Transitional Justice and Counterterrorism Approaches in Iraq’s Post-IS Landscape

In December 2017, the Iraqi government announced the defeat of Islamic State (IS) and referred to the resulting ‘post-IS landscape’ as a new page in the history of Iraq. Although the security situation has improved considerably over the past years, this is not the first time that Iraq celebrates the anniversary over radical Islamists. A cursory scan of Iraq’s post-2003 invasion history underlines a recurring ‘cycle of violence’ of this fragile state; sectarian wars, systematic human rights violations, terrorist acts and widespread international crimes have continuously been committed by various radicalized groups, including IS.

Taking this violent past into account, there is an obvious need to develop feasible and context-specific transitional justice mechanisms combined with counterterrorism strategies with the potential to integrate calls for justice, facilitate long-lasting peace, and limit the risk of future radicalization. Given the deep-rooted sectarian tensions, the culture of tribalism, political exclusion and the disturbed collective identity in Iraq, formulating and implementing such an integrated framework may, however, prove to be very challenging.

Combining legal doctrinal analysis and empirical (field)work, this innovative multidisciplinary project aims to provide practical and feasible suggestions for transitional justice and counterterrorism approaches in Iraq’s post-IS landscape. In separate sub-studies it more specifically:

  • develops an Islamic theory of transitional justice with the potential to integrate Islamic law and jurisprudence with existing transitional justice mechanisms. Given the dominant intertwined cultural-religious structures in Iraq, such a tailored and localized approach could possibly foster elite- and public support for suggested transitional justice mechanisms.
  • maps out modes of transitional justice that have thus far been applied by the Iraqi government and international actors. This includes a reliable estimation and description of the number of criminal prosecutions of IS suspects in Iraq, the context and nature of these trials, the type of crimes the suspects have been held accountable for and sentencing practices. This part also elaborates on the interplay between Iraq’s government international law responsibilities on the one hand (the responsibility to investigate and prosecute IS-members/suspects for international crimes, safeguarding human rights standards) and its domestic law responsibilities on the other hand (notably, the Iraqi penal code and anti-terrorism laws).
  • explores if – and to what extent – it is possible to develop and implement conceivable and practically feasible alternative judicial and non-judicial transitional justice responses to the already existing ones. The abovementioned framework takes into account the calls for justice, reconciliation, reparation, truth seeking and deradicalization at the same time, while doing so safeguarding the international human rights standards and humanitarian law. Regardless of a doctrinal-legal analysis, this part also includes a vignette study that tests what transitional justice responses the Iraqi population perceive to be fair and just.
  • based on the above, discusses and problematizes contradictions and similarities in transitional justice mechanisms and counterterrorism strategies in general and explores the possibility of an integrated model in the context of Iraq in its post-IS era.

The research is partly funded by VU Vereniging.