2016 began badly for human rights in Iraq. Here are some headlines from the first few weeks of the year, focusing on the crimes of ISIS.
ISIS executes 80 people by firing squad in central Nineveh - Iraqi News (January 9th).
ISIS executes 12 people for refusing to fight security forces in Mosul - Iraqi News (January 9th).
Islamic State holding estimated 3,500 slaves in Iraq, says UN - The Guardian (January 19th).
ISIS executes 9 who fled from the combat in Mosul - Iraqi News (January 20th).
Mass grave in Iraq's Ramadi holds at least 40 Islamic State victims: - Reuters (January 28th).
Buzzfeed reported on January 9th: “The United Nations released a report revealing the “staggering” levels of violence against civilians that occurred in the Iraq conflict between Jan. 1, 2014, and Oct. 31, 2015. The U.N.’s Assistance Mission to the country spoke to victims, survivors, and witnesses of violations of international human rights or humanitarian law, and concluded that the militant group ISIS continued to commit “systemic and widespread violence” that “may, in some instances, amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity, and possibly genocide.”
Among the figures quoted in the article, the following stand out:
A total of 18,802 civilians were killed in the conflict between January 1st, 2014, and October 31st, 2015.
Between January 1st, 2014, and October 31st, 2015, 36,235 civilians were wounded.
A total of 3,206,736 people were internally displaced between January 1st, 2014, and September 29th, 2015.
An estimated 439 civilians were killed in air strikes, and hundreds more were wounded.
The last statistic underlines that not all the carnage can be laid at the door of ISIS. US air strikes continue to inflict civilian casualties, as does the shelling of the Iraqi Army. But the activities of irregulars in areas freed from ISIS control is also a major concern. Al Jazeera reported on December 4th: “Sunni Muslims are facing forced evictions, abductions, and other serious human rights abuses in areas of Iraq freed from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) control, the United Nations said. Analysts have warned that Sunni Arabs are being discriminated against in Iraq by either the Shia-led government in Baghdad or Kurdish forces in the north, helping to radicalise communities and setting back efforts to defeat ISIL.”
A few days later, Reuters reported: “Two unpublished investigations show that the United States has consistently overlooked killings and torture by Iraqi government-sponsored Shi'ite militias.” The report documented how a Shia militia organisation under the control of the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior ran secret prisons and carried out systematic kidnapping and assassinations. This was covered up by both the US and Iraqi Administrations. It concluded: “Washington’s policy of expediency has achieved some of its short-term aims. But in allowing the Shi’ite militias to run amok against their Sunni foes, Washington has fueled the Shia-Sunni sectarian divide that is tearing Iraq apart.” http://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/mideast-crisis-iraq-militias/
On January 28th, Niqash reported that Diyala province was undergoing “ethnic and sectarian ‘cleansing’” at the hands of Shia militias and Kurdish troops, with Sunnis not being allowed to return to their homes following the expulsion of ISIS.
Al Jazeera also reported the mass destruction of Arab homes in northern Iraq by Kurdish forces. In what may amount to war crimes, “Kurdish forces bulldozed, blew up and burned down thousands of homes in Arab villages to avenge perceived support for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group after capturing the areas,” according to a report produced by Amnesty International.
A few days earlier a report by Human Rights Watch also highlighted the targeting of civilians by militias: “Kurdish and Shia Turkmen armed groups have repeatedly harmed and endangered civilians in clashes in Iraq’s Tuz Khurmatu district, in Salah al-Din province, since October 2015. The armed groups have killed, wounded, and abducted civilians and destroyed scores, if not hundreds, of homes and shops.”
And on January 31st, Reuters reported, “The abduction and killing of scores of Sunni civilians in eastern Iraq this month and attacks on their property by Iranian-backed Shi'ite militiamen could constitute a war crime, Human Rights Watch said.”
Meanwhile Germany is sending more troops to Iraq, the US admit they actually concealed the real numbers of its troops stationed in the country, the Czechs are sending more materiel and Turkey is still fighting Kurdish rebels on Iraqi soil. And as War on Want’s recent report “Mercenaries Unleashed” highlighted, large numbers of unregulated private military security contractors continue to operate in the country.
Britain too plans to continue its bombing campaign this year. Whether the start of 2017 will look any better for ordinary Iraqis is anyone’s guess.