 (as of 30 June), all for terrorism.
In 2014, at least 67 executions were carried out, most of them related to acts of terrorism.
As of 20 June 2016, there were about 9,000 detainees on terrorism charges in the Iraqi prisons, including 200 Arab and foreign citizens, according to the Director General of the Department of Reform in the Ministry of Justice, Khaled Hussein al-Askari.
In Iraq, mass executions are carried out for terrorism.
On 19 October 2014, the United Nations said Iraq should stop its widespread use of the death penalty, which is unjust, flawed and only fuels the violence it purports to deter. "Far from providing justice to the victims of acts of violence and terrorism and their families, miscarriages of justice merely compound the effects of the crime by potentially claiming the life of another innocent person and by undermining any real justice that the victims and families might have received," said the report, published jointly by the U.N. Mission in Iraq and the U.N. Human Rights Office. Some convicts' relatives said they had been offered a chance to avoid the death penalty by hiring a particular lawyer for 100,000 USD, while many women detainees said they had been detained in place of a male relative, the report said. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein and U.N. Special Representative for Iraq Nickolay Mladenov said Iraq should impose a moratorium on the death penalty. The report said the Iraqi government's view that the death penalty deterred violence "appears not to be valid given the deteriorating security situation over the past years" and said the executions appeared to be merely a reaction to the violence. “As many of those engaged in committing acts of terrorism in Iraq are motivated by an extremist ideology and are prepared to die to achieve their objectives, it may well be that they do not view the death penalty as a deterrent.” The report also rejected the government's claim that its use of the death penalty enjoyed popular support in Iraq. "Once informed of the facts, including that it has no deterrent effect whatsoever on levels of violence and the risks of serious and irreversible miscarriages of justice, it is unlikely that the death penalty would continue to enjoy the public support that it now allegedly receives," the report said.
Top secret death
Executions began in August 2005. Since then, as of 20 June 2016, at least 776 executions were carried out, most of them related to acts of terrorism.
However, these numbers could be much higher, because there are no official statistics available and news published by national papers do not report all the facts.
All prisoners whose death sentences have been ratified by the Presidential Council are transferred to the 5th section (al Shuba al Khamisa) of Al-Adalah prison complex in Baghdad before they are executed. This section of the prison is under the control of the Ministry of the Interior, while the other sections are under the control of the Ministry of Justice.
The Ministry of Justice rarely provides information about executions in advance, the identities of those executed, the charges against them, or the evidence presented against them at trial. The Ministry says merely that they were “terrorist members of Al-Qaeda” convicted under article 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Law, No. 13 of 2005, who had participated in assassinations, explosions, and other terrorist attacks. A Justice Ministry employee told Human Rights Watch that execution orders for people on death row are handed down directly from the Prime Minister’s Office to prison facilities.
In 2014, Iraq had executed at least 67 people. However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Iraqi security forces and Shia militia members had executed at least 255 Sunni prisoners in six cities and villages. At least eight of those who were killed were boys under age 18.
The hangings are carried out regularly from a wooden gallows in a small, cramped cell of Al-Adalah prison complex in the north Baghdad Shia area of Kadhimiyah, although some executions are also carried out in Nassiriya Prison (Al Hut) in Thi Qar governorate.
Most prisoners awaiting execution are kept in a special wing within the Al Adalah prison complex. On the day the sentence is to be implemented, the convict is placed in a special holding cell in the Al Adalah Prison where she or he remains until led to the gallows for execution. There is a shower room in the prison where the convict can take ablutions before the execution if she or he so wishes. The convict is also weighed and measured so that the appropriate length of rope can be determined for the hanging. The sentence and decree ordering execution are read before the sentence is implemented. Witnesses gather inside a viewing room with a one-way glass window to observe the execution. After the execution, the body is handed over to relatives, upon their request; if not, the person will be buried by the authorities without a funeral ceremony.
Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was hanged for crimes against humanity on 30 December 2006 at Al-Adalah Prison, where the same end befell other exponents of the deposed regime, between 2007 and 2012.
On 5 June 2015, Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi foreign minister and deputy prime minister who for decades was the most public face of Saddam Hussein’s government on the world stage, died in a hospital in Nassiriya, where he was taken following a heart attack. In 2010, Aziz was sentenced to death for the persecution of the Shiite Muslim religious parties, but then-president Jalal Talabani declined to sign the execution order.
On 3 November 2014, Iraq was reviewed under the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council. In its National Report, the Government said, “abolition of the death penalty would currently constitute a flaw in the criminal justice system, since Iraq is confronted with organized and unorganized heinous and abhorrent terrorist crimes... Under these circumstances, Iraq must retain the death penalty.” However, Iraq wished to review the application of death penalty by establishing a department in the Ministry of Human Rights to look into the issue in the future, in the hope that the penalty could be restricted to the gravest of crimes.
On 19 December 2016, Iraq voted against the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly. Also in 2014 and 2012, Iraq had voted against the Resolution.