An Overview of the NGO Law in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region

Canadian Journal of International Law, December 20, 2012 – by Thomas W. Donovan

Under CPA Order 45 (the “Order”), an International Non-Governmental Organization (“INGO”) must register to carry on the conceived activities in Iraq.  The authority for registering and regulating NGOs has changed a number of times since CPA Order 45 was issued.  Initially, registration and regulatory authority rested with the Ministry of Planning.  Authority was then transferred to a newly created Minister of State for Civil Society Affairs, which executed the function until recently when it was again moved to the General Secretariat of the Cabinet of Ministers.  The requirements for registration have not changed significantly since the Order was issued, although there have been differing interpretations of the requirements and a general desire by the regulatory authority to seek more information than was, perhaps, contemplated by the original Order.

Under the Order, a Non-Governmental Organization is defined as an organization or foundation that is organized to undertake one or more of the following as its principal activities: humanitarian assistance and relief projects; human rights advocacy and awareness; community rehabilitation and resettlement; charitable works; educational, health, and cultural activities; conservation; environmental protection; economic reconstruction and development; promotion of democratic practices; development of civil society; promotion of gender equality; or any other non-profit activity that serves the public interest. (Section 1(1)).  According to the Order, an INGO, or Foreign NGO as that term is used in the Order, is an NGO that is established with its registered office or headquarters outside Iraq.   According to the most recent registration form for NGOs provided by the NGO Office, INGOs must designate their activities from among the following options:

  1. Agriculture;
  2. Art/Culture;
  3. Democracy;
  4. Economic development;
  5. Education;
  6. Environment;
  7. The disabled;
  8. Human rights;
  9. Humanitarian assistance;
  10. Media;
  11. Children and orphans;
  12. Public health/medicine;
  13. General services/infrastructure;
  14. Shelter/housing;
  15. Women’s issues; and
  16. Youth and sport.


INGOs must not be for-profit, and must not have any government connection.  Once registered, an INGO will be subject to regulation and supervision by the NGO Office.  The INGO will be exempt from corporate taxes and

In the Kurdistan Region, the Kurdistan Regional Government has issued Regulations No. 1 regarding the registration and regulation of INGOs in the Kurdistan Region.  The Regulations are substantially similar to the requirements for the registration of INGOs under the Order and the instructions of the NGO Office.  The activities that an INGO or an NGO may pursue are as follows:

  1. Humanitarian support;
  2. Relief projects;
  3. Housing and community reconstruction;
  4. Charity;
  5. Education;
  6. Health;
  7. Cultural activities/protection/advocacy;
  8. Environmental protection;
  9. Reconstruction;
  10. Economic development;
  11. Democratic process development;
  12. Civil Society development;
  13. Female equality;
  14. Other non-profit activities considered to be useful or to serve a public good.

The agency responsible for registration and regulation of INGOs in Kurdistan is the Kurdistan Ministry of Humanitarian Aid and Cooperation (the “MHAC”).  An INGO registered with the NGO Office must pursue a separate registration with the MHAC before conducting any activities in the Kurdistan Region (presently Erbil, Dohuk, and Suleimaniyah), and must submit separate reports on its activities to the MHAC.


In addition to the INGO process outlined above, Iraq has a separate and analogous process for domestic Non-Government Organization (“NGO”) which does not have an international affiliation.  An Iraqi NGO is defined in the Order as an NGO that is established with its registered office or headquarters inside Iraq (Section 1(2)).

The same conditions as set out above would apply for registration of an NGO, and the same rules regarding prudential and non-prudential requirements would exist.  All NGOs and INGOs must commit to, and observe the following:

  1. Formally notify the NGO Office when entering into any joint project or other contractual arrangements with a foreign organization or organizations or any international agency before beginning work with them;
  2. Not to work, at all, with any foreign organization not registered with the NGO Office;
  3. Inform the NGO Office of any administrative changes in the organization within 30 days thereof;
  4. Formally notify the NGO Office in the event of a change in the by-laws of the organization within 30 days thereof;
  5. Formally notify the NGO Office of any proposed branch openings in Iraq before any such opening;
  6. Not to open any international branch of the organization (for domestic NGOs);
  7. Submit to the NGO Office detailed and supported reports regarding the activities of the organization on a quarterly basis;
  8. Not to be supported (financially or morally) by any political agency or entity;
  9. To remain non-political, non-governmental, and non-profit, and not to discriminate on the basis of ethnicity, religion, or nationality.