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UK arms export to Iraq (2012-2022)

Country Overview

In 2003, after the 9/11 attacks, a US-led coalition invaded Iraq and toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein. This marked the beginning of a new era for Iraq. The invasion was justified on claims of Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction, which were later found to be unfounded.

Saddam Hussein was executed in 2006, after his fall, Iraq underwent a period of transition and reconstruction. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) was established to govern the country, and efforts were made to build a democratic government.

In 2011, the US withdrew its combat troops, in the following years the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) emerged and launched multiple offensives, posing a significant threat to the country’s and region’s stability.

2019 saw popular uprisings that forced the resignation of Iraq’s government and lead to  federal elections and the formation of a protracted government process in 2021. 

Iraq is not a member of the Arms Trade Treaty.

How many licenses for the sale of arms to Iraq did the UK government issue between 2012 and 2022? 

In total, from 2012 to 2022, 196 limited and 99 unlimited export licenses were granted to Iraq. With numbers slowly increasing and peaking in 2017 with 35 approved licenses. The increase in the UK-approved exports might be justified by the commitment of the UK government in 2014 to assist the Government of Iraq (GoI ) by: “alleviating the humanitarian suffering of those Iraqis targeted by ISIL terrorists”. The Iraq (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 established a sanctions regime related to Iraq, which resulted in a decrease in approved military licenses beginning in 2020.

What is the total value of those exports in GBP?
In total, from 2012 to 2022, £60m worth of arms licenses were sold to Iraq. Numbers peaked in 2015, with over £13m of arms licenses being sold

Numbers dropped from £8.6 in 2018, to £1.9 in 2019. However, they have steadily increased since, and amounted to £4.1m in 2022.

Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2023

What are the top 10 types of arms export licenses Britain is selling to Iraq? 

Top 10 military items exported from the UK to Iraq between 2012-2022Total number of licenses
military helmets59
components for body armour53
body armour52
all-wheel drive vehicles with ballistic protection31
bomb suits16
components for military support aircraft15
components for all-wheel drive vehicles with ballistic protection15
promoting the supply of assault rifles14
military aircraft ground equipment13
promoting the supply of machine guns13
Top 3 military export items from the UK to Iraq between 2012-2022 by valueValue in GBP
Aircraft, helicopters, drones£14m
Small arms£9.9m
Armoured vehicles, tanks£9.8m

Source: Campaign Against Arms Trade, 2023

Why should British citizens be concerned about arms sales?

1)  Human rights conditions in the country. The use of the death penalty in Iraq remained widespread and arbitrary, Additionally, the penal code it states authorities can prosecute child suspects as young as nine years old for terrorism charges

2)  The situation pre and post-occupation of Mosul didn’t change the widespread violations. Following the liberation of cities occupied by ISIS, government forces and Shia militias operating under government authority arrested, tortured, and executed a large number of Sunni Arabs suspected of being ISIS fighters.

3)  Weapons falling into the wrong hands.

a.     The Middle East is one of the most contested regions, and sometimes providing weapons to Iran or partners, means allowing weapons to flow to other countries of concern.

b.     “Arms transfers to Iraq carry a real risk of ending up in the hands of militia groups with long histories of human rights violations”

What has the British government said about these concerns? 

In the decade analyzed, the UK government was concerned about the human rights impact of Daesh-controlled areas of Iraq as well as the central government and its human rights record. UK troops are not engaged in combat but are on the ground providing training and equipment to Iraqi and Kurdish security forces.

What evidence is there of human rights abuses that the Iraqi government has committed since 2012?

By November 2013, the Iraqi regime had reportedly executed at least 151 people in 2013. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay compared Iraq’s justice system to “processing animals in a slaughterhouse.”

Amnesty International released a report entitled ‘Iraq: Turning A Blind Eye,’ in 2017, documenting widespread human rights abuses, mainly committed by Shia militias operating under the government against Sunni citizens. Among others, the militias used European-sponsored weaponry to carry out reprisal attacks, some amounting to war crimes.

The following year, the government, including the Office of the Prime Minister, investigated allegations of abuses and atrocities perpetrated by the Iraq Security Forces (ISF), but it rarely made the results of the investigations public or punished those responsible for human rights.

The US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor reported in 2020 that more than 500 civilians were killed during protests that began in October 2019. This number was confirmed in August by the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) which recorded the deaths of 487 protesters and 7,715 incidents of injury to protesters. 

In September 2021, the parliament passed the necessary regulations to implement the Yazidi Survivors but no ISIS defendants have been convicted yet of international crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide.

According to a new United Nations report published in 2022 Iraqi authorities detained over 1,000 children, some as young as nine years old, in 2021 on national security charges, primarily for suspected links with the Islamic State (ISIS). Many of these children were arrested on dubious evidence and tortured into confessions of ISIS involvement.
Despite announcing a new five-year plan to address human rights issues in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, government officials continued to target civil society actors and Kurdish people, arresting dozens of journalists and authorizing violent attacks against LGBT people. 

Despite this catalog of harm, the UK still deems it acceptable to sell weapons and arms to Iraq.

Human rights abuses continue.