Iraq's Shia militias accused of war crimes

Iraq's Shia militias accused of war crimes
Global rights group HRW on Sunday accused Iraqi Shia armed groups of targeting Sunnis in Muqdadiya in mixed Diyala province after IS attack.
4 min read
31 January, 2016
Iraqi policemen stand guard as Sunni and Shia leaders meet to discuss reconciliation [AFP/Getty]

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Sunday that powerful Iraqi Shia militias were behind revenge attacks against Sunnis earlier this month that erupted after the Islamic State group bombed a cafe frequented by militiamen.  

The New York-based rights said the Badr Brigades and Asaib Ahl al-Haq, two Iran-backed militias, carried out the Jan. 11 retaliation attacks in the town of Muqdadiyah, northeast of Baghdad in the mixed Diyala province. The attacks came after a double suicide bombing at the cafe killed at least 32 people.    

Citing residents, HRW said the militiamen killed at least a dozen people and demolished Sunni mosques, homes and shops. It described the attacks as "heinous" and called for the prosecution of those responsible.

Shia militias led the fight against IS in Diyala and took over much of the province's security after it was declared liberated in early 2015.

Many Iraqis who initially fled IS say security concerns continue to prevent them from returning home. Sunnis make up the vast majority of those displaced by the fighting in Iraq.  

HRW pointed out that deliberate killing of civilians and looting when committed in the context of an armed conflict are serious violations of international humanitarian law, which is applicable to all parties fighting in Iraq, and may amount to war crimes. 

By formally including on April 7, 2015, the Popular Mobilization Forces among the state forces, the Iraqi government has assumed ultimate responsibility for their actions. 

Militiamen 'roaming streets'

Abbas, a Sunni resident of Muqdadiya, who like others Human Rights Watch interviewed is not identified by his real name for his protection, said, “I know the militiaman [name withheld] and others who roam our streets. They are from the area.

ISIS may have been behind the café bombing, but the attacks on Sunni houses, mosques, and people in our area was the League of the Righteous.” 

Wathiq, a Sunni from Muqdadiya, sent Human Rights Watch a photo of his brother’s mutilated body

Abbas said he knew more than 30 people by name, some his neighbours, others from his neighbourhood, whom the militias killed, most in the night of January 11.  

Wathiq, also a Sunni from Muqdadiya, sent Human Rights Watch a photo of his brother’s mutilated body. League of Righteous forces had come to the family’s house on January 11 and taken his brother away.  

Wathiq said his mother told him that the militiamen asked for Sunnis and that he knew the names of five of the militiamen who came to his family’s home that night.

He said his mother collected the body from the morgue the day after the explosions. 

Saif Talal, a reporter, and Hasan al-Anbaki, a cameraman at Iraq’s al-Sharqiya television station, were killed near Baequba.

Riyadh said he fled from Muqdadiya to Baghdad after militiamen took his brother Fadhil from their house and killed him on January 11 “because he was Sunni.”

His parents remain in Muqdadiya and buried Fadhil the next day, Riyadh said. 

On January 12, Saif Talal, a reporter, and Hasan al-Anbaki, a cameraman at Iraq’s al-Sharqiya television station, were killed near Baequba, the Diyala province capital, by what the channel, in an email to Human Rights Watch, said were “uncontrolled militia.”  

Raed, another Sunni resident of Muqdadiya, told Human Rights Watch that a day after the explosions, someone scrawled “Blood Wanted” on his family’s house, and they fled. The next day, neighbours told them their house had been blown up.

Some Shia religious and security leaders have acknowledged the sectarian violence against Sunnis and called for calm.

On January 15, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called on the government “not [to] permit the presence of militants outside the framework of the state,” in reference to the Muqdadiya events.   

Severe financial crisis

The government said Sunday it needs $1.6 billion to respond to the nationwide humanitarian crisis. It said more than 3 million people have been forced from their homes by violence since IS overran the country's second largest city, Mosul, and large swaths of the north and west in the summer of 2014.  

Iraq is also facing a severe financial crisis exacerbated by plunging oil prices. Oil revenue makes up nearly 95 percent of the national budget.   

"What (the Iraqi government is) really saying is our back is against the wall, we need help," said Lise Grande, the UN's deputy envoy to Iraq.   

"We're fighting ISIL on behalf of the international community, but we just don't have the resources to look after our own people as well and we need international assistance," she said, using an acronym for IS.  

Iraq was ranked one of the 10 most corrupt countries in the world.

Even before the IS onslaught and the plunge in oil prices, Iraqi authorities struggled to maintain aging infrastructure and provide basic services like electricity.

Earlier this month, Iraq was ranked one of the 10 most corrupt countries in the world, according to Transparency International, a global monitoring group.