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Iraq: twenty years on, still no justice for war crimes by US-led coalition

Two decades on from George W Bush’s invasion, no senior US official has been held accountable for rampant human rights violations

Renewed call for US commission of inquiry into detention practices, including at Abu Ghraib

‘To this day, Iraqis are suffering from the devastating impact of war crimes and other atrocities perpetrated by the United States-led coalition’ - Elizabeth Rghebi

On the 20-year anniversary of the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, Amnesty International has renewed its calls for justice and full reparation for gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law perpetrated by the US-led military coalition. 

Between 2003 and 2011, Amnesty documented US forces’ engagement in rampant human rights violations - including indiscriminate attacks that killed and injured civilians, secret detention, secret detainee transfers, enforced disappearance, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. 

Former detainees have credibly alleged a litany of abuses in detention centres, including sleep deprivation, forced nudity, deprivation of adequate food and water, mock executions and threats of rape. 

Amnesty has previously urged the US government to establish a full, independent commission of inquiry into US detention and interrogation policies and practices in Iraq, but to date successive US administrations have failed to do so. 

Some investigations have taken place which have led to dozens of mostly low-ranking US soldiers being court-martialled in relation to the abuse of detainees. However, no senior US officials have been brought to justice for crimes perpetrated in Iraq since 2003, despite public admissions of involvement in secret detentions by former president George W Bush and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld - conduct that under international law should trigger criminal investigations. 

Similarly, there has been no criminal accountability for senior British officials, despite findings by the International Criminal Court in 2020 that British armed forces committed war crimes in Iraq, including willful killing, torture and rape.

Amnesty calls on the US government and the governments of other countries in the coalition to take concrete steps to ensure that all allegations of enforced disappearance, torture or other serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by forces that formed part of the coalition in Iraq are investigated promptly, thoroughly, transparently and independently. Anyone against whom there is sufficient credible evidence of responsibility for crimes under international law should be prosecuted in civilian courts in proceedings that respect international fair trial standards. All victims of such violations of human rights must be afforded full reparation.

Elizabeth Rghebi, Amnesty International USA’s Middle East and North Africa Advocacy Director, said: 

“To this day, Iraqis are suffering from the devastating impact of war crimes and other atrocities perpetrated by the United States-led coalition in its invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq.

“The US has failed to adequately investigate the widespread human rights violations and war crimes committed by US forces and to hold those responsible to account at all levels, including senior US officials and commanders. 

“Victims of gross human rights violations - including detainees who survived torture and other ill-treatment at Abu Ghraib - have overwhelmingly been denied their rights to justice and reparation. 

“Iraqi victims who attempted to seek remedy for US human rights violations in US courts have faced systematic obstacles.”


On 20 March 2003, a US-led military coalition invaded Iraq, overthrowing the government of Saddam Hussein. A military occupation was established and run by the Coalition Provisional Authority, and an interim Iraqi government was formed in June 2004 and a transitional government was elected in 2005. US troops withdrew in 2011.  

Along with human rights violations committed against Iraqis by the USA and allied forces, ill-advised US policies - such as the so-called de-Ba’athification process, the disbandment of the security forces and its injection of huge quantities of arms into the country - contributed to a security vacuum that allowed sectarian violence to spiral uncontrollably. Since the invasion, Iraq has been mired in consecutive cycles of violence and a culture of impunity that the US-led coalition, through their policies, helped foster. 

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