2.2. Sunni Arabs

Last updated: June 2019

This profile refers to Sunni Arabs from Iraq.

For Sunni Arabs who may be perceived to be associated with ISIL, see Persons perceived to be associated with ISIL.

For Sunni Arabs who may be affected by the de-Baathification process, see Former Baath party members.

COI summary

[Targeting, 1.15, 1.2, 1.21, 1.2.1, 1.2.2, 1.2.3, 1.3, 1.3.1, 1.4, 1.5, 1.7.2, 2.1; Security situation 2019, 1.1.1, 1.5.2, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3-2.6 ; Internal mobility, 3.3.1; Actors of protection, 5.7.2]

There is a long history of tensions between Sunni and Shia Arabs. Sectarianism rapidly increased in violent waves after the 2003 US invasion.

AQ-I, the Sunni resistance movement against US occupation after the 2003 removal of Saddam Hussein, targeted not only US and foreign occupation forces, but also the local Shia population, thus fuelling sectarian tension that culminated in a civil war in 2006-2007.

a. Perceived affiliation with ISIL

In the period after the retreat of the US troops in 2011, the Salafi jihadist group ISIL, the successor of AQ-I, took advantage of the growing sentiments of disenfranchisement within the Iraqi Sunni population. ISIL’s expansion and military operations against the group since 2014 sparked an internal displacement crisis in Iraq and created further distrust in the population.

Sunni Arabs may be perceived to be affiliated with ISIL based on certain individual factors, such as (perceived) family links to ISIL members, area of origin and time of fleeing, tribe, name, etc.

Potential indicators for being associated with ISIL include, for example, if a Sunni Arab lived in a former ISIL territory and fled the area at a late stage in the fighting; or had a family member arrested as an ISIL suspect.

If a person belongs to a tribe, which (or parts of which) is known to have supported ISIL, he or she may also be seen as an ISIL sympathiser. Many Sunni tribes split into pro and anti-ISIL factions, exacerbating divisions among the Sunni population and leaving hardly any tribes without members affiliated with or supportive of ISIL.

Further, the origin from a village or town known to have supported ISIL may heighten suspicion of ISIL affiliation (e.g. Baaj, Hawija).

It can even raise serious suspicion to have a name – or a family member with a name – similar to that of an ISIL suspect, even though many Iraqi citizens have identical names. There are numerous cases of people in detention only because their name is similar to that of a terror suspect.

Sunni Arabs perceived as ISIL affiliates are at risk of arrest and prosecution under the 2005 Anti‑Terrorism Law. In addition, earlier reporting makes note of retaliatory violence against them, perpetrated by elements of the ISF and forces associated with the ISF, including PMU and minority militias. PMU were engaged in extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings, torture, enforced disappearances, kidnapping and extortion of (male) Sunni civilians, seemingly in revenge for ISIL attacks against the Shia community. Despite the considerable freedom of action militias maintain in Iraq, as the military battle against ISIL wound down, there were fewer reports of such abuses. Acts of revenge in the form of interceptions, enforced disappearances and killings of Sunnis committed by ISF and affiliated forces were recorded during 2014-2017, with the majority of reported incidents taking place in 2014-2016. Reports of human rights abuses committed by PMU and/or government forces have become less prevalent, especially after Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani cautioned that non-combatants should not be harmed in June 2016, and Badr leader Hadi al-Ameri vowed to hold those responsible for abuse accountable.

There were also reports of arbitrary arrest and some cases of enforced disappearances by the Kurdish security forces and Yazidi armed groups, as well as retaliatory attacks against Sunni Arabs and their property in the course of operations to recapture ISIL territory.

Some Sunni IDPs have been prevented from returning to their towns and villages through a mix of complicated bureaucratic procedures and requirements, and intimidation tactics, including abductions, arbitrary detention and, in the case of Diyala, extrajudicial executions. Security actors, tribal leaders and local communities have subjected Sunni Arab IDPs perceived to have links with ISIL to denied returns, forced relocations and evictions from camps and informal settlements, as well as forced and premature returns, often resulting in secondary displacement.

See the profile Persons perceived to be associated with ISIL.

b. Treatment in relation to the de-Baathification process

Sunnis report that they face discrimination in public sector employment as a result of the de-Baathification process, a process originally intended to target loyalists of the former regime. According to Sunnis and local NGOs, the government continues the selective use of the de-Baathification provisions of the law to render many Sunnis ineligible for government employment but did not do so to render former Shia Baathists ineligible.

See the profile below concerning Former Baath party members.

c. Situation of Sunni Arabs in Baghdad

Militias in Baghdad are frequently accused by Sunnis of directing violence against them. Sunnis primarily fear being targeted for extortion, kidnapping, or having their property taken away by Shia militias in Baghdad. Sources reported that attribution of responsibility for attacks to specific perpetrators in Baghdad is difficult, and explosives are used for both political and criminal purposes to attack and intimidate targets. Determining actors can be difficult, though most likely they primarily involve militias and gangs; due to the strong links between the two, distinguishing between them is not always possible.

Risk analysis

The acts to which Sunni Arabs perceived to be affiliated with ISIL could be exposed to are of such severe nature that they would amount to persecution (e.g. arbitrary arrest, death penalty, torture). In other cases, individuals could be exposed to (solely) discriminatory measures, and the individual assessment of whether or not discrimination could amount to persecution should take into account the severity and/or repetitiveness of the acts or whether they occur as an accumulation of various measures.

Available information indicates that the mere fact that an individual is a Sunni Arab would normally not lead to a well-founded fear of persecution. The individual assessment of whether or not there is a reasonable degree of likelihood for the applicant to face persecution should take into account risk-impacting circumstances, such as: area of origin, tribe, etc.

In case of perceived affiliation with ISIL, in general, a well-founded fear of persecution would be substantiated (see Persons perceived to be associated with ISIL). The assessment of whether the applicant would be perceived to be affiliated with ISIL would depend on individual circumstances, such as (perceived) family links to ISIL members, place of origin and/or residency in a formerly ISIL-held area during ISIL control and time of fleeing, (perceived) tribal affiliation with ISIL, name, etc.

Nexus to a reason for persecution

Available information indicates that, depending on the individual circumstances, persecution of this profile may be for reasons of (imputed) political opinion (e.g. ISIL affiliation, Baath party), and in individual cases, religion.


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