Iraqi draft bill would grant immunity to Shia militias

Sunday 25/09/2016
Members of paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Forces

ERBIL - A proposed Iraqi bill to grant immunity to Popu­lar Mobilisation Forces (PMF) fighters has been criticised as an attempt to whitewash alleged war crimes com­mitted by militiamen during battles against the Islamic State (ISIS).
Critics said they fear the move could encourage additional rights violations once militias that operate under the PMF umbrella know they will not be held accountable. An ad­ditional concern is that it is unclear whether the immunity would re­main in place after the war against ISIS ends.
The timing of the proposal has also raised suspicions.
The proposal was put forward by the al-Mowaten bloc, which is part of Iraq’s Shia-dominated ruling Na­tional Alliance coalition. The draft bill has the support of 70 lawmakers and is to be presented to parliament soon, said Hamdiya al-Husseini, a parliamentarian from the bloc.
Immunity from prosecution will most likely affect the rights of Sunni Arabs who suffered a sectarian back­lash when Diyala, Saladin and Anbar provinces were liberated from ISIS.
The most recent allegation was that more than 50 civilians from al- Mahamda tribe in Saqlawiya, north of Falluja in Anbar, were killed by the militias during an offensive against ISIS. The civilians were said to be carrying white flags and were following routes allocated them by the Iraqi Army for those wishing to evacuate the area during the battle with ISIS.
In addition to alleged summary executions, militias took captive more than 600 civilians whose whereabouts remain unknown.
Sources inside Anbar also claimed more than 3,000 civilians had disap­peared from the province since the end of 2015. The civilians had fled ISIS in Falluja but were captured by militiamen at al-Razaza crossing, which was under the control of al- Abbas militia.
The rise of the power of militias in Iraq has been at the expense of the state. The militias are acting with impunity, even without im­munity from prosecution. Their de­ployment of roadblocks and patrols in cities including the capital itself are carried out without official oversight.
The rise of the militias first came following the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq but their involvement in poli­tics has become stronger after the call by Shia religious authorities to form the PMF to fight ISIS.
Supporters of the militias, some of which receive funding from Iran, refer to the PMF as the “sacred mo­bilisation forces”. Others expressed concern about the militias challeng­ing the authority of the government, including Prime Minister Haider al- Abadi.
Militiamen have been accused of having a prominent stake in the pro­tection of people allegedly involved in corruption. This has led critics to view the proposed legislation as le­gal cover for organised crime.
The United Nations and human rights organisations have docu­mented numerous violations com­mitted by Shia militias. Despite a pledge by the Iraqi prime minister to take a hardline against such vio­lations in January 2015, reports of right abuses have continued and US officials fear a repeat of the mi­litia abuses in Mosul could end any chance of reconciling between the county’s Sunni and Shia communi­ties.
“Virtually every conversation that we have had internally with respect to planning for Mosul — and virtual­ly every conversation that we’ve had with the Iraqis — has this as a central topic,” a senior Obama administra­tion official told Reuters in August.