Amnesty International accuses Iraq pro-government militias of war crimes

Amnesty International accuses Iraq pro-government militias of war crimes
Human rights organisation Amnesty International has claimed that thousands of Iraqi-Sunni civilians fleeing Islamic State group areas have been subject to torture, abductions and executions by pro-Baghdad militias.
3 min read
18 October, 2016
Iraq's Shia militias have been accused of human rights atrocities against Sunni civilians [Anadolu]
Amnesty International has accused the Iraqi government and Shia militias it backs of war crimes and human rights violations, including the torture and execution of thousands of civilians who escaped areas controlled by the Islamic State group.

A report exposing the backlash against civilians fleeing IS territory has been released, raising fears for the plight of Mosul residents as a major military offensive to recapture the city gets under way.

"After escaping the horrors of war and tyranny of IS, Sunni Arabs in Iraq are facing brutal revenge attacks at the hands of militias and government forces, and are being punished for crimes committed by the group," said Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

The report - Punished for Daesh's crimes: Displaced Iraqis abused by militias and government forces - is based on interviews with more than 470 former detainees, witnesses and relatives of those killed, disappeared or detained, as well as officials, activists and humanitarian workers.

Revenge attacks

It highlights widespread revenge attacks on Sunni Arabs suspected of being IS sympathisers.

Amnesty points the finger at the Popular Mobilisation Units, or Hashd al-Shaabi, an Iraqi-government backed organisation made up of myriad Shia-Muslim militias.

They were officially designated part of the Iraqi forces in February 2016.

Amnesty said this makes Haider al-Abadi's government responsible for violations they allegedly committed.

Its research found war crimes and other human rights abuses were committed predominantly by Shia militias and "possibly government forces" during operations to retake Fallujah in May and June 2016.

Thousands of Sunni men and boys from the Jumaila and Mehemda tribes were allegedly abducted and tortured or lined up and shot dead.

Others who were abducted are still missing.

All men fleeing IS-held areas of fighting age - anywhere between 18 and 65 - were subjected to security screening by Iraqi authorities and the Kurdistan Regional Government to determine if they had links to IS.

Some were detained for weeks and tortured, the report said, with detainees suspended in stress conditions, given electric shocks, beaten brutally or were taunted with threats that their female relatives would be raped.

The abuses were carried out in facilities controlled by the ministries of defence and interior, or unofficial militia detention centres.

Complicity and inaction

"Iraqi authorities, whose complicity and inaction in the face of widespread abuses have contributed to the current climate of impunity, must rein in militias and make clear that such serious violations will not be tolerated," said Luther.

He added allowing a "vicious cycle of abuse, repression and injustice" to continue "raises serious fears about the safety of civilians still in Mosul".

Human Rights Watch and the UN have previously blamed the pro-government militias for perpetrating atrocities against civilians.

The findings of the Amnesty report were shared with the Iraqi and Kurdish authorities. No response has been received from the Iraqi authorities and the Kurdish authorities have largely denied the findings.

Under the US-planned Mosul operation, Shia militias will stop short of entering the city, while Iraqi security forces, the Kurdish peshmerga and fighters from local tribes will continue the battle.