Abuses perpetrated by militias linked to Iraqi security forces have escalated in recent months, forcing at least 3,000 people in Sunni areas to flee their homes, Human Rights Watch said on Sunday.
Residents in the Muqdadiyya area of Iraq’s Diyala Province have been barred from returning to their homes, the right group said. Additionally, the international rights group reports that civilians have been kidnapped and in some instances “summarily executed.”
Allied militias and Iraqi forces began harassing residents in June, shortly after the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group took over Iraq’s largest city Mosul, and the abuse escalated around October, residents told HRW.
“Iraqi civilians are being hammered by ISIS and then by pro-government militias in areas they seize from ISIS,” Joe Stork, the group’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, said.
“With the government responding to those they deem terrorists with arbitrary arrests and executions, residents have nowhere to turn for protection,” he was quoted as saying.
Based on witness accounts from six residents, residents of villages near the Muqdadiyya region left their homes in June and July when the Asaaib al-Haqq militiamen and Iraqi SWAT forces attacked.
Asaaib al-Haqq is a group said to be operating under direct patronage of Iranian General Qassim Suleimani and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The group has reportedly been involved in around 6000 attacks on American, coalition and Iraqi forces.
According to HRW, the attacks on civilians seem to be a part of a campaign to clear the mixed-sect area of Sunnis and other groups.
“The day of judgment is coming … we will attack the area until nothing is left. Is my message clear?” Hadi al-Ameri, the Badr Brigades commander and transport minister under the previous administration of Nuri al-Maliki, reportedly told residents in December.
Researchers with the rights group said they witnessed militias occupying and setting fire to residents’ homes in the Salah al-Din province after ISIS militants retreated.
Then again, in December, after driving out ISIS fighters, militias were responsible for evictions, forced disappearances and killings in the Baghdad Belt, HRW said, citing a report by the Wall Street Journal.
The rights group cites abuses as recent as January of 2015 where militias, volunteer fighters and state forces reportedly summarily executed 72 civilians, an allegation HRW said is currently investigating.
In an Op-Ed published in the Wall Street Journal following his election, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi pledged to “bring … all armed groups under state control. No armed groups or militias will work outside or parallel to the Iraqi Security Forces.”
In related news, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah revealed for the first time Monday that his group is fighting ISIS in Iraq.