The terrorist group known as the “Islamic State”, has been committing atrocities in the scale of war crimes and crimes against humanity not only since it transformed itself from “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” into a brand that is loaded with reference to “State”- and also not only since it captured the city of Mosul in Iraq on 10 June 2014, marking the commencement of one of the bloodiest episodes of horrors in the region. In the latest UN Human Rights report, produced by the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and which covers the period from 11 September to 10 December 2014, there is a detailed account of the crimes the group committed.
According to the UN the group illegally killed members of Iraq Security Forces (ISF) and the Police, and those associated with them; it killed and abducted community and religious leaders; it executed civilians following illegal court trials and in the course of spreading horror it attacked every sectarian component of Iraq’s society including Christians, Kurds, Shabaks, Shi’as, Turkmens, Yezidis and Sunnis.
The group paid no attention to widespread international condemnation of its atrocities including form within the larger Sunni community across Arab world and other Muslim countries. It also bounded itself to no law, treaty, convention or a code of conduct, which the world as we know it instrumented as principles for conducting war, or even the basic treatment of human beings under its rule.
Yet, the terrorist group, while striking its own path to impunity based on complete disconnection with law (including those of Islam), has been countered by a similar wave of vengeance on the hands of what is politically know as “Pro Iraq Government Militia” which practically translates into Shiite militia which operates outside the boundaries of Iraqi law (or any law) and in some cases are embedded within the structure of Iraq security forces.
On Friday, 13th of March 2015, the international independent rights monitor group, Human Rights Watch held an event in Geneva on the sidelines of the UN Human Rights Council 28th session. Not surprisingly, the event sought to bring attention to the Pro-Government Militia abuses in the fight against ISIS. Although knowledge about these abuses already exist and some of the horrific atrocities committed by these groups have been reported largely by international media- nonetheless, political attention to the matter has been severely low over the past year.
The United Nation’s report also detailed accounts of the abuses of these groups, albeit it framed them under “Violations committed by the government of Iraq security forces and associated forces”. Those violations, according to UN, range from extrajudicial and summary executions; abductions and kidnappings and destruction of civilian infrastructure or property.
Shi’a militias atrocities are not new. On 27 June 2104, only 17 days after the fall of the city of Mosul, Amnesty International released a report in which it produced evidence of a “pattern of extrajudicial executions of detainees” by government forces and Shi’a militias in a number of Iraqi cities. Some of the testimonies collected by the organization’s researchers suggest that killing of detainees, in addition to being illegal, has been carried out by militia members in cooperation with security forces where Sunni men were detained sometime without arrest orders and killed by gun shots in the head and chest.
Following ISIS release of pictures and videos of Iraqi soldiers execution site in Tikrit on 11 June 2104, it seems that revenge was everywhere in the air.
A report and video released by CNN on 28 June 2104, titled: Iraqi witnesses recall horrors in Tal Afar, Mosul, Iraq security forces and militias affiliated with the government were reported to have unlawfully executed at least 255 prisoners in six Iraqi cities and villages since 9 June 2014. ISIS only took Mosul on 10 June 2014, which points an earlier history of those abuses or violations. Human Rights Watch reported on these unlawful killing incidents of Sunni detainees on 11 July 2014. Its report “ “Iraq: Campaign of Mass Murders of Sunni Prisoners” verified evidence on those mass killings in Mosul and Tal Afar in northern Nineveh province, in Baaquba and Jumarkhe in eastern Diyala province, and in Rawa in western Anbar province. A 14-year old survivor in one of those incidents of mass killings told Human Rights Watch that his 15-year old brother was massacred in the same cell he was imprisoned:
“We heard something strange just outside the door. Then the gunmen opened the small windows in the doors and the doors themselves, and right away they began shooting. I hid behind another prisoner but I was still shot in my upper arm and thigh. I can’t describe to you those next three to four hours. I just lay there with those dead bodies around me. One of those dead bodies was my brother.”
ISIS massacre of prisoners in the Badoush prison in Mosul on 10 June 2014, has not surfed the news until 25 August 2014, when Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights at the time, issued a statement in which she confirmed that the UN mission in Iraq “verified reports of a massacre of prisoners and detainees in Mosul’s Badoush Prison on 10 June”. The massacre claimed lives of 670 prisoners.
Nonetheless, Shia militia activities against Sunni population seemed to have walked side-by-side, and probably before ISIS commenced its large-scale atrocities in Iraq. Those militia seem to have operated on the assumption that every Sunni is a suspected ISIS member. In its Pro-Government Militias’ Trail of Death report released on 31 July 2014, Human Rights Watch featured an interview with an official in the Tourism Ministry. He cites information provided to him by a [friend] member of one of these militia. They “capture people they suspect are terrorists and torture them”, while “regular Sunnis, the innocent ones, they let go, he told me” and “they kill the ones that confess to be [members of] Da`esh [ISIS] and leave their bodies right there”.
A report by Amnesty International Iraq: Absolute impunity: Militia rule in Iraq released on 14 October 2104 featured an interview with a government official who gave a further clarifying context to the conduct of Shia militias- he was quoted by Amnesty as follows:
“Some militiamen are thieves as well as killers and try to get money from their victims’ families, before killing them. Those who are kidnapped by these have little chance of survival, no matter how much their families pay. And then there are militiamen who kidnap only to make money, and they can target everyone, Christians, Kurds, and even Shi’a. I am Shi’a and I know of several Shi’a who have been abducted and released on payment of ransom. They were abducted in areas which are militias’ strongholds, where it would be impossible for ordinary criminals to operate in such a way. But mostly they kidnap Sunnis, because the victims can easily be labelled as terrorists and nobody is going to do anything about it”.
The tale of horrors go on unstoppably. What we know of the incidents of atrocities is limited to what has been factually reported. Interestingly enough, Iraq Sunnis are also becoming target of ISIS atrocities. The UN reported that such a phenomenon is on the rise. In November 2014, ISIS abducted and executed around 400 members of the Albu Nimr tribe in Anbar governorate- they were perceived to be supportive of the government. UN also said that ISIS’s “attacks, killings, and abductions were also perpetrated against members of the Sunni Arab community in Ninewa and Salah al-Din governorates”.