Iraq

Country Profiles Iraq

Download as a PDF

Executive Summary

Iraq has experienced long periods of war throughout its short existence, and especially during the past few decades. Now, recovering from the territorial defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which nonetheless continues to carry out attacks in the country, Iraq is still struggling to deal with a major antagonism at the heart of its confessional political life whereby sectarian militias, backed by different regional actors, prevent peace. Combined with the sluggish oil market on which it is financially dependent, the consequences of the Covid-19 crisis, the spillovers from the ongoing neighbouring Syrian conflict, the ongoing Turkish air and land armed operations in Northern Iraq, and the recent anti-regime mass protests, the country remains on the brink of civil war. As a result, one can understand that the political attention to asylum seekers and refugees has not always been a priority for the struggling authorities fighting other more immediate threats. As a country of emigration, Iraq has recently attracted international workers in the construction, hospitality and housework sectors, and their numbers fluctuate with the political situation. The Iraqi diaspora increased manyfold over the past decades as people fled persecutions and wars. The lack of security and the elements of sustainable life are the main migration drivers towards the European Union. This results in the depletion of Iraq’s workforce necessary for any reconstruction of the country. Although on the decrease, the number of Iraqi Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) remains high, making it a top priority for UNHCR. Another issue of concern is the influx of Syrian refugees, almost exclusively in the northern Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), in a context where the law does not allow for clear official registration of non-political refugees. The KRI authorities and more recently federal Iraqi authorities have ignored the weak legislative requirement to issue certificates that would allow the UNHCR to deal with the first needs of asylum seekers. ISIL’s occupation of Iraqi territories resulted in widespread persecution and human rights violations that targeted vast segments of the population. These violations included summary executions, torture, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude on behalf of ISIL fighters, and went as far as the genocide of the Yazidi minority. Despite the conclusion of the war against ISIL, human rights violations such as forced labour and exploitation remain. Those who are suspected of being ISIL relatives or former supporters are at high risk of violence at the hand of the authorities. Also related to the ISIL occupation is the amount of stateless people, either born under the illegitimate Caliphate authorities or born from an unknown or non-Iraqi father, which denies them the elementary rights that come with citizenship. The plight of the local Christian minority that has been living on Iraqi soil since apostolic times has led many to migrate from Iraq, putting Christianity in the country at risk of extinction. Iraq’s Christian numbers, estimated between 0.5 and 1.5 million, should be adjusted, following a census planned in 2020. Many Catholic NGOs have been working in the country for decades, supporting local Christians as well as Muslim and other populations, all in an attempt to lay the basis for peaceful coexistence and cooperation. Cardinal Louis Sako, Catholic Patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, has consistently called for peace, interreligious solidarity and national unity as the underlying conditions for reconstruction and development.

Country Profile

Basic Information

Iraq was created in 1921 out of the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire. It gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1932. Located in the Middle East, the country is bordered by Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran and has a 58-km opening on the Gulf. Iraq’s population is 38,872,655, comprised of Arabs (75-80%) and Kurdish (15-20%) populations in the Northern Mountains, and according to the most recent available ethnic data (1987), Assyrians and Turkmens (5%). Islam is the official religion and the adherents are divided between Shia (64-69%) and Sunni (29-34%). Christians account for 1%, and others, such as Yezidi and Mandeans, account for 1-4% (2015 estimates). It is worth noting that 60% of the population is below the age of 25.

Iraq has been at war for decades: the Second Gulf War involving the international coalition lasted from 2003 to 2011, and the Iraqi civil war raged from 2014 to 2017. ISIL, one of the main belligerents, continues to conduct guerrilla insurgency in Iraq. Northern Iraq is also currently the target of Turkish military air and ground operations because Turkey has vowed to strike Kurdish independence movements whilst also targeting Assyrian villages. Iraq currently suffers a severe economic and social crisis, caused notably by a sluggish market for oil, a revenue source on which the country depends. An estimated 550 people lost their lives to government repression during the October 2019 protests.

International and Internal Migrants

Although Iraq is very much a country of emigration and internal displacement, it has also become a destination country for international migrant workers who come in response to demand in growth sectors, such as construction, domestic work, and hospitality services.

In July 2019, the United Nations estimated the number of international migrants (including refugees and asylum seekers) in Iraq to be 368,100, or 0.9% of the general population. Women represented 41.9% of these migrants. If one removes the reported 274,000 forced migrants, a more accurate count of non-forced international migrants would then be close to 94,100. Other rough numbers are mentioned in the press: one can read in late June 2020 that “Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, largely from South Asian countries, have flocked to Iraq over the last decade to work in a range of businesses, from oil fields to restaurants. Among them are 250,000 registered Bangladeshi workers, according to Mohammed Rezaul Kabir of the country’s embassy in Baghdad. More than 20,000 have lost their jobs, he told AFP, adding that the numbers could be even higher, given how many work informally.” These figures do not coincide with the above mentioned UN figures. It is probable that they are cumulative estimates and therefore don’t reflect the current situation. The records of Philippine’s Department of Labor show that in January 2020, 2,191 Filipinos worked in Iraq, some in U.S. facilities before the government ordered the repatriation of its nationals. In December 2018, the Kurdish Peace and Freedom Organization reported that more than 50,314 domestic workers had come to the Kurdistan region from abroad to work as domestic workers in the previous 13 years, though many had since returned home. As in many other countries, migrant workers have been disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 crisis, with widespread layoffs that have left many in a precarious financial situation and unable to meet their basic needs. As a result, responding to those who were referred to IOM Iraq by their respective embassies, the IOM delivered cash assistance to Bangladeshi and Filipino vulnerable migrants in Iraq in early June 2020.

Emigration and Skilled Migration

A migration profile published by the Government of Iraq and the IOM shows that patterns of migration out of Iraq have shifted significantly since 2003. During the period between the Gulf War and 2003, the primary destination for Iraqis migrating abroad was Iran; then Jordan and Syria emerged as the next primary destinations. Emigration due to ISIL reached Turkey, Europe and Western countries, rather than former traditional asylum countries for Iraqis which included countries such as Iran, Jordan, Syria. After 2014, Europe became a major destination, with Sweden, Germany and the UK the most commonly chosen destinations. The European Commission’s 2017 Migration Profile for Iraq shows that 1,679,000 Iraqis have legally migrated out of Iraq. This represents 4.4% of the Iraqi population. Of these migrants, l,457,800 are in the EU, accounting for 27.3% of all Iraqi migrants. As for refugees, 362,500 left Iraq (1% of the population), and 204,300 of them (56.4%) are now in the EU. Most Iraqi refugees moved to Germany (130,640), followed by Turkey (37,319), Jordan (34,037), Iran (28,268) and Syria (16,325). In 2017, a study on migration drivers and reasons for migration to Europe shows that among the 2,100 people who were interviewed, 30% did not make the decision to migrate by themselves, 50% reported that the decision was taken by their spouse, 42% said it was their parents, and the remainder said it was their siblings and others. Three quarters of the migrants reported that they already had family and friends in Europe. A large majority of them reported security threats at the personal, household and community levels as their reason to migrate. Three quarters of them (76%) said they would not have stayed in Iraq even if offered a job, and slightly more (78%) said they would not have stayed even if they had been offered educational opportunities. More than half (57%) said they would advise their fellow Iraqis to migrate mainly because they believe there is no future for the country. Just over one-third (37%) said they would not advise Iraqis to migrate because of the hardships along the route to Europe. The press has been mentioning the Iraqi brain drain since the implementation of sanctions in 2001. Iraq’s upper class could no longer keep up their lifestyle, and this trend intensified during the first post-Saddam Hussein lawless months when crime rates, kidnappings and assassinations of the educated and well-off intensified. The situation deteriorated with the continuous outflow of Iraqis and the continuing decline in access to education and job opportunities, owing to the security situation and its impact on all social classes.

Forced Migrants (internally displaced, asylum seekers and refugees)

As a result of the conflict against the ISIL, the number of IDP peaked at 6 million, before declining to 1,381,332 spread across 62 camps in June 2020 figures provided by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Iraq Displacement Tracking Method (DTM). Iraqis have experienced property rights violations, such as having their property unlawfully seized or sold, looted, damaged or destroyed by different actors. Many have fled due to fear of violence, lack of freedom or access to basic services. According to the Law on Compensation (Law 20 of 2009 and law 57 of 2015), Iraqi authorities will compensate all citizens, including IDPs, whose properties were affected by war related incidents. Law 20 of 2009 and Law 57 of 2015 stipulate that all Iraqi citizens affected or harmed during military operations and terrorist actions are entitled to financial compensation. A Central Compensation Committee based in Baghdad and with sub-committees there and in each conflicted region of Iraq are working to apply legislation aiming at allowing the return of IDPs. It was reported that the official compensation process was too complex and that guidance not available; this probably accounts for the fact that compensation application rates are low, and rejections numerous.

The Northern governorates of Ninewa, Duhok, Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, Kirkuk, Salah al-Din and Diyala host the highest number of IDP in the country. Ninewa and Salah al-Din also show the highest number of returnees, along with the Western governorate of Anbar. The rate of returns slowed down in 2020, due to factors including the Covid-19 pandemic and associated movement restrictions, as well as disruptions to the issuance of civil documentation and a lack of social cohesion programmes in affected areas of return. A 2016 IOM report collected gender related data in IDP, and relevant in the context of ISIL’s ideology, which was then prevalent in conflicted territories. Pre-existing traditional gender roles have been exacerbated by displacement due to the widespread fear of sexual violence and the stigma and social blame that would ensue. In this context, female IDP faced disproportionate restrictions to live in safety, dignity and privacy. The situation caused men and boys to take the lead in addressing household needs, often putting themselves at risk of being arbitrarily arrested and detained, as males were often seen with suspicion by different parties to the conflict. Men’s perception that this suspicion would lower their chance of meeting security clearance requirements for registering as IDP, led some of them to remain behind, separating families and increasing the vulnerability of female-headed and minor-headed households. Gender roles for males in Iraq have been shown to have implications for younger boys, putting them in a situation of risk when they stand in for a female adult parent. The constraints facing female-headed households (4.5% of all households), coupled with the stressors of displacement and the trauma of conflict, can be devastating, making suicide a real threat for many female IDPs. Seriously hindering the return of IDPs was the 2019 pattern of suspicious crop fires that resumed in 2020. Authorities and farmers believe these fires were intentionally lit by terrorists or criminals to discourage returnees. The first reported fire in 2020 destroyed wheat crops on the outskirts of Samarra (Salah al-Din). During the week ending 13 May, 14 intentional fires were recorded, some caused by IED detonations. All of them resulted in acute market sensitivity, especially in the context of Covid-19 related restrictions. Adding to the above difficulties, the Turkish “Tiger Claw” military air and land operations targeting PKK fighters in Northern Iraq, near a refugee camp close to Makhmour, led many to flee and caused the death of several civilians.

Compared to neighbouring countries in the Middle East such as Jordan and Lebanon, Iraq hosts the lowest number of immigrants relative to the population. Detailed statistics on refugees in Iraq are regularly published by UNHCR. As of December 2019, some 245,810 Syrians sought refuge on Iraqi soil, 59% of them in urban areas and 41% in camps. Half of all Syrians live in Erbil, the capital of the autonomous KRI. The remainder are located in Duhok (35.9%), in Sulaymaniyah (12.41%) and in other urban locations (1.17%), and the vast majority of them are Kurds. Their numbers started to decrease after May 2019, only to rise again in October of the same year due to the worsening of the situation in North-Eastern Syria. Some 19,000 additional Syrian refugees then arrived in Kurdistan through Al-Walid and Sehela border crossing points and were transported to Bardarash and Gawilan camps, which had been chosen by local authorities in Duhok to host all new arrivals and were to be used for security screening and registration purposes. A high proportion of adolescent boys among the new arrivals (many of whom were unaccompanied) required additional child protection measures. In an assessment of needs in 2018 and 2019, Syrian refugees reported the lack of access to sustainable employment and livelihood opportunities as the main vulnerability, and the root cause of protection issues, such as child labour and child marriage. These issues have led refugees to seek relocation to camps. Sexual and gender-based violence including domestic violence, sexual violence, forced and child marriage and denial of resources, continues to be reported by Syrian refugees, mostly by women and girls. Female headed and minor headed households face the same risks as the IDP in the same situation. As of 31 December 2019, in addition to the Syrian population, 41,139 refugees of other nationalities are registered with UNHCR in Iraq, mostly Turks (20,678, with the majority residing in Erbil and Duhok), Iranians (11,092, where the majority reside in Sulaymaniyah) and Palestinians (7,967, the majority residing in Baghdad). The overall number of refugees is expected to decrease a little if the situation in North-Eastern Syria improve. A worst-case scenario predicts the arrival of 125,000 new Syrians within a period of 6 months.

Victims of Human Trafficking

The US Department of State’s 2019 and 2020 reports on human trafficking in Iraq depict a picture where the violent conflict with ISIS exacerbated the population’s vulnerability to trafficking, in particular women and children; internal displacement added to the risk. Human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Iraq, as well as Iraqi victims abroad, but the reported incidence of violations declined after the territorial defeat of ISIS. Between 2014 and 2018, ISIS militants kidnapped and held captive thousands of women and children from minority ethnic and religious groups, especially Yazidis. They sold them to ISIL fighters in Iraq and Syria, where they were subjected to forced marriage, sexual slavery, rape, and domestic servitude even via sales contracts managed by ISIS-held courts. Throughout 2015-2018, thousands of women and children escaped ISIS captivity. Many of these women were pregnant as a result of rape and sex trafficking. These women and girls, including IDPs among this population, remain highly vulnerable to various forms of exploitation, including re-trafficking. As of February 2020, the KRI reported that 2,893 Yazidis, including men, women, and children, remain missing. Some reports indicate these women and girls remain with ISIS in Eastern Syria and Turkey or have been exploited in other parts of the region, Europe, or Asia. Children remain highly vulnerable to forcible recruitment and use by multiple armed groups operating in Iraq. ISIL continues to abduct and forcibly recruit and use children in combat and support roles, including as human shields, informants, bomb makers, executioners, and suicide bombers. Some of these children were as young as 8-years old or mentally disabled. Women and girls in IDP camps, whose family members have alleged ties to ISIS, continue to endure a complex system of sexual exploitation, sex trafficking, and abuse by armed actors residing in the camps, security and military officials, and camp personnel controlling access to humanitarian assistance and services. Criminal gangs reportedly force boys and girls to beg, especially IDP and refugee children and children with disabilities, primarily in urban areas. Others are forced to sell and transport drugs and weapons, particularly in southern Iraq. According to KRI press reports, the collapse of Iran’s currency and the economic slowdown spurred an influx of more than 2,000 young Iranian women and girls into the KRI in 2018, many of whom were victims of sex trafficking in cafes, hotels, and massage centres. Numerous media reports in 2018 claim that girls as young as 11 years old are observed serving in night clubs and casinos in Baghdad as waitresses, dancers, and prostitutes. It has been reported in early 2020 that traffickers are beginning to open massage parlours in five-star hotels in Iraq as a cover for commercial sex and sex trafficking. Some of these hotels are owned by state entities, which allow the traffickers to operate with impunity. The Iraqi government further confirmed in early 2020 that massage parlours, coffee shops, bars, and nightclubs were locations for sex trafficking. Additionally, according to the Iraqi government, traffickers use social media to operate their networks, to advertise fake job offers and to recruit victims.

The central government has increased its efforts to convict traffickers, with the exception of complicit officials. They identified more than 70 victims, and increased relevant staff at the Ministry of Interior. They continued to provide shelter and some protection services to a limited number of victims in the government-run shelter in Baghdad and continued to implement their national anti-trafficking action plan. Official permission was given to an NGO to operate the first trafficking shelter in the KRI. It must be noted, however, that deficiencies in identification and referral procedures, coupled with the authorities’ lack of understanding of trafficking, continued to prevent many victims from receiving appropriate protection services. Sometimes this also resulted in the continued punishment of some victims for unlawful acts that traffickers compelled them to commit, such as immigration and prostitution violations and child soldiering. In 2016, NGOs reported cases in which criminal networks exploited girls who had run away from their families out of fear of honour killings and used them in child sex trafficking. Traditional practices, including child forced and “temporary” marriages (customary religiously managed prostitution) and fasliya (the exchange of family members to settle tribal disputes) also place women and girls at an increased risk of trafficking within the country. Some men and women from throughout Asia and Africa who migrate both legally and illegally to Iraq are subjected to forced labour as construction workers, security guards, cleaners, handymen, and domestic workers. NGOs reported that some employers and recruitment agents exploit their workers’ illegal status by withholding their salaries and subjecting them to substandard living conditions. Some foreign migrants are recruited for work in other countries in the region but are forced, coerced, or deceived into working in Iraq and the KRI. It must be underlined that people with homosexual tendencies or people who are seen not to adhere to traditional gender identities face acute risks of violence. In early 2020, the US Department of State mentioned an increase in trafficking victims from Ghana, Kenya, and Sierra Leone.

National Legal Framework

Iraq and the autonomous KRI yet do not have an inclusive national law to grant refugee status through a fair and efficient refugee status determination procedure. Therefore, the majority of those who sought refuge in the country enjoy a temporary asylum-seeker status. All asylum-seekers in Iraq must register with UNHCR and obtain a UNHCR certificate; otherwise they are at risk of deportation and loss of assistance and protection services provided by UNHCR and other humanitarian actors. While Iraq is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Iraqi government has issued two legislative instruments related to refugees in Iraq. Law 21-2010 establishes the Ministry of Migration and Displacement to provide assistance and services to both internally displaced persons and foreign refugees inside Iraq. Second, the Political Refugee Law of 1971 (“the 1971 Law”) addresses political refugees only and establishes benefits such as the right to work and benefit from the same health and education services as Iraqis. However, it does not apply to refugees who have fled their countries for any other reason than being a political refugee. The 2005 Constitution of the Republic of Iraq provides in Article 21 that “a law shall regulate the right of political asylum in Iraq. No political refugee shall be surrendered to a foreign entity or returned forcibly to the country from which he fled. Political asylum shall not be granted to a person accused of committing international or terrorist crimes or to any person who inflicted damage on Iraq.” Although residency matters are among the enumerated powers of the federal government in Iraq, the KRI has some de facto jurisdiction on the matter. KRI authorities have not been applying residency legislation concerning incoming Syrians and have long shown an understanding attitude about letting them in. Categories of refugees who do not fall under the political refugee definition of the 1971 law can be registered as asylum seekers by UNHCR, and then provided with refugee-based residency documents by the KRI authorities. As a result, Syrians in KRI are granted the right to enrol in public schools and work in the region. Recent developments suggest that the Federal Government of Iraq has started to adopt the same ad hoc approach as the KRI’s towards the very small number of Syrian asylum seekers in the rest of Iraq in 2020, though this still needs to be clarified. Palestinians are excluded from this already limited legal framework as Iraq obtained an exclusion from the scope of operations of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in 1948. The aim at the time was to provide protection to all Palestinians on its territory, making them the equal of Iraqi nationals but to not accept any kind of other status in the hope of a hasty return to Palestine. Without proper status, being the target of violence or threats, life is becoming increasingly difficult for Palestinians in Iraq. The UNHCR stopped paying housing allowances for nearly 330 Palestinian households in Iraq in February 2020, but the Ministry of Interior committed to amend its legislation in their favour. Iraq’s 2012 anti-trafficking law criminalizing some forms of labour and sex trafficking was deemed inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law; by requiring a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to count as criminal child sex trafficking, it did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. The law prescribes penalties of imprisonment of up to 15 years and a fine of up to 10 million Iraqi dinar (approximately $8,790) for trafficking offenses involving adult male victims, and up to life imprisonment and a fine of 15- to 25-million Iraqi dinar (approximately $13,180-$21,970) if the offense involved an adult female or child victim. Article 399 of the penal code criminalized “the prostitution of a child” and provided a penalty of imprisonment of up to 10 years. It is worth noting that the labour law conflicted with the anti-trafficking law, as its penalties included a fine and imprisonment not exceeding six months. The government continued to lack implementing regulations for the anti-trafficking law, and this hindered its ability to enforce the law, bring traffickers to justice, and protect victims. In July 2018, KRI regional parliament approved the 2012 Iraqi anti-trafficking law. At the end of the reporting period, however, the KRI had not developed the regulatory and enforcement framework required to implement the law. The Ministry of Interior’s anti-trafficking unit, within the anti-crime directorate, reported that its many responsibilities limited its ability to conduct trafficking investigations. Nevertheless, the Interior Ministry reportedly initiated the investigation of 356 trafficking cases, 110 of which were ongoing as of January 2019. There were reportedly 148 trafficking victims involved in these cases, including sex trafficking, forced labour, child trafficking, and forced begging. The US Department of State underlines that significant concerns of alleged official complicity in trafficking crimes remained regarding the involvement of children in government linked militias.

Main Actors

Due to the long-lasting periods of crisis Iraq has been experiencing, a high number of international NGOs and UN agencies are active in Iraq. As a result, it is not possible to give a detailed account of each of them, but rather present an overview. The 2019-2020 Iraq Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) has been developed by the UN office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to target populations in critical need throughout Iraq, including IDPs. The refugee response in Iraq is led by the UNHCR and is covered in the 2019-2020 Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) in close coordination with humanitarian actors and government authorities. Under the 3RP, UNHCR leads the Protection, Shelter, and Basic Needs sectors, and co-leads Health with WHO and WASH with UNICEF. UNHCR is engaged in the inter-agency response to internal displacement and returns, leading the Protection, Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM), and Shelter/Non-Food Items (also known as Core Relief Items or CRIs) clusters, as part of the cluster coordination mechanism for the IDP response. UNHCR also co-leads with UNFPA and WFP the UN Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework (UNSDCF 2020-2024) Priority Working Group “Achieving Social Cohesion, Protection, and Inclusion”, and supports the National Social Protection Forum chaired by the Ministry of Planning and co-chaired by the World Bank. IOM is central to dealing with humanitarian and emergencies situations, recovery and community stabilization, migration management and date collection. An account of their activities is available on their Iraq profile. The NGO Coordination Committee for Iraq (NCCI) was established in 2003 to coordinate principled, collective NGO action in order to foster development, address humanitarian needs, and promote respect for human rights in Iraq. NCCI has offices in Geneva, Baghdad, and Erbil thanks to financial support from member dues, and to grants from donors including the US Office of Foreign Disasters Assistance, the Iraq Humanitarian Pooled Fund, and others. NCCI serves approximately 180 local and international NGO members and observers with coordination, advocacy, government liaison services, and NGO capacity building. NCCI also works closely with global forums such as ICVA, InterAction, the UK Iraq Working Group, and similar NGO forums around the world. A list of actors can be found on their website, and include a number of Catholic NGOs as follows:

  • The Catholic Relief Service (CRS), together with Caritas Iraq have served over 300,000 conflict-affected people in Iraq since 2014 with critical relief items and cash, shelter and sanitation, and education and emotional support for children. With offices in Baghdad, Kirkuk, Mosul, Duhok, and Erbil, CRS maintains a robust, flexible emergency response capacity in Iraq to support families still living in displacement. As locations stabilize and families are able to return home, CRS is scaling up its help for families rebuilding their lives. With support from CRS and Caritas Iraq, families are repairing their homes, restarting their livelihoods and accessing quality education for their children.
  • The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), operates two community centres in Duhok for IDPs, with a special focus on victims of the 2014 Yazidi genocide. In addition to providing home visits, educational support, and livelihood training, JRS staff also provide psychosocial care to the IDPs and refugees in the area, many of whom have serious mental health issues. In the Ankawa and Ozal community centres near Erbil, JRS Iraq provides IDPs with art and
    recreation activities, formal and informal education, psychosocial care and support, and vocational skills training.
  • Malteser International has been present in Iraq since 2014. In the regions of Kurdistan (Duhok, Erbil) and Central Iraq (Ninewa), they work together with local partner organisations to provide medical care for the local population and displaced persons, take care of the psychosocial state of traumatised people, support the food security of returnees with training courses in agricultural production and are now increasingly involved in the reconstruction of the region.
  • Caritas Iraq principally targets emergency relief, development programs, peace building initiatives, capacity building, health and social service support. It provides family and child support programs and works to promote peace and reconciliation among the various communities. Caritas Iraq maintains eight social centres, a rehabilitation and a youth centre, as well as two centres to receive displaced families. Their social service initiatives provide food, hygiene kits and medical care to underprivileged and displaced families, and offer financial assistance to students and victims of conflicts. Programs also include financial, moral and psychological support to the most vulnerable.
  • L’Œuvre d’Orient is leading reconstruction projects in the Ninewa region, aiming for the return of Christians. There are two schools in Al Tahira, led by Dominican Sisters in Qaraqosh, as well as houses in Bartella, and the Saint Joseph cultural centre in Karamless. The organization is also active in Baghdad where it is renovating a school, Saint Joseph of the Carms, with the support of the St. John Paul II Foundation, and in Mosul where it is actively involved in the reconstruction of the Syriac Catholic Church of Al Bisharaet as well as a Parish house.
  • SOS Chrétiens d’Orient has also led various reconstruction projects aimed at ensuring the livelihood of communities and the return to normality in the Ninewa region, around Qaraqosh, and especially in Bana Sor and Aqra.
  • The Pontifical Mission Societies recently donated €760,000 to help refugees in the Diocese of Kirkuk.
  • ACN: Aid to the Church in Need’s main focus in Iraq is the reconstruction of churches, monasteries, schools, kindergartens and parish centres. In 2019, its total budget for construction and renovation assistance was €5.6 million. It is worth underlining that ACN received €200,000 from the Holy Father to help displaced Christian families on the Nineveh Plains rebuild their villages; the proceeds came from selling a custom-built Lamborghini that was given to Pope Francis. ACN is working closely with the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee (NRC), an official collaboration of the leaders from the three main Christian rites, to assist the return and reintegration process of local Christians through the reconstruction or repairing of houses and Church community buildings, in union with other local stakeholders who share the same objective. These Church leaders represent Chaldean Catholics, Syriac Catholics and Syriac Orthodox (the Assyrians are not included as they are not present in the Nineveh Plains). The purpose of the NRC is to formalize, maximise and professionalize the reconstruction efforts. To that end, ACN has named two of three experts: a technical adviser to liaise with the engineers and an administrator for
    project writing and financial oversight. A coordinator who will mediate between the rites and oversee the project has yet to be named.
  • The Maryamana Catholic Hospital, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was opened in 2019, following the opening of a Catholic University in 2016, both under the leadership of Monsignor Bashar Warda, Chaldean bishop of Erbil in Kurdistan. The overall goal of the hospital is to bring effective and affordable healthcare as well as jobs to a war-torn region that is totally lacking in resources and modern equipment. “The hospital’s mission aligns with that of the Church. Any person, regardless of religion or race, can receive treatment at Maryamana Hospital; priority will be given to those whose medical needs are most urgent.” said Monsignor Warda, who added: “The Catholic University in Erbil was founded to secure educational and professional opportunities for our young people so that they will be encouraged to stay in Iraq and become the future leaders of the Christian community here and elsewhere in the country. Eventually, when our young people are getting good jobs in a majority Muslim country, they will find hope and turn to the university as their conduit to succeed and thrive in their careers in Kurdistan and Iraq. We hope that the university will inspire religious minorities and prove to them that they have viable and bright futures here. We are trying to establish Erbil as a long-term home for the Christian community, and people choose to stay when there are jobs and when there is a strong infrastructure of services and institutions.”
  • Finally, in July 2020, Pope Francis gave €1,000,000 as a personal contribution to help Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq who have been forced from their homes, according to his personal envoy to the country.
    The HRP and 3RP programmes ensure central coordination of NGOs and intelligent management of the high number of actors present.

Other Important Issues

Turkey has been deploying troops in Northern Iraq in May and June 2020. The US assassinated Iranian Commander-in-chief Qasem Soleimani in January 2020, triggering Iranian strikes against American presence in Iraq a week later. Mustafa al-Kazemi became Prime Minister of Iraq in May 2020 after 5 months of power vacuum. In a context where the State apparatus and government have been experiencing the utmost difficulties in preserving the unity of the country, this could lead to further instability.

In the context of the deadly protests of late 2019, Cardinal Louis Sako, Patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, conducted an ecumenical prayer for peace in Iraq in the Saint Joseph Cathedral of Baghdad. He expressed his support for the protests against corruption and confessionalism in politics. Cardinal Sako currently also serves as the President of the Assembly of the Catholic Bishops of Iraq, and tirelessly expresses his worries about the potential disappearance of the Christian community in Iraq. This was confirmed by Chorbishop Felix Dawood Al Shabi, who will take office as Bishop of Zakho, currently targeted by bombings, and who specified that many Iraqi Christians are looking to resettle in KRI as life is easier with the Kurdish authorities than in presence of other Islamist groups. Nonetheless, many continue to wish to resettle outside of Iraq.

Finally, one should mention that Iraq suffers from an issue of statelessness that derives from the application of nationality law and the aftermath of the war against ISIL. Children born under IS rule were issued birth certificates by the group that are considered invalid in the eyes of the Iraqi government. Others lost their documentation as they fled, and others were born of unknown fathers following ISIL marriages or sexual exploitation. In Iraq, a mother cannot transmit nationality to her children in the absence of an Iraqi father. Without a valid birth certificate, infants are unable to receive vaccinations in some areas, raising fears of new diseases. Children’s enrolment in Iraqi schools also requires formal identification. Sitting exams or obtaining graduation certificates is often not allowed without civil documentation. When they reach adulthood, these children risk being denied state recognized marriages, owning property or even being legally employed. The Iraqi term for a stateless person is “bidoon”– meaning “without” in Arabic. It is the UNHCR’s mission to tackle statelessness. A recent cooperation between UNHCR and Mercy Hands, an Iraqi NGO, has allowed approximately 500 stateless people to access citizenship each year through legal advice and processing.