Since Iraq’s independence in 1932, the country has experienced numerous conflicts and periods of civil war. Iraq is not a ICC state member, but is currently subject to preliminary examinations in response to allegations of detainee abuse by U.K. troops.
Iraq is not a state party to the Rome Statute. However, the ICC prosecutor is conducting a preliminary examination to allegations of detainee abuse by United Kingdom troops following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

This is an example of the exercise of personal (as opposed to territorial) jurisdiction over the nationals of an ICC member state. The ICC prosecutor has said that the Court’s jurisdiction over other potential international crimes in Iraq is limited. Civil society groups, including the Kurdish national coalition for the ICC, have been active in advocating for Iraq’s accession to the Rome Statute to seek redress for human rights violations.

Since Iraq’s independence in 1932, the country has experienced numerous conflicts and periods of civil war. In 2003, without the sanction of the UN Security Council, the United States and United Kingdom led an invasion of Iraq with the alleged aim of destroying weapons of mass destruction supposedly possessed by the regime of Saddam Hussein. The invasion resulted in years of violence and thousands of civilian deaths over the period 2003-08. A power vacuum led to civil war in 2011, marked by sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia militias, as well as insurgencies against the occupying forces and new Iraqi government from. In early 2014, the emergence of ISIS and its occupation of Iraqi territory resulted in renewed civil strife and the commission of grave international crimes, including an alleged genocide against the Yazidi monitory.
ICC situation

As Iraq is not an ICC member state, the ICC preliminary examination has focused on potential Rome Statute crimes committed on Iraqi territory by nationals of ICC member states.

The ICC has conducted two phases of preliminary examination in Iraq.

In February 2006, the prosecutor at the time closed the first Iraq preliminary examination because, based on the information available to him, there was no indication of crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction. While evidence of war crimes committed in Iraq between May and March 2003 was found, there was no proof of an excessive and international attack against civilians, neither was their proof of involvement of nationals of ICC state parties. In relation to allegations of wilful killing and inhuman treatment of civilians, the prosecutor concluded that the gravity threshold of the crimes was not met.

The ICC prosecutor reopened the preliminary investigation in May 2014 after having received new information on war crimes, including alleged torture and killings of hundreds of detainees, committed by UK soldiers between 2003 and 2008 in Iraq. Other alleged crimes committed in UK-controlled detention facilities are a denial of a fair trial, rape, and sexual violence. In its admissibility assessment, the Office of the Prosecutor is considering physical perpetrators as well as other military or civilian personnel who may bear responsibility. The Prosecutor also monitors national investigations taking place in the UK. In March 2010, the UK Ministry of Defence set up a specialized body, the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (“IHAT”) to investigate abuses in UK detention facilities. The Service Police Legacy Investigations (“SPLI”) took over the remaining IHAT investigations at the beginning of July 2017, with national investigations resulting in at least one conviction. However, the Prosecutor of the ICC notes that these proceedings focused on low-level and mid-level perpetrators and did not address the gravest crimes, including killings. Moreover, the Office of the Prosecutor is carrying out its gravity assessment under Art. 8(1) of the Statute. According to the article, the Court should focus particularly on cases of war crimes committed on a large scale as part of a plan or pursuant to a wider policy. It remains unclear whether the scale of the alleged crimes is as large as assumed in the communication and meets the admissibility criteria The Office of the Prosecutor is currently looking into whether the crimes fall within the jurisdiction of the court, and monitoring whether investigations by UK authorities are taking place.

ICC prosecutor clarifies scope of preliminary examination
In 2016, following the publication of the Chilcot Report into the role of the government of Tony Blair in the Iraq war, the ICC prosecutor issued a statement indicating the Court would review “relevant material that could provide further context to the allegations of war crimes by British troops in Iraq.”  

The prosecutor also indicated that since ICC jurisdiction over the crime of aggression has not yet been activated, “specific question of the legality of the decision to resort to the use of force in Iraq in 2003 – or elsewhere – does not fall within the legal mandate of the Court, and hence, is not within the scope of its preliminary examination.”

In April 2015, the ICC prosecutor stated that the ICC would not proceed with a preliminary examination into ISIS, as the OTP determined that while many ISIS fighters come from ICC member states, most of the group’s leadership come from Iraq and Syria—neither of which has joined the Court. Since the stated policy of OTP is to go after those most responsible for alleged crimes—usually those in leadership positions—the prosecutor stated that the ICC lacks jurisdiction to take action.


Civil society advocacy

Iraq acceded to the Rome Statute on in 2005, but withdrew its accession two weeks later.

Kurdish civil society groups have been active in advocating for Iraq’s accession to the Rome Statute to seek redress for human rights violations. In 2011, the Parliament of the region of Kurdistan issued a petition request Iraq’s Central government to join the ICC. In 2013 accession was requested again by the Kurdish Ministry of Martyrs and Anfal Affairs.

The Kurdish Coalition for the ICC holds a strong campaign for ICC accession by pressuring for prosecution, organizing seminars and protests.

Since 2014, Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA) have been very active in promoting the ratification and implementation of the Rome Statute in Iraq especially in the context of the crimes committed by ISIS/ISIL.

PGA has done through writing an open letter to the Government to encourage ratification of the Rome Statute. During 2012, President Song of the ICC also wrote letters to heads of States, or government, including Iraq urging them to consider joining the Rome Statute. These letters outlined the benefits of the ICC membership and clarified some of the misconceptions.

Members of the Coalition have condemned mass atrocities committed by the Islamic State in Iraq and the region.