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10-12-2022, 10:43


This report documents the issue of the missing and forcibly disappeared people  in Iraq, and includes testimonies of the families of the missing and forcibly disappeared people. 11,000 families reported the loss of their relatives within eight years, and there may be a greater number of missing and forcibly disappeared persons, but their families did not take legal measures to report them.  This case puts Iraq at the forefront of the countries that witness enforced disappearances and disappearances.

The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR), said (10 DECEMBER 2022) More than 11,000 Iraqi families have reported civilians missing over the past eight years from 2017 to 2022 and this is the period that witnessed the control of the «ISIS» organization in third of Iraqi territories before the liberation of the occupied land by the Iraqi Security Forces in October 2017.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Iraq is classified as one of the countries that have witnessed the most cases of disappearance and loss of people during the past five decades as a result of violence and conflicts.

The 2003 American- Iraqi war, the absence of law enforcement power, and the proliferation of armed and terrorist groups played a major role in the disappearance and loss of tens of thousands of Iraqis during the past two decades. n addition, the negligence of the Iraqi government increased the number of missing and disappearing people due to the authorities' ignorance of anything that could prosecute and hold the perpetrators accountable.


It is important to mention that the Iraqi government did not do any real efforts to know the fate of the missing and forcibly disappeared people as this indicates that the missing enforced disappearance people issue is not among the Iraqi government’s priorities for the past eight years. According to the IOHR, more than 11,000 Iraqi families reported cases concerning the lost and forcible disappearance of their family members between 2017 and 2022. 


On November 10, 2022, the IOHR posted on its Facebook account a video  about an Iraq woman and the mother of a disappeared man named «Bilal Moayad» saying that " I have been everywhere and no one gave me any information about my son, where can I find my son, how do you leave me alone"Bilal’s mother said while she is crying, «What is left of Bilal is only his picture, where can I find you, anyone who can tell me where is my son, please, tell me, take from me one eye and leave the other one to see my son, who took you, my son, I wish to die now, my son». 


The IOHR has been following this issue for eight years and it has been shown that the Iraqi authorities have never asked its forces or the armed groups about the fate of people who were arrested or suspected randomly. Also, the Iraqi government did not try to meet their families or send committees to the areas from which they were taken to collect testimonies and evidence that reveals their fate. Unfortunately, the Iraqi government was rewarding the perpetrators by neglecting this issue.



Liberation operations from ISIS


From October 2016 to October 2017, the military operations to liberate cities from the «ISIS» organization witnessed the disappearance of thousands of civilians in the provinces of Nineveh, Anbar, and Salah al-Din. Also, according to the IOHR, Nineveh province scored more than 250 cases of people whose fates are unknown. During this period which witnessed fierce fighting against ISIS, many videos were shared and posted on social media about hundreds of civilians who were taken in separate areas by official forces and factions fighting alongside the state, and until today the majority of those people’s fate is unknown. 

The IOHR has conducted a video interview with a man in his 70s who lost his two sons. The man said, on October 24, 2017, two of my sons (Walid & Saied) disappeared in Wadi Hajar in Mosul province. The security forces took them out of the old city and a nearby church from Al-Nouri Mosque.


He added, we received information that they are with the security forces, but until this moment we do not know anything about them and their fate is unknown. The old man asks the Iraqi government to know their fate, as it is not reasonable to lose them in this way.


Moreover, during a testimony that was given by a woman from Mousal to the IOHR, «I’m a mother of two detained disappeared men Nashwan & Ayman Mohammad Abdoulmihsen, they were taken by ISIS on February 18, 2017, in Mosul city, we have been informed that the army liberated them after ISIS kidnapped them in Al-Jumhuri Hospital and took them to Baghdad, and since that day we do not know anything about them». 


She added, «one of the detainees was with them and he informed us that he was with them at Muthanna Airport, but we do not know anything about them. We appeal to all Iraqi officials To know the fate of our sons. Their children and wives are in hard situations, why they are detained? We have evidence that they are detained by the Iraqi government. Former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited us twice and promised to know their fate, but nothing has happened so far, we also contacted the former minister of defense Khaled Al-Obaidi, but there was no result». 


Secret places of detention


It is likely that thousands of missing and forcibly disappeared people are in places of detention far from the eyes of the Iraqi state institutions, in places that even the official Iraqi authorities cannot reach and many accusations have been made against armed factions in the Popular Mobilization Forces that these places belong to these factions.  According to the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances, «there are 420 places of secret detention in Iraq».

This information match consistently with government sources interviewed by the IOHR and indicates that «The Iraqi authorities acknowledge in their private meetings the existence of secret places of detention.» These sources who worked in the administration of Mustafa Al-Khadimi, whose term ended on October 27, 2022, claimed that the administration of Haider al-Abadi was between 2014 to 2018, and Adel Abdul-Mahdi was from 2018 to 2019 were all unable to reach these places.

It is important to mention that the places of detention are numerous and not in specific areas, as they are in Baghdad Anbar, Nineveh, and Babylon. Places of detention may not be large prisons, huge detention centers, perhaps groups of houses or basements land, or even one big house. These places do not have to be similar to official prisons. The sources added that the Iraqi authorities in their current weak situation are not willing to prioritize the file of the missing and forcibly disappeared people.

The director of the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights, Mustafa Saadoun claimed that «The file of the forcibly disappeared and missing people is a file bigger than any other government’s file, and it needs governmental courage and a political decision. In light of the current circumstances that Iraq has been living through in the last three years, it does not seem the file will be a priority for any government officials. The IOHR’s director added, «Unfortunately, this file was used politically, and there are those who seek to hide it once and for all. Changing the fate of these people is a blur of the truth».

According to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance by the United Nations, arresting someone by state officials or agents of the state, or by persons or groups acting with the permission, support, or acquiescence of the authorities unannounced, not acknowledging the arrest or disclosing the person’s whereabouts or condition. This prohibition entails a duty to investigate in cases of alleged enforced disappearance and hold those responsible accountable.


Fact-disclosure committees


All the fact-finding commissions set up by Iraqi governments regarding the forcibly disappeared and missing persons have not yielded any results. Their rights and the rights of their families were absent. Tens of thousands of people have disappeared over the past eight years (2014-2022), although there are clear clues, in this case, tracking it may lead to reaching their fate, but the authorities were never serious in carrying out a such duty.  


This important issue was accompanied by false promises and pledges without taking any steps on the ground by the Iraqi government. However, the families of the victims believed they expressed their opinion and hopes publicly to reach a result, but this was hopeless. 

According to the IOHR, the file of the forcibly disappeared and missing people has turned from being a humanitarian file into a political one. This file was exploited by politicians in the areas that were under the control of ISIS, and it turned into a winning political card, ignoring what happened to civilians over the past years in terms of disappearance, disappearance, and loss.

On June 5, 2016, the administration of former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi formed a committee to investigate the file of enforced disappearance and violations committed in the context of military operations to restore the city of Fallujah in Anbar Governorate, but the Commission did not announce any results so far.


On June 11, 2015, the local authorities in Anbar province mainly Saqlawiya area formed another committee to detect the fate of 643 disappeared persons, but there are no results so far, although the committee said that it had submitted the results of the investigations to the

Former Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. 


On September 18, 2019, former Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi called on the political and oversight authorities to hand over all the evidence and details about the disappeared people in order to «cooperate with the government and reveal their fate.»


On August 29, 2020, Former Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi pledged to work seriously to follow up on the file of the disappeared and missing people 

and reveal their fate. Al-Kadhimi’s pledge was in front of Iraqi families who lost their children and did not know their fate. These three committees, which were formed by the governments of Haider Al-Abadi, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, and Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, did not announce any results on

the investigations that were supposed to have been conducted regarding the disappeared and missing people.  This was a false hope for the families of the victims, procrastination for the issue, and distortion of the facts.


Anas Al-Azzawi the advisor to the Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights, and a former member of the Board of Commissioners of the High Commission For human rights, claimed that «one of the most important files that need the attention of the new  Prime Minister Muhammad Shia’ al-Sudani is finding legal and humanitarian solutions to resolve the file of enforced disappearance in Iraq and push for the legislation of a national law to protect all persons from the forced disappearance according to what Iraq has committed to internationally. Al- Azzawi added, «Many of those interested in the human rights file inside Iraq or from the international community are praising the experience of al-Sudani as he was Minister of Human Rights in the Maliki government 2010-2014.

Al Sudani was a pioneer in resolving many controversial humanitarian files in Iraq such as displacement, enforced disappearance, redress for victims of terrorism, compensation for those affected, domestic violence, poverty, children’s rights and women, freedom of expression, and peaceful demonstration. Also, pushing for the completion of legislation related to guaranteeing human rights, preserving constitutional freedoms, and affirming commitment to binding international agreements and instruments.


Many years of absence


There are still thousands of forced disappeared and missing people all over Iraq including people who were victims of the well-known massacre (Spiker) that occurred on June 12, 2014, in which the «ISIS» organization executed About 1,700 Iraqi soldiers.  In addition to the kidnapped Yazidis and Turkmen who were taken by ISIS during the invasion of the city of Mosul and its environs. Moreover, the civil war in Iraq from 2006-2007 witnessed the loss and disappearance of thousands of civilians at the hands of terrorist armed groups that were carrying out field executions in some areas on the basis of sectarian affiliation and were disappearing large groups of civilians in and around the capital Baghdad, and on the external road between Kirkuk and Baghdad. As well as between Baghdad and the provinces of Anbar and Salahuddin.

Some families admitted that their relatives were killed and buried in mass graves or thrown into the Tigris River, as was the case. According to a testimony given by an Iraqi woman in her 50s to the IOHR saying that «I am a wife of the disappeared Adel Yaqoub Youssef, went out to Fallujah, to work on June 4, 2004, and has not returned home since 18 years.

We were told that terrorist groups had kidnapped him. We were not able to report on his case until four years later, because we had left our house during the civil war». Another woman said during her testimony to the IOHR «I am the mother of the disappeared Haider Sabah Matroud. He was lost on September 6, 2004, when he went out to work and has not returned until today. We were told that armed groups had kidnapped him. We looked at hospitals and everywhere, and he did not return to us, his fate is unknown to us».

The IOHR stated that the delay in revealing the fate of the forcibly disappeared people in Iraq is a major problem. It strikes the stability of society and prolongs the suffering of their families. According to unofficial statistics, a number of forcibly disappeared persons in the past five decades about a million people, as they have died for reasons related to their sectarian backgrounds or political opinions and their positions on issues pertaining to the state and society.

It has been estimated that around 27,000 Iraqis disappeared between 2014 -2018, and most of them are in the areas that were subject to the control of the «ISIS» organization and liberated by the Iraqi forces and the armed groups supporting them in 2017 during the Al Abadi administration. However, these numbers are not exciting for the Iraqi authorities, who are trying to delay the issue of the forcibly disappeared and missing persons in Iraq. It is an attempt to get rid of their file, which took on a political nature rather than a humanitarian file.


In June 2022, The IOHR interviewed a government official and he claimed that «The government does not own any database of those disappeared people and it does not have a clear vision about their case». 


In 2010, Iraq ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, but it did not legislate a supporting law for that. Iraqi legislators were preoccupied with enacting laws that grant them and their families privileges and neglected to enact laws, among them the Law for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. It is not only about their neglect, but because of political reasons as armed groups with a presence in the Iraqi parliament, are involved in the disappearance of civilians. The Popular Mobilization Forces, a force legally affiliated with the Iraqi state, was established in 2014 and its law was enacted in 2016 is accused of concealment operations and practising demographic change. However, state officials deny these facts. Although this denial is expected from all accused parties, however, testimonies of Iraqi civilians said that they were subjected to violations and that their families were subjected to enforced disappearance at the hands of supporters of the Popular Mobilization Forces or other armed factions that are not affiliated with the Popular Mobilization Forces but also fought alongside the Popular Mobilization Forces and the forces Iraqi security.



Activists Lost During the Protests


The file of enforced disappearance is not related to the liberated areas or military operations only, but, during October 2019 protest, Iraq recorded loss of dozens of activists and demonstrators.

According to the Iraqi Human Rights Commission, as of (December 2019), about 68 demonstrators got disappeared, 12 of whom were later released from prison in Karbala governorate, but the fate of the rest is not known. This neglect also included cases of absenteeism of demonstrators and activists, as well as journalists who criticized corruption in state departments or those who participated in demonstrations, especially those that took place in Iraq after the year (2011), such as the activist Jalal Al-Shahmani.

Cases of enforced absence were repeated during and after the protests of October 2019, such as the absence of lawyer Ali Gaseb. Also, the activists, Sajjad al-Iraqi and Basem Al-Zaak, went to cover the protests of supporters of the opposition forces against the election results. Al Zaak did not return to his house, a recorded video documented the moment of his arrest, and prior to that the arrest of the journalist Tawfiq Al-Tamimi, writer Mazen Latif, and others. Sajjad Al-Iraqi, an activist in the protests in Dhi Qar Governorate, Abd Al-Masih Romeo, Ali Jaseb, and Bassem Al-Zaak, are considered the most prominent of those who were forcibly disappeared during the period of protests in Iraq, and despite the promises of the Iraqi authorities to know their fate, their fate is unknown until now.


On September 9, 2020, former prime minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi welcomed the mother and brother of the missing protester, Sajjad Al-Iraqi as he made many efforts to find out his fate and expand the scope of the search for him, but nothing happened and Sajjad al-Iraqi remained



On December 13, 2021, The IOHR posted a short-recorded video on its page on FaceBook for the mother of the missed activist Bassem Al-Zaak, saying that «I appeal to the Iraqi National Security Adviser, Qassem Al-Araji, to return back my son, who was released fifty days ago, and I do not know his fate, nor do I know anything about him. She added while crying, Give me back my son. I don’t sleep at night, and my son has chronic diseases. I want my son».


According to information received by the IOHR, which has not been verified yet, some of the disappeared people who have been missing from the year 2014, were disposed of by killing them outside the scope of the law and after simple interrogations that took place in remote areas that cannot be reached even by the army and police forces.


The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights claimed that the authorities must take real and serious measures to reveal the fate of the forcibly disappeared people and hold them accountable to those involved in their disappearance and not stop in front of the rhetoric that claims opening this file leads to political and security instability, given that it will overthrow senior military figures. The Iraqi authorities must be aware the fact that this case remains pending is one of the reasons for the social instability in the areas that were inhabited by the victims.


This disturbance leads to negative results, some of which have appeared previously, and others may be complicated in the future. The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights calls on the Iraqi parliament to legislate a law obligating the executive authorities to carry out their duties concerning the file of the forcibly disappeared people, and the formation of a committee with broad powers to review, investigate and collect live testimonies. This is to do justice to the victims in their right to life, to end the suffering of their families, and to compensate them as well.