Country report and updates: Iraq

Last revision: 02 Oct 2002
02 Oct 2002
2 October 2002

1 Conscription

conscription exists

Conscription is enshrined in art. 31 of the 1968 Constitution, which describes military service as a 'sacred duty and an honour for citizens'. [14]

The present legal basis of conscription is the 1969 Military Service Act, with several subsequent resolutions made by the Revolution Command Council (RCC). Although Iraq has a
formal separation of powers, in practice all power rests with the RCC, a group of men who are also members of the Regional Command of the Ba'ath Party. [5]

military service

In peacetime all men between the ages of 18 and 45 are liable for military service. In wartime the RCC may decide who is to be called up. [10]

The length of military service is two to three years, one and a half year in the case of university and college graduates. During wartime the length of service may be extended indefinitely, the length of service can also be extended when deemed necessary by the RCC. [1] [2] [5] [10]

The length of service was reduced from three years in the 90s, in line with the reduction of the armed forces following the 1990 Gulf War. [7]

There are reservist obligations, but no details are known about what these entail. [1]

postponement and exemption

Postponement is possible for students until completion of their studies at college or university. [10]

Postgraduates studying abroad are exempted until they complete their studies (RCC-resolution 649/1982).

In wartime the service of students may not be postponed; during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) and the 1990 Gulf War all 18-year old students, also those living abroad, were called up for military service. [10]

It was possible to get exempted from service by paying a sum of money [22]. In 1998 this was believed to be 10,000 USD. It is not clear if this provision only applied to persons living abroad. [5] [11] Apparently, this provision was abolished in 2002. [23]

There are no other known provisions on exemption. However, Saddam Hussain has ultimate power to grant exemptions. In May 1991, for example, he exempted all young men born in 1961, 1962 and 1963 and in February 1993 all those born in 1968 got exempted. [10]


Call-up for medical examination takes place at the age of 17. Usually young men receive a personal call-up notice, but young men of a certain age category may also be called up through the media. [10]

Call-up for military service takes place at the age of 18. Conscripts initially serve for two to three months in a 'provisional barrack', after which they are assigned to another post. Assignment takes place according to the conscript's ability. [10]

Admittance to the officer academy is possible from the age of 16. Consequently officers in the armed forces are sometimes as young as 17 (as the officer course only lasts one year). Only members of the Ba'ath party are admitted to the officer academy. [10]

In 1997 it was reported that thousands of boys aged between 10 and 15 had graduated from a military training programme training them in the use of arms. The programme, called 'Saddam's Youth', was said to operate in 14 camps around the country and was meant to prepare the boys for unspecified emergencies. [8]

2 Conscientious objection

The right to conscientious objection is not legally recognized and there are no provisions for substitute service. [1] [2]

3 Draft evasion and desertion


The precise penalties for draft evasion and desertion are not known. Important decisions in Iraq are made on an ad hoc basis through RCC Decrees and, due to the closedness of Iraqi society, it is sometimes hard to judge which decrees are still valid and which have been replaced by other decrees.

According to Decree 1370/1994 desertion in wartime is punishable by death. [5]

According to Decree 115/1994, desertion in peacetime is punishable by death if someone has deserted three times or more. [5]

According to Decree 10/1988: "The death sentence shall be carried out by the Party organization (...) on every deserter or draft dodger who is captured if the duration of his desertion or draft evasion exceeds one year or if he has committed the crime of desertion more than once." It is, however, not clear if this decree still applies. [4]

In September 1994 the RCC ordered the amputation and branding of draft evaders and deserters, particularly the amputation of the ear (Decree 115/1994). In March 1996 the RCC ordered a decree which is thought to have abolished amputation and branding as punishment for draft evaders and deserters (Decree 81/1996). This is not absolutely sure though, because the details of this decree have never become public. (see also: amputation and branding)

In 1998, capital punishment was reintroduced for desertion. [24]


Draft evasion and desertion have increased, in particular during and after the 1990 Gulf War.
Moreover, Iraqi troops have become increasingly discontented over low salaries and poor conditions within the armed forces. [4] Recent reports from July 2002 again point to an increase of desertions in the run up to a US attack on Iraq, with figures mentioned as high as 40%. [19] [20] [21]

Evidently the repression of the Kurdish population has caused many Kurdish men to avoid military service, many of whom have fled abroad. Precise figures about the scale of draft evasion and desertion are impossible to obtain, but it has been estimated that between 1990 and 1994 about 13,000 deserters had fled to northern Iraq. [6]

The military security (Istikhbarat) is responsible for tracking down deserters. [5]

In 1996 Saddam Hussain ordered the formation of special committees on the level of the regional command and party branches, their task being to track down deserters. [12]

Similar committees have existed in the past and they were particularly known for the impunity with which they acted.

There have been many reports of raids to arrest deserters. [16] [17] Members of the Ba'ath party and the security forces are in fact exempted from legal prosecution for murders committed while tracking down deserters. [5]

During the Iran-Iraq war the RCC also prohibited the courts and police departments to hear any complaint against the squads assigned to track down deserters and draft evaders, if those squads felt obliged to use force in order to arrest the fugitives. [7]

Due to the closedness of Iraqi society, it is very difficult to obtain details about the sentences handed out to draft evaders and deserters.

According to Amnesty International in 1998, deserters are very likely to become victim of human rights violations. [5]

It is not known if and how often draft evaders and deserters are sentenced to death. During the Iran-Iraq war there were many executions of deserters. It was, however, common that not all deserters belonging to one group were executed. Usually one or two would not be executed but sent back to their units (after witnessing the execution of the others) in order to scare others from
deserting in the future. [5]

According to recent report, the regime has executed several army deserters in major cities and in the presence of a crowd of people. [20]


In 1995 the RCC ordered two amnesties for draft evaders and deserters. Both amnesties included numerous exclusion clauses and time limits. [3]

It is not known how this amnesty has functioned in practice.

Several amnesties have been announced in the past, but hundreds of those who applied later 'disappeared' in custody or were tortured or executed. [3]

In March 1996 Saddam Hussain announced that hundreds of army deserters and evaders would be released. No further details are known. [12]

amputation and branding

In 1994 the RCC introduced a series of decrees which called for the amputation of hands and ears, branding of the forehead and execution for at least 30 criminal offences. The RCC explained that these decrees were based on Islamic law and that they were intended to combat rising crime in Iraq, draft evasion and desertion being amongst these crimes. [4]

Decree 115/1994, which came into force on 12 September 1994, dealt with the punishment of draft evasion and desertion and provided for the amputation of the ear and branding of the forehead.

According to art. 1: "The auricle of one ear shall be cut off any person committing the following crimes: (a) defaulting from military service, (b) deserting from the army, (c) sheltering a defaulter or deserter and providing cover for him."

Art. 2 stated that the auricle of the other ear shall be cut off in the case of a second offence involving any of the crimes in Article 1 of this decree.

According to art. 3: "a horizontal line measuring 1 millimetre in width and no less than 3 centimetres in length will be branded on the forehead of all those whose ear has been amputated for evasion of military service or desertion."

Inititially the RCC decreed that the punishment for deserters would just be the amputation of the hand, but this caused protests of war veterans who pointed out that veterans who lost limbs during military service could be mistaken for deserters.

The government not only published the decrees and acknowledged that amputations and branding were occurring, but it also published them in the state-controlled media in an attempt to install fear and send warnings. From September 1994 on, several thousand persons were subjected to amputations and brandings. The Iraqi government maintained that the decrees were
based on Sharia law and that amputating ears and branding foreheads of deserters was more humane than the previous policy of executing them. [4]

Some doctors cut off as little of the ear as possible or surgically reattached ears and disguised the brandings on foreheads. In August 1994 this became explicitly forbidden. Several doctors were imprisoned and even executed for refusing to perform punitive amputations and brandings. [4]

From July 1995 on it is believed that only repeated offenders could be punished through amputation. [3] However, there are many reports which suggest that amputations and brandings continue. [18] [21] [24]

5 History

During the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) conscription took place at an unprecedented scale. In 1982 the armed forces consisted of 200,000 troops, but by 1988 one million men (about a quarter of Iraq's labour force) were under arms - the vast majority being conscripts. A further 700,000 civilians were recruited into temporary forces of the so-called Popular Army. [13]

6 Annual statistics

The armed forces comprise 387,500 troops (which is about 1.73 percent of the population).

Each year about 230,000 young men reach conscription age. [9]


[1] UN Commission on Human Rights 1997. The question of conscientious objection to military service, report of the Secretary-General prepared pursuant to Commission resolution 1995/83. United Nations, Geneva.

[2] Amnesty International 1991. Conscientious objection to military service, AI, London.

[3] Amnesty International 1996. State cruelty: branding, amputation and the death penalty. AI, London.

[4] Human Rights Watch Middle East 1995. Iraq's brutal decrees amputation, branding and the death penalty. HRW, New York.

[5] Amnesty International (Dutch Section) 1998. Letter to VluchtelingenWerk Nederland, 8 April 1998. AI, Amsterdam.

[6] 'Iraakse soldaten vluchten massaal voor desertie', Volkskrant, 2 November 1994.

[7] International Commission of Jurists 1994. Iraq and the Rule of Law, A Study by the International Commission of Jurists. ICJ, Geneva.

[8] '10-year-olds given military training', Children in Arms 3/1997, Rädda Barnen, Stockholm.

[9] Institute for Strategic Studies 1997. Military Balance 1997/98, ISS, London.

[10] Federal Office for Refugees of Switzerland 2000. Länderinformationsblatt Irak, September 1999. Bundesamtes für Flüchtlinge, Bern.

[11] DIRB, 18 June 1997.

[12] 'Saddam reportedly forms committees to track down army deserters', Voice of Rebellious Iraq, 28 September 1996.

[13] Hazelton, Fran (ed.) 1994 Iraq since the Gulf War, prospects for democracy. CARRDI, Zed Books, London/New Jersey.

[14] Iraq – Interim Constitution,


[16] UN investigators accuse Iran, Iraq of abuses. Gulf News online edition, 13.03.2001,

[17] Hunt for Army Deserters. Iraq Press (London), 30.12.2001

[18] New Hunt for army deserters. Iraq Press, 30 April 2001,\000000\429.htm

[19] The rich can stay away from military service. Iraq Press, 10 February

[20] Desertion reaches alarming rates in Iraqi army, Iraq Press, 30 March

[21] Iraq army cancels leaves, mounts patrols to hunt down deserters. Iraq
Press, 21 July 2002,\8096.htm

[22] Situation of human rights in Iraq, report by the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Iraq, 8 November 1999, A/49/651

[23] Iraq abolishes financial alternative to conscription. Iraq Press, 9 July 2001,\1126.htm

[24] International Federation of the Human Rights Leagues:Iraq: an intolerable, forgotten and unpunished repression

Recent stories on conscientious objection: Iraq

22 Apr 2016

There are often rumours of conscription in times of political tension, or when right-wing spokespeople raise fears of the 'indiscipline of youth'. Such rumours often circulate without impact, but sometimes they are the start of a wider campaign and eventual reintroduction of compulsory military service.

23 Aug 2010

All five participants in the blockade action. From left to right are Iraq Veterans Bobby Whittenberg-James and Crystal Colon, Jeff Grant, Military Spouse Cynthia Thomas and Afghanistan Veteran Matthis Chiroux.

All five participants in the blockade action. From left to right are Iraq Veterans Bobby Whittenberg-James and Crystal Colon, Jeff Grant, Military Spouse Cynthia Thomas and Afghanistan Veteran Matthis Chiroux.

Aug. 23, 2010 (KILLEEN, TX) - Five peace activists successfully blockaded six buses carrying Fort Hood Soldiers deploying to Iraq outside Fort Hood’s Clarke gate this morning at around 4 a.m. While the activists took the width of Clarke Rd.

01 Jun 2008

According to information from, the security and defence committee of the Iraqi parliament recommended a return to conscription as it called on the Defence Ministry to amend a previous draft law submitted to the cabinet and the Iraqi legislative council.

According to the Iraqi constitution, national service will be stipulated by law (article 9 paragraph 2). 

Hadi al-Ameri, chairman of parliament’s defence and security committee, said reinstating the draft was necessary given the country’s current co

04 May 2007

Iraqi soldiers who desert their units now face execution, according to a decree by the country's Presidential Council. The offense is the latest of nearly 200 others convicted Iraqis are to be punished with death penalty. The council slapped three-year imprisonment on absentee soldiers.

The harsh penalties come following reports of large-scale desertion from army ranks in the wake of the latest surge in rebel attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces. The penalties are also applicable to the cadets of military academies in the country.

01 Jun 2006

The BBC reported on 28 May that more than 1,000 British soldiers deserted from the Armed Forces since the beginning of the war in Iraq.

14 Mar 2006

organised by the Intergroup on Peace Initiatives (, co-chaired by Tobias Pflueger (Germany, European United Left/Nordic Green Left - GUE/GNE) and Caroline Lucas (UK, Greens)

Additional reading

01 Dec 2005

Statement made at Ft. Benning, GA on November 17, 2005 by SPC Katherine Jashinski, first woman in the military to publicly declare resistance to participation in the war:

"My name is Katherine Jashinski. I am a SPC in the Texas Army National Guard. I was born in Milwaukee, WI and I am 22 years old. When I graduated high school I moved to Austin, TX to attend college. At age 19 I enlisted in the Guard as a cook because I wanted to experience military life.

01 Feb 2005

George Solomou (see picture left), a 38-year-old soldier with the British Territorial Army, announced on 19 January 2005 that he will refuse to deploy to Iraq if called up to do so. Prior to his press conference, Solomou, who had completed his military service in Cyprus for the Greek Army before moving to Britain, talked to Peace News:

"I would encourage soldiers not to join up ...

01 Nov 2004

Muslim Gulf war conscientious objector Mohisin Khan, who refused to take part in the war on Iraq because he did not want to fight against fellow Muslims, lost his appeal in the hight court against his prosecution by the RAF for going absent without leave on 7 October 2004.

Khan voluntarily enlisted in the Royal Air Force in December 1999, and joined the Medical Assistant trade on an engagement for 9 years of service plus 6 years reserve.

01 Oct 2004

On 17 September, Amnesty International released an urgent action on conscientious objector Abdullah William Webster, a sergeant of the US army who was sentenced by a court-martial to 14 months imprisonment for refusing to participate in the war in Iraq on the basis of his religious beliefs. Abdullah Webster is a US citizen who has served in the US army since 1985. He had been based in Bamberg, Germany since 2001 from where he was requested to deploy to Iraq between March and April 2003.

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