Iraqi militias ‘committing war crimes’ using government-imported weapons

Sunday 08/01/2017
Iraqi Shia militiamen flashing ‘V’ for victory sign near city of Falluja

London - Militias fighting along­side Iraqi troops against the Islamic State (ISIS) are com­mitting war crimes using weapons provided to the Iraqi military by at least 16 countries, in­cluding the United States, Russia and Iran, Amnesty International said.
The predominantly Shia militias were formed in 2014 to support the Iraqi government’s fight against ISIS.
Iraq’s Sunni Arab community has been targeted by paramilitaries, which have carried out extrajudicial executions, torture and enforced disappearances and other crimes, Amnesty International said.
“International arms suppliers, including the USA, European coun­tries, Russia and Iran, must wake up to the fact that all arms transfers to Iraq carry a real risk of ending up in the hands of militia groups with long histories of human rights violations,” said Patrick Wilcken, an Amnesty International arms control researcher.
Amnesty International cited nearly two-and-a-half years of field research, including photo and video evidence as well as interviews with dozens of former detainees, wit­nesses, survivors and relatives of those killed, detained or missing.
The report focused on four pow­erful groups — the Badr Organisa­tion, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Kataib Hez­bollah and Saraya al-Salam — most of which receive backing from Iran.
Tanks, machine guns and snip­er rifles were among more than 100 types of weapons used by the groups, Amnesty International said.
Weaponry has been supplied by Iraqi state institutions or with authorities’ approval and militia members have purchased weapons on the private market, including online.
Iran was named as a major mili­tary sponsor of militias accused of serious human rights violations.
Despite the paramilitaries formal­ly becoming part of the Iraqi mili­tary last year, Amnesty Internation­al said its request to the Defence Ministry for details of accountabil­ity mechanisms went unanswered.
“Instead of unequivocally hailing militias as heroes fighting to put an end to [ISIS] atrocities, thereby em­boldening them, the Iraqi authori­ties must stop turning a blind eye to systematic abuses that have fed sectarian tensions,” said Wilcken.
Amnesty International called on countries selling arms to Iraq to en­sure the weapons are not used by militias guilty of abuses.
Western officials have expressed serious concerns about the govern­ment’s ability to bring the Shia mili­tias under greater control.
The Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), an umbrella group of mili­tias, denies having sectarian aims or committing widespread abuses. It said it saved the country by pushing ISIS back from Baghdad’s borders.
Thousands of fighters from vari­ous militias are participating in a major offensive by Iraqi security forces to retake the northern city of Mosul from ISIS. Iraqi Army and security forces are gaining momen­tum against ISIS in Mosul, the com­mander of the US-led coalition, US Army Lieutenant-General Stephen Townsend, told Reuters.
Townsend said the increased momentum was due to better coor­dination among the army and secu­rity forces. The Iraqis also improved their ability to defend against ISIS car bombs in Mosul, Townsend said.
The US military said its adviser corps has expanded to about 450 personnel in the last two weeks, as Iraqi forces launched what they call “phase two” of the Mosul cam­paign. The US military also con­firmed that its advisers had entered Mosul several times since the begin­ning of operations.
The total number of US troops in Iraq is 4,935, by the Pentagon’s count. They include trainers, secu­rity forces and other support troops.
Iraqi forces have retaken about 70% of eastern Mosul from ISIS, Iraq’s joint operations commander, Lieutenant-General Talib Shaghati, told Reuters.
However, ISIS militants have re­cently displayed tactics to which they are likely to resort if they lose the city, killing nearly 100 people with bombs in Baghdad and attack­ing security forces elsewhere.
Separately, Kurdish security forc­es closed the Iraqi headquarters of an organisation that aids members of the Yazidi religious minority, which has been brutally targeted by ISIS.
The move by the Iraqi Kurdish asayish forces to close the Yazda or­ganisation’s offices in the northern city of Dohuk drew criticism from Human Rights Watch (HRW).
“A force from the asayish raided the main Yazda headquarters in Do­huk… and ordered the closure of the headquarters and all Yazda projects in camps” for displaced people, the group said in a statement.
Kurdish government “authorities need to think hard about the con­sequences of Yazda’s closure and reverse its decision in accordance with its international obligations to facilitate, not obstruct, humanitar­ian assistance,” Belkis Wille, Iraq researcher at HRW, said in a state­ment.