The Iraq Report: A decade on, what is the legacy of IS' Speicher Massacre?

6 min read
13 June, 2024

In Wasit there is a solemn memorial that honours the Speicher Massacre victims, Iraqi Shi’a Air Force cadets killed by Islamic State group (IS) on June 12, 2014.

The memorial is inspired by Baghdad's iconic Freedom Monument in Tahrir Square. Designed by artist Jawad Salim, the Freedom Monument symbolises justice and dignity throughout Iraq's history.

In contrast, the Wasit memorial serves as a living reminder of a tragedy for future Iraqi generations.

On the 10th anniversary of the tragic event, the victims' families travelled to the massacre site in Tikrit.

They were supported by the Iraqi government, which provided transportation, assistance, and security.

The worst massacre committed by IS

In June 2014, Lily Hamourtziadou, a principal researcher at the NGO Iraq Body Count (IBC), was collecting reports and gathering information on casualties.

During her research, Hamourtziadou encountered accounts of the Speicher Massacre perpetrated by IS, which emerged in the summer of 2014, a time when nearly 140,000 civilian deaths had already been recorded.

Hamourtziadou told TNA, "The killing of civilians was nothing new, unfortunately, but what was particularly shocking, even to a seasoned casualty recorder like me, was the sheer brutality IS displayed right from the start."

The 'execution-style' killings were filmed, photographed, and publicly shared by IS. 

Hamourtziadou explained, "As part of my job, I had to not only read the detailed reports but also see the horrific images of young men being killed in cold blood. This pattern continued for the following 3-4 years, as IS members executed tens of thousands of civilians in Iraq, including children."

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Based on hundreds of reports, IBC documented a maximum of 1,566 men executed by IS in the Speicher Massacre.

Legislative response to the massacre

In 2019, former Iraqi president President Barham Salih adopted the first draft Law of its type for the Equity of Martyrs of Camp Speicher, acknowledging it as a "serious humanitarian disaster." 

Salih also stated, "It is regrettable that it has not been dealt with in the required manner.”

This announcement was made during a meeting at the Presidential Office in Baghdad, attended by former Minister of Health Alaa al-Alwan, MP Faiq al-Sheikh Ali, and families of the victims of Camp Speicher.

At the time, Salih emphasised that the draft law acknowledges those who died at Speicher as martyrs, allowing their families to receive the rightful benefits reserved for martyrs.

During the meeting, the former president urged Parliament to promptly deliberate and ratify the decision to fulfil their obligations towards this particular segment of society.

In his own words, Salih stressed the need to “give them the required priority and attention in recognition of these affected families and in appreciation of the pure sacrifices they have made in the defence of Iraq’s sovereignty.”

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Has justice been served?

Since the adoption of the law, one question persists after 10 years: has justice been served?

In the last 10 years, several significant actions have taken place in response to the IS threat.

Hamourtziadou provides a comprehensive overview of recent actions taken against IS.

These actions include ongoing airstrikes targeting IS members, executions of individuals convicted of civilian killings by the Iraqi state, international recognition and condemnation of IS war crimes, compensation for survivors and victims' families, trials and imprisonment for returning IS recruits in European countries, deprivation of citizenship in some cases, as well as mass arrests and documented killings in Iraq, with 1,332 arrests and over 500 killings recorded in 2022.

Despite these events, it appears that more work needs to be done to achieve justice.

Hasan Jameel, a member of the Coordinating Committee at C4JR (an alliance of Iraqi NGOs advocating for comprehensive reparations for survivors of atrocity crimes committed during the ISIL conflict in Iraq), states that justice has yet to be served.

"In my view, justice for the massacre remains incomplete. The Iraqi government must do more to uphold victims' rights, and international expertise and oversight are essential to prevent such crimes from recurring," Jameel noted.

Tanya Goudsouzian, a Canadian journalist who has closely covered Iraq for over two decades states, "Justice is being served but has a long way to go before one can say 'Justice has been served.'”

Iraqi soldiers, on 1 July 2015, carry coffins containing the remains of ten of their comrades who were killed in the Speicher massacre [HAIDAR HAMDANI/AFP via Getty Images]

Important steps to take moving forward 

The Speicher massacre continues to significantly impact Iraqi politics today.

Goudsouzian highlights that this massacre reinforces the longstanding persecution felt by Shi'a Muslims in Iraq.

"The brutal and barbaric nature of the massacre is evident in images of young men being rounded up, transported in trucks, and executed. The immense anguish experienced by their loved ones in witnessing these final moments cannot be dismissed by the Iraqi government," Goudsouzian comments. 

An Iraqi woman holds posters bearing the portraits of her relatives, who are believed to have been killed in the Speicher massacre, during a protest demanding more information about the missing men, in the capital Baghdad on August 28, 2015 [HAIDAR MOHAMMED ALI/AFP via Getty Images]

Looking ahead, Hamourtziadou stresses the importance of supporting all those affected by violence and human rights violations over the past 21 years.

She asserts, "Justice and accountability are crucial, and all responsible parties—not just IS—must be held accountable. Focusing solely on IS victims risks further injustice by valuing some lives over others. Under the law, we are all equal."

Goudsouzian also argues that simple reparations are insufficient to alleviate tensions in sectarian politics.

She emphasises, "Acknowledging and honouring these sacrifices is essential to ease the sectarian divide that this massacre represents."

Recognising the massacre as a genocide

The Supreme Judicial Council is currently driving efforts to officially recognise the Speicher massacre as genocide and a crime against humanity.

This holds immense significance for Iraq's Shi'a Muslim community, symbolising global acknowledgement of the injustices they have endured, not only during Speicher but over decades of persecution.

According to Goudsouzian, "Genocide recognition is a form of justice. It matters to victims and their families, and it is critical to national reconciliation because it acknowledges and validates their pain and suffering."

"Everywhere in the world today," Goudsouzian continues, "there are persecuted communities demanding recognition for horrific crimes they endured years, decades, or even a century ago. There is also inherited trauma that can only begin to heal when the persecuted community has finally achieved a sense of being heard."

In Baghdad on June 10, 2024, the United Nations Investigative Team on ISIL's atrocities at the Tikrit Presidential Palace Complex released a significant legal assessment report.

"The report on ISIL's crimes handed over to the Iraqi Judiciary by the UNITAD team on June 10, 2024, provides significant additional evidence and will support the Iraqi judiciary's efforts to hold ISIL accountable for a range of international crimes, including the massacres in Mosul and Tikrit," Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Planning Hisham Al-Alawi told TNA.

Jameel added, "Any evidence would be useful in prosecutions to hold ISIL accountable."

UNITAD's latest report released on June 12, 2024, highlights milestone findings suggesting credible grounds to believe the killings at the Presidential Palace Complex were executed with genocidal intent, within the context of ISIL's genocidal policy targeting Iraq's Shi'a community.

The report also indicates there are reasonable grounds to believe these actions amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The Iraq Report is a regular feature at The New Arab.

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The Iraq Report