Authors: William K. Warda & Hamed Shihab Al Maffraji, Hammurabi Human Rights Organization (HHRO)

In Iraq violence and extremism have historically played an important role in the country. This contributes to explain why the country nowadays ranks very high in the spread of these phenomena. The instability of modern Iraqi’s political system, in addition to the wars that Iraq has witnessed in the last forty years, as well as their adverse consequences on the people and the country, were among the most important causes of contemporary violence, extremism and terrorism.

Since 1980, Iraq has fought fierce conflicts, followed by the economic blockade from 1991 until the third Gulf War in 2003, when the previous regime fell, and after that the country faced the sectarian strife in 2006-2008. Afterwards, terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and others emerged, together with the terrorist organization ISIS, which occupied a third of Iraq’s territory in 2014.

Ethnically, Iraq has an Arab majority, followed by Kurds, Turkmens, and Assyrian. In religious terms, there is an Islamic majority, which is divided into two sects (Shiites and Sunnis), in addition to Christians, Yazidis and Sabeans, among the others. Despite this complexity, Iraqis have coexisted harmoniously and integrated for hundreds of years according to their societal structure. 

There is little political and social consensus on the fundamental principles entrenched in the Iraqi Constitution, issued in 2005. One of the most important criticisms lies in the Constitution’s origin, as it was elaborated during the American occupation. Furthermore, the Constitution opened the door for the Baath Party, to which most Iraqis belonged, to be banned. Instead of adopting a policy of tolerance and moving towards some forms of transitional justice, this provision fostered extremist groups to take revenge, especially among those who were affiliated with the banned Baath Party. It is worth mentioning that political leaders, whether in the central federal government or the Kurdistan region, as well as in local governments do not challenge violence and extremism phenomena with effective tools and strategies, bearing responsibility for their current increase. 

The Anti-Terrorism Law No. 13 of 2005 aimed to eliminate and curtail terrorist operations and limit terrorists’ support and assistance. However, jurists noticed flaws and shortcomings in its content, since the law appears to be selectivein its application. In fact, some provisions (especially article 4) were misused and (ab)used against anyone opposing and criticizing the post-2003 regime, challenging ordinary citizens’ freedom of expression and of opinion. This is the case for journalists and Iraqi media as well. At the same time the latter often fall under the control of particularistic interests and demands, somehow fostering political tension and social anger in the nascent political process.

As for the future plans for fighting extremism in Iraq, it is crucial to reconsider the decisions and laws that helped the phenomenon of extremism and terrorism growth, and to consider the abolishment of bodies and institutions that led to its rooting, also requiring local, regional and international cooperation.Further, the deradicalization approach requires action at three levels. At the micro-level, individuals must decrease religious, sectarian and ethnic group fanaticism; institutions and organizations at the meso level should support this commitment, through independent educational institutions, schools, universities, research centres and civil society organizations. As for the macro level, the state– the Federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government – must also prove accountable in promoting national unity through effective actions and policies. The Coronavirus pandemic also made the situation worse in Iraq, since it limited job opportunities and fostered the spread of violence and extremism along with the terrorist threat, in addition to the crisis of the displaced people from inside Iraq – whose number nearly reached 5 million – as well as refugees such as Syrians, Iranians and Palestinians.

For more insights, see the REPORT >, that provides a conceptual account on existing policies and laws addressing radicalisation, to pinpoint their most critical aspects and best practices, and to develop evidence-based policy and guidelines.