Iraqi FlagNGO Law Monitor: Iraq

Introduction | At a Glance | Key Indicators | International Rankings
Legal Snapshot | Legal Analysis | Reports | News and Additional Resources
Last updated 18 January 2014

Update: A policy for cooperation between public authorities and NGOs was ratified by the Kurdistan Region Parliament in June 2013 and signed by NGOs on September 4, 2013. It lays the basis for stronger and better partnership between public authorities and the civil society sector and will empower CSOs in the Kurdistan Region to express opinions and participate in the design and implementation of policies and laws.


Under the Ba’athist regime of Saddam Hussein, independent civil society essentially did not exist within Iraq. Nearly every civic institution that existed was affiliated with the ruling Ba’ath party and thus could not be said to be a truly “non-governmental” organization. Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iraq witnessed a major opening up of civic space, as thousands of new Iraqi non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were established and registered under Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 45 on Non-Governmental Organizations (2003). At first most of these NGOs were dedicated to humanitarian and relief efforts, but NGOs have since begun to focus on human rights and democratic development, including elections and constitutional reform.

With the end of Coalition Provisional Authority and the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty in June 2004, Iraq's emerging civil society leaders worked with Iraqi government officials and international and domestic NGOs to advocate for the adoption of a new NGO law that would be more consistent with international law and best practices. After years of efforts, Iraqi NGOs finally achieved their goal on January 25, 2010, when the Iraqi Council of Representatives voted to approve a new Law on Non-Governmental Organizations (Law 12 of 2010) [English] [عربي] [کوردی] on the final day of the first post-war parliamentary session. The new NGO law was ratified by the Presidency Council on March 2, 2010, and went into effect on April 7, 2010, when it was published in the Official Gazette.

The new law is a significant improvement upon previous laws and regulations as well as the draft law first prepared by the Iraqi government in March 2009. Among other changes:

  • The March 2009 draft prohibited Iraqi NGOs from receiving foreign funding or from “affiliating” with any foreign entity (including the UN, the European Commission, USAID, International Red Cross/Red Crescent, etc.) without prior approval of the government. These provisions have been removed, thus enabling Iraqi NGOs to partner more efficiently with the international community on reconstruction and humanitarian assistance projects.
  • Under the March 2009 draft, an application for registration could be rejected for any reason. The new law requires that the denial of registration be tied to a specific provision of law.
  • Criminal penalties contained in the March draft have been removed, including imprisonment for up to three years for being a member of an improperly registered NGO.
  • Discretion to audit or inspect an NGO's office is only permissible with cause, instead of at any time and for any reason as under CPA Order 45.
  • Suspension of an NGO and confiscation of its property requires a court order, and can no longer be made at the discretion of government authorities as in CPA Order 45.

The Council of Representative’s approval of the new law was greeted as an enormous success by Iraqi civil society leaders and government officials, and received substantial media coverage inside and outside of Iraq.

Kurdistan Regional Government

The Law on Non-Governmental Organizations in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan Regional Government Law 1 of 2011) [English] [عربي] [کوردی] was approved by the Parliament of Kurdistan on April 6, 2011, and signed by the President of the Kurdistan Region. This is a significant milestone for Kurdish and Iraqi civil society which lays the groundwork for a new era in civil society-government relations in Kurdistan. Among other significant changes, the new Law on Non-Governmental Organizations in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region:

  • Substantially improves and simplifies the process of registering an NGO. Responding to one of the key demands of Kurdish civil society, registration authority has been moved from the Ministry of the Interior to an independent NGOs Directorate under the authority of the Council of Ministers. In addition, a dated receipt must be provided to applicants at the time that a registration application is submitted, and if no decision is made within 30 days then the registration application is considered approved under the law.
  • Creates the conditions for NGO financial sustainability. Kurdish NGOs are allowed to obtain financial resources from a wide range of sources, including grants, economic activities, and foreign and domestic fundraising.
  • Removes all restrictions on the associational rights of foreign residents in Kurdistan. Foreign residents have the right to form and join Kurdish NGOs and serve on their Board of Directors. This is a significant improvement upon past practice as well as the recently passed federal Law on Non-Governmental Organizations (Law 12 of 2010), which imposes some limitations on the associational rights of foreign nationals.
  • Removes all criminal penalties. Kurdish NGOs are subject to administrative penalties and fines for violations of the NGO law, and disproportionate criminal penalties and prison sentences for individuals associated with NGOs have been removed.
  • Adds greater transparency to government funding of NGOs. In a significant departure from past practice, all Kurdistan Regional Government funding to Kurdish NGOs is required to be awarded in a competitive and transparent process.

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At a Glance

Organizational Forms Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)
Registration Body Federal Government: NGOs Directorate (General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers)
Kurdistan Regional Government: NGOs Department (General Secretariat of the Kurdistan Regional Government Council of Ministers)
Approximate Number Prior to passage of Law 12 of 2010, estimates of the number of NGOs operating in Iraq ranged from 4,000 to 6,000. However, the federal NGOs Directorate reports that as of October 31, 2013, 1804 registration certificates have been issued. At the Kurdish level, the NGO Department has not yet begun operation, so statistics about the number of NGOs are not available. However, estimates range from 300-800 NGOs registered in the Kurdistan region.
Barriers to Entry At the federal level, a Council of Ministers regulation states that registration is mandatory for NGOs prior to beginning operations. Law 12 of 2010 does not contain this requirement. A coalition of Iraqi NGOs are planning to challenge the provision in court.

Branches of foreign NGOs that seek to register in Iraq must provide a copy of the Iraqi nationality certificates and civil status identity cards of their Iraqi staff as well as copies of the passports and residence documents of their foreign staff.
Barriers to Activities No legal barriers
Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy No legal barriers
Barriers to International Contact No legal barriers
Barriers to Resources No legal barriers

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Key Indicators

Population 35,000,000 (July 2013 est.)
Capital Baghdad
Type of Government Parliamentary democracy
Life Expectancy at Birth Male: 69.41 years
Female: 72.35 years (2012 est.)
Literacy Rate Male: 86%
Female: 70.6% (2010 est.)
Religious Groups Muslim 97% (Shia 60-65%, Sunni 32-37%), Christian or other 3%
Ethnic Groups Arab 75-80%, Kurdish 15-20%, Turkoman, Assyrian, or other 5%
GDP Per Capita $4,200 (2011 est.)

Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2013.

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International Rankings

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale
(best - worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 131 (2013) 1 – 182
World Bank Rule of Law Index 3 (2012) 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index 16 (2012) 100 – 0
Transparency International 171 (2013) 1 – 180
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: Not Free
Political Rights: 5
Civil Liberties: 6 (2012)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Failed States Index
9 (2012) 177 – 1

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Legal Snapshot

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Yes 1971
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) No --
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 1971
Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR) No --
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Yes 1970
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Yes 1986
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women No --
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Yes 1994
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW) No --
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) No --
Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction Yes 2013
Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Iraq and the European Union Member States Yes 2013
The Arab Convention to Combat Crimes of Information Technology Yes 2013
Key Regional Agreements Ratification* Year
Arab Charter on Human Rights Yes 2009

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

The current Constitution of Iraq was approved by a referendum that took place on October 15, 2005. 

Relevant constitutional provisions include:

  • Article 36: The state guarantees in a way that does not violate public order and morality: (A) Freedom of expression, through all means. (B) Freedom of press, printing, advertisement, media and publication. (C) Freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstration.  This shall be regulated by law.
  • Article 37: First: The freedom of forming and joining associations and political parties is guaranteed. This will be organized by law.  Second: It is prohibited to force any person to join any party, society or political entity or force him to continue his membership in it.
  • Article 38: The freedom of communication, and mail, telegraphic, electronic, and telephonic correspondence, and other correspondence shall be guaranteed and may not be monitored, wiretapped or disclosed except for legal and security necessity and by a judicial decision.
  • Article 40: Each individual has freedom of thought, conscience and belief. 

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

Relevant national-level laws and regulations affecting civil society include:

  • Federal Government: Law on Non-Governmental Organizations (Law 12 of 2010) [English] [عربي] [کوردی], Law of the Supreme National Commission for Accountability and Justice (Law 10 of 2008) [English] [عربي], Instructions to Implement the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations (Council of Ministers Instructions 6 of 2010) [English] [عربي]
  • Kurdistan Regional Government: Law on Non-Governmental Organizations in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan Regional Government Law 1 of 2011) [English] [عربي] [کوردی]

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

On January 10, 2013, the Iraqi Council of Representatives held the first reading of a new Law on the National Fund to Support NGOs in Development Projects [English] [عربي]. The parliamentary committee charged with drafting the law has invited comments from civil society organizations, and the draft is expected to be amended before the third and final reading is held later in 2013. The process has been stalled for many months, however, in anticipation of upcoming parliamentary and general elections in early 2014.

At the end of 2012, the Government of Iraq proposed a draft Law on Freedom of Expression, Assembly, and Peaceful Demonstration. It would require prior government permission in order to hold assemblies and allow government officials undue discretion to prohibit assemblies based on their subject matter. It would further impose excessive limitations on the time, place, and manner of assemblies and bar banners, slogans, and press statements that are inconsistent with “public order or morals.”

Please help keep us informed; if you are aware of pending initiatives, write to ICNL at

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Legal Analysis

Organizational Forms

There is a single legal form available for registered, not-for-profit organizations in Iraq: the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). 

An NGO is defined as “a group of natural or legal persons that have registered and obtained legal personality according to the terms of this Law to pursue not‐for‐profit purposes" (Article 1(First) of Law 12 of 2010).

A foreign NGO is defined as "a branch of an NGO that has been established according to the laws of another country" (Article 1(Second) of Law 12 of 2010). 

Public Benefit Status

NGOs are free to pursue any not-for-profit purposes. NGOs seeking to "achieve a public interest" can apply for "public utility" status (Article 17 of Law 12 of 2010). If granted, such NGOs "shall be exempted from income tax, VAT, customs duties, and sales tax" (Article 17 of Law 12 of 2010). Public utility status is granted by "a decision of the Council of Ministers based on a proposal by the Secretary General of the Council of Ministers" (Article 17 of Law 12 of 2010).

Barriers to Entry

While Law 12 of 2010 does not contain any significant barriers to entry, the Implementing Regulation passed by the Council of Ministers contains a requirement of mandatory registration for all NGOs. ICNL understands that a coalition of Iraqi NGOs are planning to challenge the provision in court.

Branches of foreign NGOs that seek to register in Iraq must provide a copy of the Iraqi nationality certificates and civil status identity cards of their Iraqi staff as well as copies of the passports and residence documents of their foreign staff (Article 25 of Law 12 of 2010). This provision has been criticized as a barrier to the registration of foreign NGOs, which may have concerns about the security of their staff if their identification information is required to be shared.

Barriers to Operational Activity


Barriers to Speech / Advocacy


Barriers to International Contact


Barriers to Resources


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UN Universal Periodic Review Reports Iraq (7th session 2010)
Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs Iraq
USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes Not available
U.S. State Department Advancing Freedom and Democracy Report 2010: Iraq
2010 Human Rights Report: Iraq
Failed States Index Reports Foreign Policy Failed States Index 2012
IMF Country Reports Iraq
International Commission of Jurists Iraq
NGO Regulation Network Reports Not available
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library Iraq

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News and Additional Resources

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at

Cooperation Compact Reached between the Public Authorities and CSOs (September 2013)
A Cooperation Compact between the Public Authorities and CSOs was adopted in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region on September 4, 2013. The Compact will allow better engagement and cooperation between CSOs on the one side and the government and parliament on the other, which will enhance the economic, social and political development.

Iraqi authorities must not block peaceful protests (September 2013)
The Iraqi authorities have appeared determined to stop large demonstrations taking place in central Baghdad since anti-government protests erupted across the Middle East and North Africa in 2011.
“People in Iraq have the right to express their views freely and to protest peacefully without the threat of violence,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International.
“Rather than preventing peaceful assemblies, the government should be taking steps to ensure people can exercise their right to protest in safety and security.”

Iraq's Sadr Encourages Anti-government Demonstrations (January 2013)
A populist Shiite leader in Iraq, Moktada al-Sadr, expressed support on Tuesday for fresh protests against Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, who is his political opponent, saying that Mr. Maliki bears "full responsibility" for the unrest in the country. As with many developments in Iraq, the timing and venue of Mr. Sadr's comments to reporters were as notable as their meaning. He spoke in Najaf, one of the holiest cities of his Shiite sect, just as Iraq ended its bloodiest year since 2009, a reflection of the unabated ethnic, sectarian and political tensions among the country's Kurdish, Arab, Sunni and Shiite populations.

Cybercrimes law violates free speech (July 2012)
A new draft law on information technology crimes would restrict free speech in violation of international law and pose a severe threat to journalists, whistleblowers, and peaceful activists. The pending law includes vague provisions that would allow Iraqi authorities to harshly punish expression they decide constitutes a threat to governmental, social, or religious interests.

The 20th Anniversary of the Parliament of Kurdistan: An open letter from the FCSO (May 2012)
The Federation of CSOs in Kurdistan issued a public letter to the Parliament on its 20th anniversary on freedom of speech in Kurdistan.

EU and UNOPS release report on Iraqi human rights work related to detainees and torture victims(April 2012)
The Programme for the Protection of Detainees and Torture Victims, funded by the EU and implemented by the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS), has been working to prevent torture and protect detainees' rights in a number of ways. A 12-page booklet uses pictures, quotes, facts and figures to describe work done in an EU-funded project, including three sections on access to justice, working with prisoners and their rights, and helping victims of torture and violence. It describes how detainees in Iraq remain vulnerable to poor prison conditions and other human rights violations. In addition, individuals who have suffered torture and other forms of violence are often unable to get the psychological and medical help they need to recover.

In Iraq, concern over shrinking rights (April 2012)
The Iraqi government is debating proposed laws that would impose strict controls on freedom of speech and association, prompting fears that the authorities are playing an increasingly oppressive role in citizens’ lives. As the country settles into its new identity as a sovereign state, some Iraqis are nervous that the government is moving back toward the heavy-handed monitoring of citizens that was a hallmark of life under Saddam Hussein.

News Archive

Iraqi NGOs continue to demand more (September 2011) 

Reporters Without Borders' statement on new bill to protect journalists (May 2011)

Finally, a law protecting Iraq’s journalists (May 2011) 

Kurdistan NGO law – a regional template? (May 2011)

Iraq’s protests test Maliki’s leadership (March 2011) 

Vulnerable citizens at risk (February 2011)

Iraq stalemate ends (November 2010)

Iraqi court issues ruling for Parliament to return (October 2010)

Representatives of the Iraqi Government, Parliament, and NGOs agree on recommendations for the implementing regulation to the new Iraqi NGO law (July 2010)

Interview about the new Iraqi NGO law with Legal Advisor Kareem Elbayar (July 2010)

Iraq: Political uncertainty causing aid funds to dry up? (July 2010)

Iraq's new ruling elite show contempt for voters (March 2010)  

It’s up to Iraqis now. Good luck. (March 2010)

New law lets NGOs work (February 2010)

Iraq’s NGO Law: rare victory for Arab civil society (January 2010)

Iraqi parties and NGOs gear up for March poll (January 2010)

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The foregoing information was collected by ICNL LLC Middle East / North Africa Regional office in Amman, Jordan.