Who will prosecute war crimes in Iraq?
With the news that Amal Clooney, the celebrity human rights and international law attorney, has made plans to bring the Islamic State (ISIS) to justice by prosecuting them in international criminal courts, those observing Iraq over the past 13 years would be forgiven for asking the question: “Who will take Baghdad to court to answer for its war crimes?”
The answer is, predictably and sadly, no one.
Clooney’s proposed case against ISIS seeks to determine the group’s guilt for an alleged genocide against the Iraqi Yazidi community. The very idea that ISIS will submit to any court’s jurisdiction is quite laughable and one gets the distinct impression that such legal actions are perhaps motivated by other agendas.
The United States leapt to the aid of the Yazidi minority in 2014 and, by March 2016, the US House of Representatives had declared that the horrors inflicted upon them by ISIS were “war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide”. No one can deny the first two crimes definitely occurred and are an accurate description of what occurred, as the Yazidis suffered unspeakable evil. Yet can one truly define what happened as genocide?
Etymologically, “genocide” refers to the killing of a people, which therefore implies that a significant proportion of that people have to be exterminated before it can be properly and logically termed a genocide. In the Yazidis’ case, and before the United States rescued them from ISIS’s depravations, the United Nations confirmed that 5,000 Yazidis had lost their lives to ISIS violence.
While that number is staggering, it does not constitute genocide. The Yazidi minority in Iraq has a population of more than 500,000 people, which means that about 1% of the total population was massacred by ISIS. There can be no doubt that ISIS, given the opportunity, would have carried out a genocide against them but the United States’ intervention in August 2014 forestalled that tragedy from ever unfolding.
Yet if the world is content with calling the killing of 5,000 Yazidis a genocide, one would imagine that the inhuman brutality of Baghdad against its own people would be denounced all over the world as a genocide, just as former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was feted as an architect of genocide for violence he inflicted upon dissidents and separatists.
Under Iranian tutelage, the rulers of Baghdad’s Green Zone have either directly killed Iraqi civilians or turned a blind eye to terrorist militias that they deem to be friendly to them and their larger political ambitions.
The examples of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed against Iraqi civilians by Iraqi authorities and their allies since the US-led invasion in 2003 are far too many for any one article to list. However, recent examples from the fight against ISIS are sufficient in painting a picture of Iraq acting with legal impunity as the world obsesses over only ISIS crimes.
In the early days of ISIS’ advance, panicked Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) responsible for administering and guarding government jails committed what can only be described as a war crime. Rather than either releasing their prisoners or leaving them unmolested, ISF wardens decided to put prisoners to death in summary executions that rivalled ISIS in their ghoulishness. Human Rights Watch reported in July 2014 that 255 prisoners, mostly Sunnis, lost their lives this way.
During the campaign to recapture Falluja last summer, the virulently sectarian Shia Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) descended on the township of Saqlawiyya. There, they unleashed an orgy of viciousness against the locals, with Anbar governor Sohaib al-Rawi confirming that they killed at least 49 people and another 643 disappeared. Nobody knows what happened to these missing people, now likely dead.
US President Barack Obama seems to have forgotten his origins as a lawyer, as he has done nothing to apply pressure against Baghdad by utilising the significant leverage of US air power patrolling the skies keeping the ISF and PMF safe from ISIS militants. Rather than making US aid contingent on Iraq abiding by international law and human rights, Obama stays silent as Iraq kills its own people with blind sectarianism, sowing the seeds for an ISIS successor organisation.
So, while celebrity lawyers married to celebrity actors raise the profile of cases of alleged genocide committed against specific peoples and cultures, no one seems to be willing to raise the case of the Iraqi people, especially the Sunni Arabs, who have long suffered the extreme, prejudiced and violent barbarity of the Iran-backed rulers of Baghdad.
Until the concept of justice and human rights are introduced to Iraq and until its population is humanised in the eyes of the international community, the country will continue to be a breeding ground for extremism and violent ideologies.