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Iraq – the killing continues

Fallujah_ruined_homeMike Phipps finds no grounds for optimism in recent developments

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.

Buzzfeed reported on 9 January:

The United Nations released a report revealing the “staggering” levels of violence against civilians that occurred in the Iraq conflict between 1 January 2014, and 31 October 2015. The UN’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 1 January 2014 and 31 October 2015.
  • Between 1 January 2014 and 31 October 2015, 36,235 civilians were wounded.
  • A total of 3,206,736 people were internally displaced between 1 January 2014, and 29 September 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 4 December:

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Two unpublished investigations show that the United States has consistently overlooked killings and torture by Iraqi government-sponsored Shi’ite militias.”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.” 

On 28 January 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, according to a report produced by Amnesty International:

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.” 

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 31 January 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.


  1. Susan O'Neill says:

    Al Jazeera’s headquarters are in Qatar a Sunni extremist regime who have called for the death of all Shi’ites. Therefore, I suggest you dismiss anything they might claim until you have at least half a dozen independent sources. Likewise from Syrian Observatory, Reuters, White helmets, and just about most of the International charities especially Amnesty International, since all stand accused of misrepresenting facts and propagandising for and on behalf of the US and UK.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      A damn good point and one that can’t be repeated often enough.

      But the bigger picture is what do you really expect, (based also on previous and similar experiences of these policies elsewhere in the world,) when you deliberately and systematically destroy a stable civil national government, (and it’s far from being the first time the US have done this,) leaving only chaos, bloodshed and anarchy in it’s wake.

      There are no, “good guys,” in this picture.

  2. swatantra says:

    These are the new Killing Fields and its an absolute disgrace that nothing is being done by the UN to take out the islamofacists.
    IS have the same mad doctrines as the Khmer Rouge, and they must be destroyed.
    You can’t do it by drones; you need actual troops on the ground.

  3. gerry says:

    Truly depressing catalogue of crimes. Since 1979 maybe 3-4 million people, mostly civilians, have been murdered in Iraq, via the 1980-1988 War against Iran, the failed invasion of Kuwait, the attempted genocides by Saddam against Kurds and marsh Arabs, the US led invasion, the Sunni/Shia sectarian civil war which is still playing out….nearly 40 years of mass atrocities, with Islamic State merely the most recent fascist manifestation of the horror.

    I think the truth is that, like Afghanistan, there will not be peace of any sort until/unless religious fanaticism is decisively rejected by the clear majority of Iraqis or Afghans. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are now prepared to kill/die in the name of their religion, and that sort of fanaticism is impossible to fight until the clerics, imams and madrassas unambiguously reject Jihad and sectarian supremacy. It took centuries for Protestants and Catholics in Europe to do this. The war/jihad in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere could take decades to play out, sadly.

  4. James Martin says:

    We can all see the bloodbath that Blair’s illegal war have created, but perhaps what we desperately need to do now is to try and see if it is possible to work with progressives, trade unionists and socialists in the region to support them in fighting for what can potentially come next. Is Iraq as a state still viable for example? On the one hand there is an argument that keeping it together stops a fracture along sectarian lines, but if the reality on the ground is that this split has largely happened (it is notable that the main Kurdish calls for a new Kurdish state rather than more autonomy are currently coming from the Iraqi Kurds around the KDP), then what should we do in terms of things like lobbying for Kurdish state recognition? And what policies should the Labour Party adopt to try and ensure that workers and their organisations are given support over the sectarian religious political leaders? Because above all else, despite the wars and descent into barbarism there still exists a huge working class in countries like Iraq and Syria who have yet to make their presence felt politically.

    1. swatantra says:

      Its interesting to speculate whether anyone actually saw this coming. Bush and Blair were pretty naïve about it all gung ho! types. It may have been illegal but they were in the business of removing dictators. Of course it al went horribly wrong as Chillcot will no doubt explain. Was it all their fault though. Surely the Arab peoples themselves must share the greater responsibility, for inviting USA and UK Forces in to Iraq.?
      Maybe if Desert Storm had been allowed to go all the way to Baghdad, the 2nd Iraq War would never have happened How was it that Patton was able to stablish order after WW2and hand over a functional state, or the German Adenhauer take over an aspirational Germany. Lessons could have been learnt.
      Similarly the French couldn’t hold onto their colonies in the Far East, and the Yanks despite all the napalm and dirty tricks were forced to retreat from Saigon. Lessons could have been learnt.
      Nobody saw 2007 banking collapse, but we could have predicted what turmoil there was going to be in the ME if we had nderstood the mentality of the Arab mind.

  5. Bazza says:

    Yes tragic for us who care, but why should the callous pro-capitalists lose any sleep?
    Something like a third of the oil in Iraq (and Libya) is now owned by Western Corporations.
    To them if was a profitable investment.
    But I hope those in the region who have to sell their labour to live can unite.
    Despite many forces trying to set them against each other.
    I hope against all this human misery they can win power for all the oppressed.
    I don’t know, it must be a working class socialist thing, but I guess we always believe in hope.
    International solidarity!

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