Methods of Execution
Number of Individuals On Death Row
Annual Number of Reported Executions in Last Decade
Executions in 2019
Executions in 2016
Executions in 2015
Executions in 2010
Executions in 2008
Amnesty International reported that at least 37 individuals were executed: at least 34 in Iraq and at least 3 in the Kurdistan region. However, the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq indicated that Iraq instituted a moratorium on executions from August 2007 through May 2009. Amnesty’s reported figures may rely on information leaks by at least one unidentified senior Interior Ministry official in Iraq, which indicates secret executions.
Does the country’s constitution mention capital punishment?
The Constitution provides that “deprivation or restriction” of the right to life (or other rights) is prohibited except in accordance with law and based on the judgment of a competent court. The Constitution also states that the President has the power to ratify death sentences issued by competent courts.
Offenses Punishable by Death
Decree No. 3 of 2004 specifically mentions that the death penalty is reinstated for premeditated murder and references Article 406 of the Iraq Penal Code which elaborates further on aggravated murder. Pursuant to Paragraph 406(1)(h) of the Iraq Penal Code, premeditated murder is punishable by death if “the killing is committed as a prelude to a commission of a felony or a misdemeanor…or in order to facilitate the commission of such offense or while carrying out such offense or in order to enable the offender or accessory to make his escape or to avoid punishment.”
Other Offenses Resulting in Death.
A number of dangerous felonies are punishable by death if a victim dies as a result of or during the offense. These offenses include: arson, kidnapping with aggravating circumstances, intentionally causing a flood or attempting to cause a flood, damaging or sabotaging public structures, incest and rape, robbery and armed robbery. Pursuant to the Law to Combat Human Trafficking, passed in February 2012, human trafficking-related criminal acts are punishable by death if they resulted in death.
The Iraqi Military Penal Code of 2007, which applies to members of the military, outlines the following offenses as punishable by death: whosoever assaults, attacks, insults or disobeys a commander’s orders, which action results in death; anyone who benefits from the horrors of war, collects money unlawfully for personal use, misuses military power or coerces others into unlawful actions, takes military-related funds or assets by force, or cuts or destroys trees or agricultural crops if the force used in any of these actions leads to a person’s death.
Terrorism-Related Offenses Not Resulting in Death.
Offenses against transportation infrastructure and telecommunications, with serious consequences, are punishable by death. A variety of terrorist offenses targeting the population, infrastructure, or state security are punishable by death, as is aiding or financing such activities. Membership in a terrorist organization and aiding terrorists to leave or enter the country are death-eligible offenses in the Kurdistan Region.
There have been concerns with the broadness of the definition of terrorism punishable by death under the Anti-Terrorism Law. The definition of death eligible terrorist offenses is broad, and pursuant to Article 4, such offenses as inciting, planning, financing, or assisting terrorists to commit crimes are punishable by death. Moreover there were reports in 2010 that the Iraqi Council of Ministers had expanded Paragraph 197 of the Penal Code, so that individuals can now be executed for stealing electricity, even though the provision only provides for the death penalty if the damage or destruction to public infrastructure is caused by explosives or results in death. If confirmed, this represents a significant extension of Paragraph 197, which in the Penal Code addresses crimes against state security, not simple economic crimes.
A variety of crimes compromising state security or of violence against the state are death-eligible or death-eligible under aggravating circumstances.
Drug trafficking for the purpose of aiding or funding insurgency might be punishable by death. Under the Iraqi Internal Security Forces Penal Code of 2008, which applies to members, trainees and retired members of the internal security forces, specific offenses of treason or sabotage are punishable by death. Article 3 provides that forcing or giving an improper party or the enemy access to military structures—including buildings, premises, locations or stations is punishable by death. The death penalty is also imposed for obtaining secret documents or information and passing them on directly or indirectly to another party with the intent to endanger national security. Article 3 also provides the death penalty for intentional destruction, damage or misuse of military structures or equipment against orders. To incite or force someone to take up arms, join a gang or assist the gang is also punishable by death. Article 14 of the Internal Security Forces Penal Code implements the death penalty for assault on a person of superior rank causing death.
The Iraqi Military Penal Code of 2007, which applies to members of the military, also provides that treason is punishable by death. Article 28 lists the following offenses as death-eligible: dividing Iraq for administration by a foreign state, leaving one’s military post or location to collaborate with the enemy, intentionally harming the country to benefit the enemy by sabotaging public structures (i.e. bridges, public highways, railways) or to enable capture of Iraqi military forces by the enemy, disseminating (indirectly or directly) state secrets in times of war or peace to a foreign country and making a deal with the enemy and/or disarming oneself by not carrying out required duties.
Article 29 of the Military Penal Code outlines further treason and espionage-related offenses punishable by death when they were committed with the intent to harm or kill the Iraqi or allied forces and/or lead to the death of civilians and allied or Iraqi forces. Such offenses include: inciting allied or Iraqi forces to side with the enemy, inciting armed rebellion (against the government), disclosing confidential or secret instructions or alerts of the military, distorting the news or instructions and neglecting proper implementation when confronting the enemy, not carrying out duties properly or ordering the armed forces to act in such a way that disrupts the government’s orders, publishing or broadcasting publications between the enemy in bad faith, releasing prisoners of war, vandalizing or destroying equipment, and intentionally committing an act which endangers the safety and security of communication channels and which enables the enemy to spy. Article 35 of the Military Penal Code further explains that whosoever flees to the enemy’s side shall be punished by death. Moreover, Article 67 states that if any commander intentionally makes himself unable to carry out his duties, intentionally leaves his post or acts in opposition to the orders given to him, with the likely result being damage and if he does this in during confrontation with the enemy or in facing the enemy, he shall be punished by death.
Military Offenses Not Resulting in Death.
Under the Iraqi Military Penal Code of 2007 and the Internal Security Forces Penal Code of 2008, espionage, treason or sabotage-related offenses are punishable by death (see Treason and Espionage sections, above).
Article 28 of the Iraqi Military Penal Code (2007) provides that disarming oneself by not carrying out required duties is punishable by death.
War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide.
Under the Statute of the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal (SICT) of 2005, human rights violations such as genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes are to be punished at the discretion of the court. The court has the authority to impose a death sentence for these crimes.
The 1969 Iraq Penal Code, which is the criminal law generally in effect in Iraq, together with the Narcotics Act of 1965, provide for more extensive application of capital punishment than noted herein. However, during the interim coalition administration capital punishment was suspended, and the new government has only partially reinstated capital provisions in the Iraq Penal Code and Narcotics Act. We have not been able to confirm whether the new government has reinstated Paragraph 136 of the Penal Code, which, in the presence of aggravating circumstances, permits courts to sentence individuals to death when the statutory punishment is life imprisonment. One reliable source states that Paragraph 136 was reinstated, but we cannot tell whether this is indeed the case, or the extent to which individuals are sentenced to death under this provision. Additionally, the Penal Code and Narcotics Act must be read with reference to the Coalition Provisional Authority Order No. 7 and the Decree No. 3 of 2004, because the effect of the Coalition’s order and the government’s decree is to narrow the application of the death penalty for certain crimes to situations where the crime is associated with terrorism.
Some recommendations of the Human Rights Council pursuant to the UPR process indicate that, de facto (probably extrajudicially), Iraq may execute persons for consensual same-sex relations. One source estimated that about 750 of these extrajudicial killings have taken place in Iraq since 2006 and reported that as of March 2012, approximately 68 had taken place since the beginning of the year. We have not been able to confirm these estimates.
Finally, complicating the picture of the death penalty in Iraq is the fact that the Kurdistan Regional Government promulgates its own penal laws and amendments to Iraq penal law. The KRG reportedly applies the death penalty for kidnapping, membership in terrorist organizations, espionage, and aiding terrorists in entering or leaving the country, as well as for murder and rape, and it may also apply the death penalty for other offenses. The Kurdish region also passed its own Anti-Terrorism Law in 2006, which we were not able to locate. Application of the death penalty varies within the KRG because the PUK, a party that controls certain population centers, opposes the death penalty. The last execution by the KRG was carried out in 2008.
Does the country have a mandatory death penalty?
No. Courts are permitted to consider mitigating excuses, legally extenuating circumstances, and the general circumstances of the offense and offender in determining whether a sentence lighter than death is appropriate. Mitigating “excuses”—which preclude the application of the death penalty—are limited to cases involving honor killings, provocation or mitigating conditions specified by law. Legally extenuating “circumstances”—which allow a permissive reduction—are not limited by law beyond the requirement that a sentencing court must specify the circumstances justifying the imposition of a lighter sentence. We cannot confirm whether courts do, in practice, consider extenuating circumstances.
Which offenses carry a mandatory death sentence, if any?
Categories of Offenders Excluded From the Death Penalty
Individuals Below Age 18 at Time of Crime.
Juveniles under the age of 18 at the time of committing a capital offense can be sentenced to a maximum of 5 or 15 years imprisonment, depending on age. The Iraq Penal Code excludes the death penalty as a sentence for young people up to the age of 20.
Nevertheless, there have been reports that at least one juvenile was sentenced to death in Iraq. Saleh Moussa Ahmad al-Baidany, a Yemeni national, was sentenced to death in July 2011 for a crime committed when he was 16 years old. According to Human Rights Watch, he was detained by US forces in Iraq in 2009 and later handed over to the Iraqi authorities. His father, who had spoken to him by phone, said his son had told him he was tortured and coerced to sign a confession while blindfolded and held at a detention facility in Baghdad. He had no access to a lawyer during his trial.
Women With Small Children.
A pregnant prisoner’s sentence is automatically submitted for review for a reduction of sentence, but she may still be executed four months after giving birth. In practice, the death penalty may not be immediately applied to women with small children. We found reports of at least two women who in 2007 were under sentence of death and were detained with young children: Zeynab Fadhil , aged 25, and her three-year-old daughter; and Liqa' Qamar, aged 25, and her one-year-old daughter.
“Infirmity of the mind,” which may include intellectual disability, is a “mitigating circumstance” defined by law, and may thus be treated under Paragraph 130 of the Penal Code as a “mitigating excuse” that precludes the death penalty. Otherwise, “infirmity of the mind” may be treated under Paragraph 132 as a circumstance justifying a reduction of sentence.
Offenses For Which Individuals Have Been Executed In the Last Decade
U.N. reporting indicates that from August 2007 until May 2009, Iraq imposed a temporary moratorium on executions. Amnesty International reports indicate that during that period Iraq nonetheless carried out secret executions, although we have not been able to determine the crimes for which individuals were secretly executed.
Two Amnesty International publications and media reports give some indication of the crimes for which people may typically be executed in Iraq. What follows is a list of the offenses for which people were executed that are certain or could be reasonably inferred from the media and reports during the period from January 2008 to May 2013 and the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council in 2010.
In February 2012, an Iraqi man was executed for kidnapping and murder. In 2011, 16 al-Qaeda members were executed for multiple murders of gas salesmen, and the mass murder of about 70 other individuals at a wedding held in 2006. Two people were executed for a kidnapping and murder offense in 2012.
Terrorism-Related Offenses Resulting in Death.
Most of the prisoners executed in Iraq are convicted of terrorism, though we found few details about their cases and do not know whether or not the offenses resulted in death. Iraq acknowledged executing 77 people for terrorism-related offenses during 2009. In 2011, the Iraqi government executed many individuals for terrorism offenses which resulted in death, including 11 offenders convicted of terrorism in November 2011. In 2011, 99% of the 68 people executed had been charged with terrorism, according to Justice Ministry Spokesperson Haidar al-Saadi. In 2012 and 2013, Iraq carried out several mass executions of offenders convicted of terrorism.
Terrorism-Related Offenses Not Resulting in Death.
Most of the prisoners executed in Iraq are convicted of terrorism, though we found few details about their cases and do not know whether or not the offenses resulted in death. Iraq acknowledged executing 77 people for terrorism-related offenses during 2009. In 2011, 99% of the 68 people executed had been charged with terrorism according to Justice Ministry Spokesperson Haidar al-Saadi. In 2012 and 2013, Iraq carried out several mass executions of offenders convicted of terrorism.
War Crimes, Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide.
In June 2012, Abed Hamid Hamoud—Saddam Hussein’s former personal secretary and bodyguard—was executed for genocide for the persecution of Shi’ites in an uprising after the 1991 Gulf War. Another former government official, Ali Hassan al-Majid, also known as “Chemical Ali” was executed in Iraq in January 2010 for crimes against humanity after receiving three prior death sentences for such crimes. Al-Majid was convicted of ordering anywhere from 50,00 to 180,000 deaths, the destruction of 4,000 Kurdish villages and the deportation of approximately 1.5 million Kurds. He was a former spy chief and first cousin of Saddam Hussein.
Have there been any significant published cases concerning the death penalty in national courts?
Amnesty has documented in detail 90 cases in which prisoners were sentenced to death after withdrawing coerced pre-trial confessions that were nevertheless used in evidence against them. As of February 2013, 75 of those sentences had been confirmed on appeal by the Court of Cassation.
Generally, however, judicial opinions, especially in translation, are difficult to obtain.
Does the country’s constitution make reference to international law?
While a variety of provisions are relevant to international treaties and may affect humanitarian law, no provisions specifically address international human rights. However, Iraq’s Constitution provides that it shall respect its international obligations, which could affect how human rights treaties such as the ICCPR are applied in the country.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, Recognizing Jurisdiction of the Human Rights Committee
Date of Signature
Date of Accession
American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR)
Death Penalty Protocol to the ACHR
DPP to ACHR Party?
DPP to ACHR Signed?
African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR)
Protocol to the ACHPR on the Rights of Women in Africa
ACHPR Women Party?
ACHPR Women Signed?
African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child
ACHPR Child Party?
ACHPR Child Signed?
Arab Charter on Human Rights
Comments and Decisions of the U.N. Human Rights System
Decisions and concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee predate the current government in Iraq. For reference, see: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/MenaRegion/Pages/IQIndex.aspx.
Comments and Decisions of Regional Human Rights Systems
In its bi-annual and annual human rights reports, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) has regularly expressed concern that death row prisoners in Iraq have likely been denied a fair trial and were coerced into confessing to death-eligible crimes. Moreover UNAMI expressed concern over governmental corruption and a weak judiciary, stating that the death penalty should be carried out only for “the most serious of crimes.” UNAMI has repeatedly encouraged Iraq to implement a moratorium on executions because of its questionable judicial practices. In its human rights report for the first half of 2012, UNAMI noted that the Kurdistan Region was continuing with an unofficial moratorium (there have been no executions since 2008). UNAMI added that it has been actively advocating with authorities in the Kurdistan Region for an official moratorium, and facilitated a draft law aimed at the abolition of the death penalty. While major political parties expressed support for the law, the draft was met with resistance from some religious leaders and scholars from Islamic and Christian backgrounds. The draft has not been tabled in Parliament.
The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, in its 2009 submission to the Human Rights Council for the UPR process, expressed regret over Iraq’s 2004 reinstatement of the death penalty, procedural inadequacies in convicting persons of capital crimes, and use of torture to coerce confessions. These concerns were reiterated in 2010 in the Human Rights Council’s final observations and recommendations pursuant to the Universal Periodic Review, along with concerns that Iraq applies the death penalty for non-serious crimes.
In cases of passing importance in Iraq but potentially important to international military operations, the European Court of Human Rights considered two petitions from individuals condemned in Iraq. Saddam Hussein petitioned the ECHR, but the ECHR determined that it had no jurisdiction to admit Hussein’s petition for consideration. This ruling on inadmissibility may have in large part turned on the fact that actions in apprehending Hussein were attributable to the United States, without any explanation of the direct involvement of European forces, thus precluding the jurisdiction of the European court. In another seminal case involving the application of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (which prohibits cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment), the ECHR determined that Britain had subjected two Iraqis—who had murdered two British prisoners of war—to inhuman treatment by transferring them to Iraqi custody where they were exposed to the potential imposition of the death penalty. Here, the ECHR found the case admissible because British forces had captured the accused and therefore exercised control over them.
In 2008, the Human Rights Council also indicated serious concerns regarding the independence of judges and attorneys and the legitimacy of capital convictions.
The Commission on Human Rights indicated in 2004 that there was confusion and uncertainty among organizations and courts over which offenses could be punished by death in Iraq and that there were concerns over whether trials were fair. Furthermore, there were conclusive reports of torture and other illegal coercive methods potentially associated with law enforcement.
Availability of Lawyers for Indigent Defendants at Trial
Theoretically, a lawyer must be provided to all criminal defendants. According to Article 19(4) of the 2005 Constitution, “[t]he right to a defence shall be sacred and guaranteed in all phases of investigation and trial.” Moreover, Article 123 of the Criminal Procedure Code entitles an arrested person to be represented by a legal counsel when being questioned during the pre-trial period, and to have a court-appointed legal counsel free of charge if they cannot afford to pay for legal counsel of their own choosing. Detaining authorities must inform detainees of these rights before questioning them. In practice, however, access to counsel can be severely limited, and in terrorism cases lawyers are never present during pretrial interrogations by security forces.
Availability of Lawyers for Indigent Defendants on Appeal
According to Article 19(4) of the 2005 Constitution, “[t]he right to a defence shall be sacred and guaranteed in all phases of investigation and trial.” The wording of this constitutional right leaves unclear whether it guarantees the right to legal counsel on appeal.
In practice, however, it is likely that the availability of lawyers for indigent prisoners on appeal is seriously limited. Foreign nationals on death row, whose court-appointed lawyers usually cease representation following conviction, face particular challenges in mounting successful appeals or petitions for clemency.
Quality of Legal Representation
Access to lawyers is insufficient and the quality of legal representation is poor, significantly undermining the fairness of criminal proceedings. Most defendants meet their lawyer for the first time during their first hearing and have limited access to counsel during pretrial preparation. Defendants also report that they are not able to choose their defense lawyers. In terrorism cases, detainees are frequently held incommunicado, and many defense lawyers have reportedly ceased trying to obtain access to their clients during terrorism-related interrogations, especially when they are held for interrogation at detention facilities controlled by the Ministries of Interior and Defence, because interrogators believe that the right to have legal counsel present during interrogation applies only to interrogations conducted before an investigating judge. Compounding this problem is the routine violation of Article 123 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which provides that an arrested person must be brought before the investigating judge within 24 hours of arrest. In practice, detainees may be held for weeks before being brought before a judge. It is during this initial pre-judicial phase that most detainees make their first confessions. Many detainees, defendants, and human rights organizations have averred that these confessions are frequently the result of torture or ill-treatment.
Additionally, there are many reports of interference with defense counsel’s work and threats to lawyers who represent death-eligible defendants. In December 2011, the Ninewa Bar Association reported that three lawyers were detained and tortured by the military without judicial approval for attempting to represent individuals charged with terrorism. One of the lawyers was detained for three months. In February 2012, the same Bar Association reported that five lawyers had been detained by the security forces because they had attempted to represent individuals detained by the military.
In several reported cases, defendants facing the death penalty were deprived of legal representation at critical phases of their capital murder proceedings. In one case, the defendant, who was 16 at the time of the crime, reportedly received no legal representation before being sentenced to death. In another reported case, an illerate woman was reportedly tortured into signing a stack of pages which she only learned was a confession one year later, when she first had access to a lawyer. She was sentenced to death for kidnapping and murder, and suffered permanent physical injury from the torture she suffered.
The availability of quality legal representation for sectarian minority individuals accused of terrorism, a capital offense, is particularly limited. Lawyers who agree to represent sectarian or ethnic minority individuals put themselves at risk of threats and intimidation. For instance, when Karzan Karim, a journalist with the Kurdistan Post, was arrested on terrorism charges, his lawyer received threats from security forces after publicizing his extended detention without trial. As a result, some lawyers refuse to represent individuals accused of terrorism, particularly individuals of sectarian minorities.
People tried by the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal, which was set up to try Saddam Hussein and his collaborators for crimes against humanity and war crimes, face particular challenges in obtaining legal counsel. Several lawyers involved in cases before the SICT have been attacked and killed.
Iraqi law requires that all death sentences be reviewed by another judicial body. In most cases, any person convicted of a criminal offence has the right to appeal against his or her conviction and sentence before the Court of Cassation within 30 days after the verdict. The Court of Cassation will generally base its review of the verdict on the court dossiers, but it may order an evidentiary hearing if it determines that this is required. Prisoners sentenced by the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal may appeal to that court’s Appeals Chamber.
Despite the existence of a right to appeal, many death-sentenced prisoners in Iraq are unable to secure legal counsel for appeal.
According to Article 73(8) of Iraq’s 2005 Constitution, the President must ratify death sentences prior to execution. In practice, this does not seem to have displaced the 2004 requirement that both the Prime Minister and the Presidential Council must approve sentences prior to execution. The President, upon recommendation of the Prime Minster, has the power to pardon offenders or commute sentences, except in cases of terrorism, corruption or international crimes.
For crimes falling specifically under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Criminal Court of Iraq, i.e. genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, the court’s statute specifically excludes the possibility of a pardon or a sentence reduction by the President or any other authority. Sentences are to be immediately enforced within 30 days of a final decision. Some sources indicate that in practice, execution of a death sentence for such crimes still requires approval of the Presidential Council. For instance, in 2013 Amnesty reported that all death sentences were automatically reviewed by Iraq’s Court of Cassation, and then needed to be ratified by the presidency before any execution could be carried out. However, we note that the unavailability of a pardon is consistent with Article 73(1) of Iraq’s 2005 Constitution, under which the President may be prevented from pardoning those convicted of “international crimes.”
Systemic Challenges in the Criminal Justice System
Torture and abuse of pre-trial detainees, especially through the practice of obtaining coerced confessions, is a serious problem. Amnesty notes that “many trials of those sentenced to death failed to meet international standards for fair trials, including the use of “confessions” obtained under torture and other ill-treatment.” Even when the defendant withdraws his confession or states that it was obtained under torture, courts almost always admit the contested confessions as evidence. Many defendants have been sentenced to death in this manner, even where the court had noted the allegations of torture. There are also reports of numerous terrorism convictions based solely on unchallenged testimony provided to the court by secret informants. Compounding that difficulty, violence against attorneys who represent sectarian minorities in terrorism cases further undermines the legitimacy of convictions for capital crimes.
In general, there are serious questions about arbitrariness in capital cases. The judiciary is often under serious sectarian and other public pressure, including violent action, threatening its independence and objectivity. There is reportedly widespread corruption among Interior Ministry officials, and collusion is common between officials and judges. There are also reports of people being illegally detained, tortured into confessions, and sentenced without legal representation as part of personal vendettas by government members. Moveover, there is considerable evidence that law enforcement forces that have perpetrated serious abuses under the 2005 Anti-Terrorism Law have remained unaccountable and unpunished. It has become the norm for the government to withhold the names of those who are executed for terrorist offenses and to hide the details of their criminal trials.
The government has acknowledged that, using the broad provisions of Article 4 of the Anti-Terrorism law, it illegally detains people without arrest warrants for indeterminate periods of time – sometimes months or years - in detention centers overseen by security forces that answer to the Interior and Defense Ministries, or directly to the Prime Minister’s Office. In February 2013, the head of a government committee tasked with carrying out criminal justice reforms acknowledged that 13,000 people had been arrested under Article 4 of the Anti-Terrorism Law. Of these 13,000, around 6,000 were waiting to be tried or released, with some detainees having waited for years.
The U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq noted in October 2012 that it “continues to have serious reservations about the integrity of the criminal justice system in Iraq, including abuses of due process, convictions based on forced confessions, a weak judiciary, corruption, and trial proceedings that fall short of international standards. No legal system can be guaranteed to be free of error, and in Iraq few convictions for serious offenses can be considered safe.”
Where Are Death-Sentenced Prisoners incarcerated?
Death-sentenced prisoners may be held in a variety of locations, but all prisoners whose death sentences have been ratified by the Presidential Council are transferred to the 5th section of al-Kadhimiya Prison in Baghdad (the Maximum Security Prison or al-Himaya al-Quswaat) where executions are carried out. In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, death-sentenced prisoners are likely held in Erbil and Sulaimaniya.
Description of Prison Conditions
While we were unable to find information about conditions on death row, prison and detention conditions generally are reported to be harsh and life-threatening, with unexplained deaths, riots, hunger strikes, and escapes.
Overcrowding is a problem, with reports indicating that prisoners are sometimes packed by the dozens into small cells without proper bedding. Prisons have inadequate sanitation, food, exercise facilities, and family visitation. Medical care is inconsistent. Some detention facilities do not have an on-site pharmacy or infirmary, and existing pharmacies are undersupplied. Limited infrastructure or aging physical plants in some facilities compound marginal sanitation, limited access to potable water, and poor quality food. Juveniles are sometimes imprisoned or detained in adult facilities where they share cells with adults and are rarely afforded access to education or vocational training.
Conditions in juvenile facilities and facilities administered by the Kurdistan Regional Government may be of higher quality (although pre-trial detainees may be exposed to severe conditions and torture).
There are documented cases of torture and other ill-treatment in prisons and detention centers. Government officials as well as local and international human rights organizations acknowledge that both the Iraqi and Kurdish regional government operate secret prisons.
Foreign Nationals Known to Be on Death Row
What are the nationalities of the known foreign nationals on death row?
As of late 2012/early 2013, about twenty Libyan nationals, at least one Palestinian, at least one Sudanese national, and at least two Saudi nationals were on death row for terrorism convictions. In addition, one Yemeni juvenile and one Tunisian national are known to be on death row.
One Tunisian national was executed in November 2011 for terrorism. Two Syrian nationals and one Saudi national were executed in 2012 for terrorism.
Women Known to Be on Death Row
Women are known to be held under sentence of death in Iraq, Notably, women have been sentenced to death after convictions for belonging to the Islamic State. This trend is apparent among foreign women whose male family members may have been part of IS. This is especially problematic, as trials may have fallen short of international due process standards, with some trials lasting for ten minutes. Translators and public defenders may not provide sufficient services for defendants to mount an adequate defense. Anti-terrorism laws in Iraq include group membership as an offence, and some women have also faced charges of illegally entering Iraq, aiding and abetting IS. As of April 2018, approximately 100 women received capital sentences after trials in Iraq, some of whom are foreign nationals.
A notable case of an Iraqi woman under sentence of death is Samar Saed Abdullah, who was convicted of killing three relatives during a day-long trial on August 15, 2005. She has consistently claimed her innocence and alleges her husband-to-be is guilty of the murders. She also alleges that she was coerced into confessing to this crime under severe duress and torture. After years of being on death row, and allegedly suffering torture to obtain a confession, Abdullah was still on death row as of 2019.
(This question was last updated on April 22, 2019.).
Juvenile Offenders Known to Be on Death Row
At least one juvenile is known to be on death row in Iraq. Saleh Moussa Ahmad al-Baidany, a Yemeni national, was sentenced to death in July 2011 for a crime committed when he was 16 years old. According to Human Rights Watch, he was detained by US forces in Iraq in 2009 and later handed over to the Iraqi authorities. His father, who has spoken to him by phone, said his son had told him he was tortured and coerced into signing a confession while blindfolded and held at a detention facility in Baghdad. Baidany stated that he had no access to a lawyer during his trial.
Racial / Ethnic Composition of Death Row
Sectarian conflict continues to be a serious problem in Iraq and within the criminal justice system, the majority of individuals imprisoned and sentenced to death are Sunni Arabs who remain a minority group in Iraq. Reports also indicated serious problems with sectarian extrajudicial executions of imprisoned individuals.
Some discrimination in the application of the death penalty may be avoided in the Kurdistan region, home of Iraq’s major ethnic minority region, which is administered by a regional government with its own courts. However, the death penalty could still be administered differently between regions, and could be administered in a uniquely discriminatory fashion within each region. For example, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s stance towards some non-Kurds is at times hostile.
Some lawyers refuse to represent individuals accused of terrorism, particularly individuals of sectarian minorities, which could lead to discriminatory application of the death penalty.
Recent Developments in the Application of the Death Penalty
The death penalty was suspended for about a year during the coalition administration and reinstated for a more limited number of crimes in August of 2004. In 2005, 2007 and 2008, lawmakers extended the reinstatement of the death penalty, most notably for crimes related to terrorism or insurgency, including nonviolent support or enabling of groups or individuals accused of terrorist acts. Since reinstatement of the death penalty, a large number of individuals have been executed each year—with an upsurge in 2009 and especially 2012 that eclipsed the execution rate in most of the Arab world, due largely to executions for terrorist offenses. In 2012, Iraq carried out at least 129 executions, against 68 executions for the whole of 2011. The 2012 executions included several mass executions in which over a dozen people were executed for terrorism-related acts. The trend continued into 2013. By November 2013, Iraq had carried out at least 132 executions, including several mass executions for people convicted of terrorism offenses. Navi Pillay, the U.N. human rights chief, characterized Iraq’s mass executions as “obscene.”
These high execution numbers are accompanied by serious concerns about the routine use of torture, convictions based on coerced confessions or unchallenged testimony provided by secret informants, unfair trial procedures, and a lack of transparency concerning court proceedings, the crimes for which offenders are convicted, and the legal process. The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq’s annual and bi-annual human rights reports question the legality of many death sentences because of the lack of a fair trial or due process for alleged offenders. Death sentences are handed down in a context in which Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s security forces have reportedly detained and brutally tortured more than 1,000 political opponents in secret prisons and denied them access to legal counsel. Furthermore, Amnesty has provided detailed documentation of 90 cases in which prisoners were sentenced to death after withdrawing coerced pre-trial confessions that were nevertheless used as evidence against them. As of February 2013, 75 of those sentences had been confirmed on appeal by the Court of Cassation. Common methods of torture used to forcibly obtain confessions include beatings with a cable, beatings on the soles of the prisoner’s feet, suspension by the wrists or arms for long periods of time, and electric shocks.
Sectarian conflict continues to be a serious problem in Iraq and within the criminal justice system. The majority of individuals imprisoned and sentenced to death are Sunni Arabs who remain a minority group in Iraq. In September 2012, the Sunni Vice-President was sentenced to death in absentia on what may be sectarian and political grounds.
Human Rights Watch reports that the increased speed at which the Iraqi government has recently ratified death sentences and carried out executions may be in part a tactic to avoid the consequences of the new General Amnesty Law which has been under discussion since mid-2012. (As of June 2013, the law was still under discussion.) The new amnesty law, however, like the current one, may include restrictions preventing convicted “terrorists” or those convicted of serious (generally, death-eligible) crimes from being granted amnesty. One of the main reasons for the enactment of the prior 2008 General Amnesty Law was that the majority of imprisoned individuals were minority Sunni Arabs who were detained for or convicted of insurgency or crimes against state security. This remains true in 2013.
In February 2012, the Law to Combat Trafficking was passed, introducing the death penalty for offenders who trafficked human beings and whose trafficking resulted in the victim’s death.
Unsurprisingly, Iraq voted against the four United Nations General Assembly moratorium resolutions on the use of the death penalty, held in 2007, 2008, 2010 and 2012.
Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
2020 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
2018 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
2016 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
2014 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
2012 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
2010 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
2008 Record of Votes on the UN General Assembly Moratorium Resolution
Member(s) of World Coalition Against the Death Penalty
Iraqi Coalition Against the Death Penalty
Dr. Naser Abood
Manager of Al-Rafidain Center for Ensuring Human Rights
Al-Rabea street, Al-Jamaa city, al-Ameen Bulding
00964 Baghdad, Iraq
Tel: +964 7703473067
Iraqi Center for Human Rights and Democracy Studies
Mr. Mohammed Abdullah Radhi
Al-Nahrain University, College of Political Science, Dept. of Strategy
Al-Jaderiyah, Baghdad, Iraq
Telephone: +964 790 174 1925
Other Groups and Individuals Engaged in Death Penalty Advocacy
Where are judicial decisions reported?
Some rulings by the Federal Supreme Court are available on the website of the University of Utah’s Iraq Global Justice Project at: http://gjpi.org/library/primary/federal-supreme-court.
It may also be possible to obtain judicial decisions as well as legislation in Arabic on the following websites (note that the link to federal legislation is variable):
Helpful Reports and Publications
Amnesty International, Iraq: A Decade of Abuses, MDE 14/001/2013, http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/MDE14/001/2013/en, Mar. 11, 2013.
Amnesty International, A Thousand People Face the Death Penalty in Iraq, MDE 14/020/2009, Sep. 1, 2009.
Amnesty International, Hope and Fear: Human Rights in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, MDE 14/006/2009, Apr. 14, 2009.
Amnesty International, Unjust and Unfair: The Death Penalty in Iraq, MDE 14/014/2007, Apr. 20, 2007.
Human Rights Watch, Iraq: At A Crossroads, Human Rights in Iraq Eight Years After the US-Led Invasion, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2011/02/21/crossroads, Feb. 22, 2011.
UNAMI Human Rights Office and Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Report on Human Rights in Iraq: 2011, http://unami.unmissions.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=uGUYVCu7UBs%3d&tabid=3174&language=en-US, May 2012.
UNAMI Human Rights Office and Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Report on Human Rights in Iraq: January to June 2012, http://unami.unmissions.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=vzOhTQpHHF4%3d&tabid=3174&language=en-US, Oct. 2012.
UNAMI/OHCHR, Report on the Death Penalty in Iraq, http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/IQ/UNAMI_HRO_DP_1Oct2014.pdf, Oct. 1, 2014.
Many reports and documents are available at the website for the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI): http://www.uniraq.org/docsmaps/undocuments.asp#HRReports.
The University of Utah’s College of Law has an extensive Research Library as part of its Global Justice Project: Iraq (http://gjpi.org/library).
Additional notes regarding this country