Iraq War and Sectarian War against Palestinian Refugees in Iraq Detention and Torture of Palestinians in Iraqi Jails

Iraq War and Sectarian War against Palestinian Refugees in Iraq Detention and Torture of Palestinians in Iraqi Jails

Ibrahim Naem*


The situation of the Palestinian refugees in Iraq is very difficult. The human rights violations are increasing. The article emphasises the literature review of the escalating incidents against the Palestinian refugees in Iraq and will concentrate on the human rights abuses. The article discusses the Palestinian political reactions and the Iraqi government’s position, and displays the playing figures in the situation by showing some human rights organisations’ reports and media outlets. The article will also show some statistics of the Palestinian refugees in Iraq who were subjected to human rights violations. It will also document official and political reactions and the playing figures in the Iraqi field.



Palestinian refugees have been residing in Iraq since the beginning of the Nakba in 1948, due to the Arab -Israeli war, which caused large scale displacement in the region. In 1967 a group of Palestinian refugees fled to Iraq. In 1991, due to the Gulf war another group of  Palestinian refugees fled to Iraq from the Gulf countries. The Palestinian refugees in Iraq have been ignored because they were never recognised as refugees as they are not registered in UNRWA records. During that period, the Palestinians were granted residencies and the right to work and were provided with government houses and access to the social services in Iraq.  Before the American invasion in 2003, the number of Palestinian refugees in Iraq was 42,000, according to the Palestinian Refugee Affairs in Iraq.


The Beginning of the Suffering of Palestinian Refugees in Iraq

In 2003 the USA invaded Iraq and the regime was ousted. The new Iraqi government considered the Palestinian refugees effectively as foreigners living in Iraq. Militias appeared in Iraq after the fall of Hussein’s regime and started to accuse Palestinians of being loyal or affiliated to the former regime and also target them for being Sunnis. The militias began to kill, kidnap and torture Palestinians in Iraq due to political and religious reasons. The number of Palestinians in Iraq has been decreasing each year because they were suffering from harassment and human rights violations by militias and the security forces.

The militias and Iraqi Security forces first invaded Al Baladiyat compound in Baghdad, which is a governmental compound for Palestinian refugees. They also invaded Palestinian groups in Al Basra and the southern areas that led to dozens of killings and detainees. Many Palestinians fled to the Syrian and Jordanian borders seeking to enter those territories. Seven camps were established on the Syrian Jordanian borders such as Al Roaished, Tarbeel, and Al Karama near the Jordanian borders; Al Tanaf and Al Waleed on the Syrian borders. All camps hosted in total about 12.000 Palestinian refugees who were banned to enter either the Jordanian or Syrian territories.  Many of these camps were closed and Palestinians were displaced to more than 50 countries, especially in Europe and Australia. Many refugees fled using the so-called “death boats” to European countries. According to the Academy of Refugee Studies: “the remaining number of the Palestinian refugees in Iraq is 4000 Palestinian refugees.” It is likely that all Palestinian refugees from Iraq will leave the country due to the unstable and dangerous situation they face. 


The Palestinian refugees in Iraq between the Rock and a Hard Place

The Palestinians in Iraq suffered from threats coming from the American Occupation, the Iraqi Security forces and sectarian militias. They faced death threats, abduction, torture, death and displacement. In addition Palestinians also face arbitrary arrests and unfair trials. In 2005 it was the beginning of a new stage for Palestinian refugees in Iraq. This was due to a series of bombings in Baghdad Al Jadeeda, where 4 Palestinians were accused of these explosions and of being ‘terrorists’ but they were released for lack of evidence. However the campaigns against Palestinians did not stop. Some people affiliated to the sectarian militias wrote on walls and banners hateful messages and calling on the government to expel the Palestinians out of Iraq. Due to those escalations, Palestinian refugees faced abduction, torture and death. .

Threats to the Palestinian refugees in Iraq by the sectarian militias were widespread in 2006 in order to force them to leave Iraq to camps or to migrate a second time. For example, more than a hundred Palestinian families in al-Hurriya district in northern Baghdad received leaflets from an armed group which called them ‘traitors.’ The leaflet stated: “We warn you that we will eliminate you all if you don’t leave the area for good within days.” The leaflet was signed by a group calling itself Judgment Day Battalion.  Sheikh Mahmoud El Hassani, a spokesman for the Mahdi Army, is reported to have said that “the Palestinians had brought their suffering on themselves… Shi’as believed they were in league with Sunni extremists and al-Qa’ida. We are sure that all the Palestinians in Iraq are involved in killing the Shi’a people and they have to pay the price now… They lived off our blood under Saddam. We were hungry with no food and [they were] comfortable with full bellies. They should leave now, or they will have to pay.”

Dozens of Palestinians were kidnapped, killed, imprisoned, and tortured by either Iraqi Security forces or armed militias. Among them is Mr. ‘Ali Hussain al-Zinati, a 56-year-old poet and education advisor, who was killed on 21 November 2006. He was abducted from outside his house in al-Ghazalia district by armed men who forced him into a car. A relative who is in al-Waleed camp told Amnesty International that some of the neighbours told the family that they had seen ‘Ali being forced at gunpoint into a police car. Three hours later the family was told by the police that they had found the body of ‘Ali and that they should go and collect it from al-Ghazalia police station. ‘Ali was reportedly shot twice in the head and the chest. A few days later ‘Ali’s elder son, Baha’uddin, a newly graduated medical doctor, was abducted outside a hospital in al-Kadhimiya district. His body was later found in a morgue bearing marks of torture, including the use of drills which left holes on parts of the body.

Another Iraqi Palestinian who had suffered at the hands of armed militias is Hamed ‘Ali Mohammad al-Hanouti. Al-Hanouti was a trader from Hay al-Salam district born in 1961 who was married with five children. Al-Hanouti was driving his car on 13 March 2007 at around 7PM in the same district when another car stopped in front of him. Four armed men got out, forced him out of his car, leaving his two children in the car, and took him away. Witnesses told the family that they had seen Hamed being taken to al-Iskan, a predominantly Shi’a neighborhood, and shot by the four-armed men. The body was left lying in the street. The following day his family found his body in the morgue of the Forensic Medicine Department in Baghdad.

The Palestinian refugees were targeted by all parties in Iraq such as the Iraqi Security, the Shi’a militias, ISIS militias and the US troops. The shi’a militants accused the Palestinians of fighting besides the Sunni’s parties, which was not true because in the middle of 2014, ISIS threatened the Palestinians and about 1000 Palestinian refugees left their areas to Turkey, Jordan, and the rest of the northern Iraqi cities due to the battles of ISIS in Al Anbar governorate.  There are many cases of Palestinians in the Iraqi detention centres held under inaccurate confessions obtained through torture.  In one case, a Palestinian confessed to killing five Iraqi people, who are actually still alive. In 2015, the US department of State released a report that sectarian groups, extremists, criminals, and, in some alleged but unverified cases, government forces attacked and arrested refugees, including Palestinians in Iraq. 

In the past years the Palestinian detainees in Iraq were exposed to torture such as burning, and electric shock to make them confess to crimes that they did not commit. These actions contradict Iraq’s obligations under the Convention Against Torture, most specifically Article 15, which states that ‘each state party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings.’ Moreover, the conditions in which the Iraqi authorities detain the Palestinian refugees are inhumane ones that could in themselves amount to forms of torture. Detainees are denied food and water for long periods of time, and are also denied treatment and medicine when they need it. Likewise, the sectarian militias in Iraq broadcasted some confessions for Palestinian refugees that were taken from them under torture. The confessions are all similar in nature, declaring the person a member of a terrorist group whom had helped and planned to use explosives.  


Statistics by International Human Rights Organisations and Media Outlets

There are no accurate figures for the numbers of Palestinians in Iraq who were killed, abducted, imprisoned, tortured or who had already fled Iraq. However there are still some statistics by international organisations and media outlets which will be used here. For example, The Telegraph UK wrote that more than 600 Palestinians are believed to have died at the hands of Shia militias since the war began in 2003, including at least 300 from the Baladiat area of Baghdad. Many were tortured with electric drills before they died.  UNHCR has documented 74 security incidents involving Palestinian refugees between January 2014 and February 2017 (of which 21 were recorded in 2016). These incidents include 26 detentions, three disappearances, three abductions, five killings, two attempted murders, two cases of physical abuse, three cases of sexual and gender-based violence and 30 cases of threats to life. It should be noted that most cases are likely to go unreported. In 2015, around 70 Palestinian families reportedly left Baghdad due to the deteriorated security situation. 

The number of the detained and kidnapped Palestinian refugees by sectarian militias reached 47 refugees, 5 are still abducted, 5 were sentenced to death, 8 were sentenced to life imprisonment, one was sentenced to ten years imprisonment, one is in preventive detention and 27 are in prisons without any legal status.  Some armed groups which are often protected by certain governmental bodies, kidnap Palestinian refugees and torture them, and then demand payments from their relatives in exchange for their release. The Palestinian families in Iraq, who have sons in prisons, are faced with two tough choices: leaving Iraq in order to protect the rest of the family, or staying in Iraq to remain close to the imprisoned offspring and live the uncertainty of losing more members. The only hope of Palestinian refugees to stay in Iraq was finished because there are no solutions to stay where there is much hatred plotted against them. 


The Palestinian Official and Political Reactions

After 10 years of ignoring the difficult situation of the Palestinian refugees in Iraq, in 2012 the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, gave a list that contains about 39 prisoners’ names to the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nuri Al Maliki, during the Arab League Summit in Bagdad. The Iraqi authorities promised to release the Palestinian prisoners but no such thing occurred and no one followed up with this file. However, the Arab Organisation for Human Rights tried to contact the embassy in Iraq to know what happened to the Palestinian prisoners in Iraqi prisons but no one answered.  It is a major duty for the Palestine embassy in Iraq to serve and protect the Palestinian refugees in Iraq otherwise their numbers will diminish entirely. Unfortunately it seems that the establishment of the Embassy was just for communications between Palestinian and Iraqi officials.



Palestinian refugees in Iraq have been subjected to human rights violations such as: abduction, killing, torture, hostage-taking and other ill-treatment by sectarian armed militia groups, Iraqi Security forces and the US troops. They have been targeted due to the perceived privileged treatment that they received under the previous government of Saddam Hussein in comparison to the treatment received by the Shi’a before 2003. Many Palestinians were arrested and detained by the Iraqi security forces because they linked them to the terrorism that happened in Iraq. Some were allegedly tortured in detention and some of them were imprisoned and sentenced to death due to fake accusations. In each terror bombing against the Shi’a,  Palestinians pay the price of being Palestinian refugees living in Iraq. The Palestinian refugees struggle to maintain their identity and now have no hope but to leave Iraq for another country, a new diaspora, and no international organisation has yet suggested a solution of returning them back to their original home country Palestine.


* Ibrahim Naem is a Palestinian freelance journalist and translator, lives in UK. He worked for the Action Group for the Palestinians of Syria from 2011 till 2015. He was also the head of media department at the Coastal Municipalities Water Utility in Gaza from 2008 to 2016.



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