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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
The above text is an abridged version of an analysis provided by the International Centre for Not-For-Profit Law