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