The Iraqi regime’s sexual violence against female detainees

The realities of what is happening in Syria and Iraq are hardly known to Western audiences. In the latter case in particular, very little is known about the nature of the Iraqi regime that was installed after the US-led invasion in 2003. In this 2014 report, Human Rights Watch​ documented an epidemic of sexual violence in Iraqi prisons against women detainees. The stories are similar to the more well-covered cases of sexual violence by the Assad regime (

It was the issue of women prisoners that was amongst the most prominent sparks for the Iraqi Spring protests of 2012. Sexual violence against women in a conservative society such as Iraq inflamed anger against the government, an anger which quickly transformed into an armed insurgency in 2014 after the government tried to crack down on the protests. Unfortunately, one of the insurgent groups was ISIS, and when it became clear that the US-led Coalition would re-intervene in Iraq in 2014 in order to prop up the government (following the capture of Mosul by an insurgent coalition, of which ISIS was only a part), Iraqi rebel groups decided to retreat instead of face the inevitable prospect of US bombing, leaving ISIS to dominate the armed insurgency.

Instead of dealing with the original source of the problem, Western powers decided instead to prop up the Iraqi regime under the guise of “fighting ISIS”, as was the case in Syria. The crimes of ISIS have been used to to make Western publics forget about the (often far-greater) abuses of regional regimes against which popular uprisings broke out – in Iraq, Syria and Egypt – and all because these regimes had a history of allying with Western interests. Today, all of these regimes are allied in their joint counter-insurgencies (with Egypt and Iraq both providing military support to Assad in Syria for example) and all commit the same type of crimes in their dungeons.

With the recent capture of Mosul by the same Western-backed Iraqi government which committed the crimes documented in this report, it is unclear whether we will see a return to the widespread sexual abuse of Iraqi women from anti-government areas. What is undoubtedly clear, however, is that Western publics must pressure their governments to end their support of the extremist, authoritarian government in Iraq – which commits heinous crimes against its own people as well as against the people of neighbouring countries like Syria. We in the West have a moral responsibility in this regard, for it is our governments which brought this draconian regime to power in 2003, instead of the “democracy” they promised.

– Warning: This report contains content that some readers may find distressing.