The latest annual report on trafficking by the State Department noted that Iraq remains an important hub for the sex trade and human trafficking in the Middle East. People are both shipped to and out of the country, which has only gotten worse since the Islamic State’s onslaught in the summer of 2014.
The State Department found that Iraq continues to have an active sex trade. Iraqi females are often victims of temporary marriages, where their husbands then put them into the sex trade. Syrian refugee women are often targeted for exploitation. Foreign women are told that they are going to be taken to Kurdistan for work, but are put into prostitution instead. This includes women from Iran, China, and the Philippines. Women are brought into brothels and hotels in Baghdad, Basra, and other large cities. Iraqi and Syrian refugee women are also trafficked to other Middle Eastern countries and Turkey. The Islamic State’s seizure of most of Ninewa during 2014 has only increased these negative trends. The group’s rape and enslavement of Yazidi women in that province is well documented, and continues to this day. The United States has made similar reports about the exploitation of women in Iraq for the last several years.
Prostitution rings are run by criminal gangs and family members, and are supported by members of the security forces and government. In 2014 for example, a member of the Basra intelligence directorate was accused for working with a gang involved in kidnapping and selling girls. Members of the Iraqi Security Forces, the Kurdish Asayesh, and government officials from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have all been accused of taking bribes and working with crime organizations involved in the trade. In the KRG non-government organizations said that Asayesh and Kurdish government workers were involved with a group turning Syrian women at the Domiz refugee camp into prostitutes. This is just one more example of the widespread corruption within the Iraqi government.
The State Department found both the central and Kurdish regional government’s efforts to stop the sex trade lacking. State found only limited efforts in trying to arrest and prosecute gangs involved in trafficking. The U.S. believed that was due to judges not understanding the anti-trafficking law passed in 2012. The KRG on the other hand, does not have any anti-trafficking legislation and did not endorse or adopt the one passed by the national parliament. Neither governments provide adequate services for victims of the sex trade, and instead usually arrest women and deport the foreign ones. Iraqi courts have prosecuted girls as young as nine years old and given them long prison terms from 15 years to life. In 2014 the KRG arrested 28 young girls and charted four with prostitution and 24 with begging. Neither Baghdad nor Irbil appears to be interested in this matter, and some from both governments are instead profiting from it.
The reason why Iraq has failed to adequately tackle this problem is two fold. First, the government has never taken the sex trade as a real problem. That means it has not appropriated any real resources to tackle the issue. Second, the corruption endemic within the government gives political cover to the gangs involved in the trade. The result is that the only ones ever facing the consequences are the women victims who are faced into this trade.
U.S. Department of State, “2015 Trafficking In Persons Report,” July 2015