Developments during the last few years

The death penalty in Iraq was suspended by the U.S. interim administration after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. In 2004, it was reinstated by the Iraqi government on the grounds that it was intended to curb violence in the country.

Since the reintroduction of the death penalty, the number of death sentences and executions has risen rapidly. As a result, Iraq now ranks among the top five countries with the most executions annually: according to Amnesty International’s (AI) data, at least 169 people were executed by the Iraqi government in 2013, at least 88 in 2016, and at least 125 in 2017.

For the first time, the number of executions decreased in 2018: with “only” 52 executions, 50 percent fewer death sentences were carried out than in the previous year’s comparison. In contrast, executions are again expected to exceed 100 in 2019.

The vast majority of death sentences continue to be handed down on the basis of vague anti-terrorism laws, as Amnesty International Germany board spokesman Oliver Hendrichs reported back in March 2014. This was confirmed again in 2017: In the course of two mass executions, 42 people were executed in September and 38 others in December who had been sentenced to death for terrorist activities.

Overall, the human rights situation in Iraq has steadily deteriorated. War crimes, human rights violations, kidnappings, and executions by the Islamic State continue to dominate the already volatile situation in the country. The government responds with backlash and death sentences due to terrorist attacks.

Crimes punishable by death in Iraq

Crimes punishable by death in Iraq include murder, endangering national security (with or without lethal consequences), kidnapping, and drug trafficking. Under Saddam Hussein’s government, 114 different crimes were punishable by death, so the new law is much more moderate in this regard than was previously the case.

Under the Anti-Terrorism Law, people can be punished by death if they are in any way connected to terrorism, where even the threat of violence is classified as terrorism.

Trial Procedure

Although Iraqi law enshrines the right to adequate legal representation, in practice many defendants are without adequate protection of counsel or have incompetent legal defenses. The U.S. Department of State wrote in 2007 that defense attorneys are provided in theory, but detainees rarely have contact with them before appearing in court. This is usually for security reasons. The lawyers hardly play a significant role in any proceedings.

The human rights organization Amnesty International also assumes that confessions are regularly forced through torture and that prisoners are mistreated.

According to Iraqi law, no person over the age of 70 may be executed. Criminals who had not reached the age of 18 at the time of the crime, pregnant women, and women who gave birth to a child within the last four months are also not allowed to be executed.

There is an automatic right of appeal in death penalty proceedings. Iraqi law requires that death sentences be carried out within 30 days after all legal means have been exhausted. As a final step, an official hands a red card to the person to be executed, along with documentation of the sentence and information about the imminent execution.

Execution method and procedure

The usual method of execution in Iraq is hanging. Military law and internal security law also provide for firing squads as a method of execution.

A judge, a prosecutor (if possible), a representative of the Ministry of Interior, the prison director, a doctor, and, if requested, the lawyer of the person to be executed must be present at an execution. Prisoners have the right to receive a visit from their relatives one day before their execution. Executions may not be carried out in public or on public holidays.

Sources and further information:

“Iraq: Shocking surge in 2016 death sentences tops 90 as “terror” trial closes,” Amnesty International, press release, Feb. 18, 2016; IgT news, Feb. 21, 2016;“Iraq justice ministry announces execution of 22 convicts,” Middle East Eye, May 24, 2016; Annual Death Penalty Report 2015, Amnesty International Report 2015/2016; UN Human Rights Committee; Cornell Law School Death Penalty Database;“Iraq PM Seeks To Speed Up Death Penalty Implementation,” NDTV, Feb. 23. July 2016;“Death Sentences and Executions 2017,” Amnesty International Annual Report, published April 2018; “Death Sentences and Executions 2018,” Amnesty International Annual Report, published April 2019; Amnesty International Annual Report 2019 and 2020.

As of May 2020