25 June 2016
English Arabic

Men who flee the ISIL-held city are often abused, or killed, by armed groups bent on revenge.

By Salam Khoder

Amiriyat al-Fallujah, Iraq - As the Iraqi armed forces and allied militias continue their battle to take Fallujah from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), a growing number of civilians have said that they were tortured after escaping the besieged city.

In one tent in the Amiriyat al-Fallujah camp, which is hosting displaced people from Fallujah, three men claimed to have been tortured while held captive by sectarian militias affiliated with the Popular Mobilisation Forces.

The men, along with their families and many others, fled the al-Azraqiyah area, northwest of Fallujah, as the Iraqi military advanced towards their houses. Although they knew the road to reach the camp was not completely safe, they decided to leave out of fear of what might happen if they stayed.

"We knew that the militias might arrest or even kill us, but we had to leave," said Abu Muhammad, 57, who asked that his real name not be used. "Staying in the area meant sure death, whereas if we tried to leave, we might have the chance of surviving - or if not us, at least our families."

Since 2014, a number of sectarian militias, collectively known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces or al-Hashd al-Shaabi, has played a major role in assisting the Iraqi armed forces in the fight against ISIL. But they have also been accused of perpetrating human rights abuses against civilians on sectarian basis.

Abu Muhammad said he experienced "days of hell" during his detention by the militia fighters. "We saw men in uniforms with army vehicles. We thought it was the Iraqi army that was approaching. We walked towards them holding white flags to make sure they know that we are civilians and unarmed," he explained.

The families soon discovered that the men in uniforms were not army soldiers, but militiamen who belong to the mobilisation forces. "They separated women and children from the men, and put everyone in houses taken from families who had fled as the military operation started," Abu Muhammad said. After two days, the women and children were moved to the Amiriyat al-Fallujah camp, while the men remained in detention.

They would put me face down, and start pulling the rope higher and higher. I felt that my limbs would be detached from my body. I lost consciousness several times during those days.

Thamer Hassoun al-Shoukor, a tortured Fallujah resident

According to Abu Muhammad, this is when the agony began.

"The militants told us: 'We know that you have fled a place which is more like hell - al-Azraqiyah - but we will send you to hell again'." 

Abu Muhammad said he was beaten repeatedly for six days. "They would beat us with water pipes; they would take turns to torture us. My hands were tied behind my back, and one of the militants sat on my chest after he got tired of beating me. He just threw himself on me. I felt my ribs breaking. I screamed in pain; I spat blood. I asked for water, but I was denied even that."

A week after their ordeal started, the Iraqi federal police arrived and moved the hundreds of detained men to the al-Mazraa military base, located east of Fallujah. They were held there for interrogation, then transferred to Amiriyat al-Fallujah.

Mahmoud al-Naji al-Shoukor, who also fled al-Azraqiyah, said he had "lost the will to live" as a result of his and his family's treatment at the hands of the sectarian militia.

"I was humiliated by my countrymen for reasons I do not comprehend until now. My two brothers, Ahmad and Hussein al-Naji al-Shoukor, along with my two cousins Muthanna and Ahmad al-Naji al-Shoukor were detained the same night. But we still have not found them; they are still missing. I think they are dead - so I have nothing left to lose."

While detained, Mahmoud said he saw civilians being slaughtered "like chicken", and that he himself was very close to being executed. "They put some of us in a line on our knees, with our eyes blindfolded," he said.

"They started taking us one by one. They killed several men before it was my turn. I could hear the men scream and beg the militia men to spare their lives - they were swearing that they never fought, and that they never joined ISIL - but that did not stop the militia fighters from killing them," Mahmoud told Al Jazeera.

"One of the fighters dragged me on the ground, saying that it is my turn to die. But at that moment I heard a voice saying that the killing has to stop, because the religious authority in al-Najaf [the religious leader of Iraq's Shia, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani] had issued an order that was circulating among the militia men to stop the executions after the news of sectarian killings had been leaked."

Mahmoud said the militiamen told them that if it weren't for Sistani's orders, all of them would have been killed in a "blink of an eye".

Removing his shirt, Mahmoud showed the marks of torture on his body: Deep wounds from beating and flogging.

The third man in the tent was Thamer Hassoun Mohammad al-Shoukor. He was unable to easily move his arms: For six days, his hands were tied behind his back from the elbow, and his legs tied together from the ankles. 

"They would put me face down, and start pulling the rope higher and higher. I felt that my limbs would be detached from my body. I lost consciousness several times during those days," Shoukor said.

One night, they heard the sound of a helicopter approaching. It was the Iraqi federal police. "If they did not show up, we could have been dead," he said.

Upon the men's arrival at the al-Mazraa military base, they were immediately given food and water, and several medical teams attended to those in urgent need of care. 

"When we arrived, lots of tribal fighters from Hashed al-Anbar, which is a Sunni militia fighting with the government forces, started comforting us and telling us that our families are safe in Amiriyat al-Fallujah camp, and that we will be released once we receive medical care," Thamer said.

That same night, they received a visit from Yahia al-Ghazi, a member of parliament from the province. "We asked him about our families and about other men who were detained with us. All he had to say was that, 'we thank God that you are alive', and that our families were in the camp. But he didn't give us any information on the missing men and boys."

Sohaib al-Rawi, the governor of al-Anbar province where Fallujah is located, confirmed that civilians fleeing the city and surrounding areas had been tortured by some militias fighting alongside the Iraqi armed forces.

Rawi told Al Jazeera that "more than 49 civilians have lost their lives under torture". He added that 643 men were missing, with no information on whether they had been executed or are still in detention.

Although Rawi refused to give the name of the militia that carried out these acts, he said that "the government and the security forces were given the names of the 643 who are still missing".

Last week, Human Rights Watch issued a report stating that it had "received credible allegations of summary executions, beatings of unarmed men, enforced disappearances, and mutilation of corpses by government forces over the two weeks of fighting, mostly on the outskirts of the city of Fallujah".

Quoting witnesses who survived the killings, the report found that "a group consisting of Federal Police and PMF [Popular Mobilisation Forces] had separated men from women, marched the men to where the troops' officers were, lined them up, and shot at least 17 of them, including one teenage boy".

On Wednesday, June 15, Salama al-Khufaji, a member of the Iraqi Commission for Human Rights, announced that Iraqi security forces had arrested a militia fighter in connection with the killing of the 17 civilians.

However, it is yet to be seen whether other militiamen involved in abuses will face justice.

Source: Aljazeera

 

Baghdad – While Sadr is in Iran for seclusion, a number of his followers attacked offices of certain political parties in south Iraq. The attackiers torched the offices including the photos of Khomeini and Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei.

Council member of one of the southern districts told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the attacks also targeted offices of factions and parties affiliated with Iran. The council member, who preferred to remain anonymous, said protesters also burned the photos of political leaders and religious authorities including the leaders of the Islamic republic.

Consequently, a number of parties and forces in Amarah district gave the Sadrist movement 24 hours to denounce the members that burned down their offices.

Of the parties protesting: Badr Organization, Dawa Party Head Office, al-Jihad wa Binaa Movement, Islamic Supreme Council, Dawa Party, League of Righteous, Khorasani Brigades, Imam’s Soldiers’ Battalions, Imam Ali Brigades, and Abu Fadhal al-Abbas Brigades.

Meanwhile, Sadrist Movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr called for excluding Najaf from protests after a wave of office attacks of several Shi’ite parties in the country’s south and center. When asked by his followers, Sadr said in a statement issued Friday: “Yes exclude Najaf from protests for its sanctity. Who wants to protest shall go to Baghdad.”

He added that protests against corrupt parties should be peaceful whether in Najaf or any other district.

Earlier, Sadr called for postponing protests demanding reform during the month of Ramadan. He considered protests a kind of prayer and devotion.

Following a series of attacks on political parties, fears have risen of inter-Shi’ite clashes in the country’s central and southern districts. Security forces blocked all roads and bridges leading to the Liberation Square in central Baghdad where protests have been ongoing for over a year.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Abadi warned of the “reckless” behavior that targets public facilities or any political office.

Abadi urged in his statement political leaders to reject such heinous acts and called on patriotic demonstrators to distance themselves from such acts of extremism.

Ministry of Interior (MoI) announced it had taken all required measures to protect state institutions.

MoI pledged in a statement to protect all public and private institutions, headquarters of political parties, and other organizations.

The statement added that the ISIS strategy is to keep security forces occupied to alleviate the pressure from Fallujah and whoever wants reform should resort to peaceful protests.

Commander of Civil Democratic Alliance Jasem Halfi said that the weekly protests in Baghdad are done in coordination with many parties including the Sadrist Movement. He added that the protests are peaceful and aim to achieve reform.

Halfi confirmed they will carry on with the peaceful protests unified under Iraqi flag.

Friday prayer Imam of Najaf Sadr Din Qabbanji warned of a Shi’ite-Shi’ite conflict after a series of offices in several districts have been torched. He added that the government is responsible of protecting the public institutions, while denouncing the anonymous groups that attacked the public institutions. Qabbanji said: “While we are preparing to liberate Fallujah, some are trying to create a Shiite – Shiite strife.

Qabbanji explained that religious leaders are with protests but attacking offices is not acceptable.

Source: ASHARQ AL-AWSAT

RESS RELEASE

For immediate release 10th June 2016

IRAQ: INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY IGNORING ETHNIC CLEANSING IN FALLUJAH

Horrific sectarian atrocities are being committed in the final push to ‘liberate’ the ancient city of Fallujah, 43 miles from Baghdad. Iranian-led Shi’ite militias who form the main part of the force fighting to re-capture the city from Daesh (ISIS) are systematically arresting Sunni men and women fleeing the besieged city. Many are being tortured and executed.

Struan Stevenson, President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association said today: “The international community must stop this barbaric crime against innocent civilians. The Shi’ite militias are financed and led by the Iranian terrorist Qods Force whose senior commander General Qasem Soleimani is on the EU and US terrorist lists. Soleimani is spearheading the attack on Fallujah. His presence was confirmed in an astonishing statement by Iraq’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim Jafari on 7th June, when he said:  “Qasem Soleimani provides military advice on Iraqi soil and this is with the complete awareness of our government.”

“Iran is exploiting their role in ousting Daesh (ISIS) as a means for implementing their genocidal policy of ethnic cleansing to annihilate the Sunnis in Iraq’s al-Anbar Province. They claim that they have to detain all people fleeing from the city in case some of them may be Daesh jihadists. But this is simply an excuse to perpetrate barbaric atrocities on innocent Sunnis.

On 7th June the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said: “Eyewitnesses have described how armed groups operating in support of the Iraqi security forces are intercepting people fleeing the conflict, separating the men and teenage boys from the women and children, and detaining the males for ‘security screening’, which in some cases degenerates into physical violations and other forms of abuse, apparently in order to elicit forced confessions. There are even allegations that some individuals have been summarily executed by these armed groups.”

“The same thing happened during the so-called liberation of Ramadi, a city of over one million predominantly Sunni people, which was reduced to dust and rubble. Barely a single building has been left intact and the male population has simply disappeared. This scenario is being repeated in Fallujah, where mass graves have already been discovered in some of the nearby Sunni villages containing bodies that have been burned, stabbed and brutalised.

“The United Nations on Wednesday 8th June revised significantly their estimate of the number of civilians believed trapped in besieged Fallujah, raising the figure to 90,000 from a previous estimate of 50,000. It seems clear that there has been a deliberate attempt by Iraqi forces to provide a lower figure for the civilian population in Fallujah, in order to hide the inevitable death toll arising from the savage bombardment of residential areas, as well as the active participation of the Iranian regime's Qods Force and its affiliated militias.

“Tehran is relentlessly strengthening its grip over Iraq. Corruption and poor training has rendered the Iraqi army almost useless, leaving a vacuum, which the Iranian regime has been quick to fill, pressurising Iraq’s Prime Minister into allowing the Iranian-funded militias to take control of military operations. Political disarray in Baghdad, combined with a directionless and dysfunctional American foreign policy, has paved the way for the fascist Iranian mullah-led regime to consolidate its hold in Iraq.

“The European Iraqi Freedom Association has repeatedly warned of the dangers of allowing the Iranian-funded Shi’ite militias to have free reign in Iraq and our warnings have been ignored. The Iraqi Sunnis of al-Anbar have paid a heavy price for international complacency. Once they have achieved their sectarian objectives in Fallujah, Tehran will turn its attention to Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city with a population of more than two million Sunnis. Daesh has held Mosul for more than two years and its ethnic cleansing features highly on the Iranian regime’s priority list.

“How much longer can the international community remain silent in the face of such crimes against humanity? The Iranian-funded and led militias are now guilty of crimes every bit as horrific as the terrorist Daesh jihadists who they are supposed to be trying to defeat. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, US President Barack Obama and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Federica Mogherini must speak out now and demand an end to these atrocities and an end to Iranian meddling in Iraq.”

Office of Struan Stevenson
President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA)
Brussels

 

(Struan Stevenson was a Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014 and was President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq from 2009 to 2014.)

-- 

European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA),  1050 Brussels, Belgium


President: Struan Stevenson, Chairman of European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-2014), Members of the board: Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Vice President of the European Parliament (1999-2014); Stephen Hughes, 1st Vice-President of European Parliament Socialist Group (2009-2014),  Giulio Terzi, Former Foreign Minister of Italy; Ryszard Czarnecki,Vice-President of the European Parliament; Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC; Paulo Casaca MEP (1999-2009); Kimmo Sasi, MP (Finland), Honorary members include Tariq al-Hashemi, former Vice President of Iraq , Sid Ahmed Ghozali, former Prime Minister of Algeria

 

Webwww.eu-iraq.org/        Facebookwww.facebook.com/EuIraq        Twitterwww.twitter.com/EuIraq

Investigate Government Command Responsibility; ISIS Stops Civilians From Fleeing

(Beirut) – The announced investigation into allegations of abuse of civilians around Fallujah by Iraqi government forces is a test for the government’s ability to hold abusive forces accountable. Judicial officials should conduct this investigation transparently and impartially, assess co

mmand responsibility, and ensure protection for victims and witnesses.

Ahead of the offensive in Fallujah against forces of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that his government had taken measures to protect civilians. Human Rights Watch, however, has received credible allegations of summary executions, beatings of unarmed men, enforced disappearances, and mutilation of corpses by government forces over the two weeks of fighting, mostly on the outskirts of the city, since May 23. On June 4, 2016, in response to allegations of abuse, al-Abadi launched an investigation into abuses in Fallujah and issued orders to arrest those responsible for “transgressions” against civilians. On June 7, al-Abadi announcedthe “detention and transfer of those accused of committing violations to the judiciary to receive their punishment according to the law.”

“The Iraqi government needs to control and hold accountable its own forces if it hopes to claim the moral upper hand in its fight against ISIS,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “It’s high time for Iraqi authorities to unravel the web of culpability underlying the government forces’ repeated outrages against civilians.”

Human Rights Watch also expressed grave concern about reports of ISIS preventing civilians from fleeing Fallujah and allegedly executing and shooting at those who attempted to do so. Human Rights Watch is concerned about the presence of ISIS fighters among civilians inside Fallujah, perhaps amounting to human shielding, a war crime. But the presence of fighters among civilians does not absolve forces fighting ISIS from the obligation to target only military objectives and to take all feasible measures to avoid civilian harm, Human Rights Watch said. ISIS forces should allow civilians to leave areas under their control and not use civilians to shield its military objectives from attack, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch directed questions about the composition of the investigative committee, its authority, and relation to the judiciary to five Iraqi government institutions in addition to the human rights section of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq. A member of the parliamentary Human Rights Committee told Human Rights Watch that the committee had started its own investigation and was liaising with the investigation by the prime minister’s office, which remained secret. The other officials contacted did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

On June 3, Human Rights Watch received information alleging that members of the Federal Police and the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an auxiliary fighting force created after ISIS advanced in June 2014, and that includes many pre-existing Shia militias, had executed more than a dozen civilians from the Jumaila tribe fleeing Sajar, a village north of Fallujah. Human Rights Watch spoke to five people, including two officials from Anbar governorate, who said they were protecting three surviving witnesses to the executions.

Three of those interviewed confirmed the account that a survivor gave on Tigris (Dijla) Channel television that a group consisting of Federal Police and PMF had separated men from women, marched the men to where the troops’ officers were, lined them up, and shot at least 17 of them, including one teenage boy. One person said that the incident took place on June 2. The PMF are, at least nominally, under the command of the prime minister.

One of the Anbar governorate officials provided Human Rights Watch with a list of names of those killed and said that the incident happened near the Sharhabil school in Al-Bu Sudaira neighborhood in the northern outskirts of Fallujah. The other Anbar official said that the witnesses met with senior Iraqi government officials on June 5, following which he said Prime Minister al-Abadi launched an investigation into the incident. A former Iraqi government official with good contacts in the security forces told Human Rights Watch, on June 5, that the investigation had already led to the arrest of a police officer whom survivors could name.

Another person who said he was in the Sajar area, 7 kilometers northeast of Fallujah, at the time told Human Rights Watch that on May 28, he saw Federal Police and PMF, including dozens of fighters from the Badr Brigades and Hezbollah (two prominent Shia militias in the PMF), fatally shoot civilians with white flags raised fleeing toward the government forces that day. He said that a fighter told him his superior officer had ordered the shootings. He also told Human Rights Watch he was in Saqlawiya around May 30. This person said a villager and several PMF fighters in the area told him that PMF fighters stabbed dozens of villagers to death with knives.

On June 6, an Anbar governorate official who provided the names for those killed from the Jumaila tribe was visiting a camp for internally displaced people in Amiriyat Fallujah, a town south of Fallujah itself, when he spoke to Human Rights Watch. More than 600 men whom Hezbollah and the Badr Brigades, among other PMFs, had released from detention the day before had just arrived in Amiriyat Fallujah Hospital, he said. He added that the militias had detained the men, most from the al-Mahamda tribe, since the beginning of the operation in homes and other buildings in the Hayy al-Shuhada area in Saqlawiya, only releasing them on June 5. He said that he saw hundreds of people among the former detainees who showed signs of torture, including rape, burns, knife cuts, and bruising from beatings. He said the men who were released told him that they saw the PMF fighters take away another at least 600 al-Mahamda men.

A Baghdad resident told Human Rights Watch on June 6 that during a visit to Amiriyat Fallujah Hospital on June 5, she saw hundreds of visibly injured men. Five of the men she spoke to said that PMF forces detained them in groups as they recaptured Saqlawiya over the previous or two weeks. The men told her that the PMF had altogether arrested 1,700 men, whom they beat and dragged bound to a moving car by a rope (sahl) before releasing 605 men to receive medical treatment on June 5. The woman said the men told her that four men died from beatings and from being dragged behind cars. She told Human Rights Watch that hospital staff in Amiriyat Fallujah said a fifth man died on June 5 in the hospital. Human Rights Watch reviewed a video of three injured men stepping out of an ambulance at what the person said was Amiriyat Fallujah Hospital, in addition to pictures of half a dozen injured men being treated in the hospital’s garden.

On May 24, Human Rights Watch viewed a video, uploaded on May 23, in which a commander tells a room filled with fighters that Fallujah had been a bastion of terrorism since 2004 and that no civilians or true Muslims were left inside the city. The video bore the logo of Abu al-Fadhl al-Abbas, one of the brigades within the Leagues of the Righteous militia that is part of the PMF. On May 27, Iraqi activists sent Human Rights Watch two videos they said were filmed on the outskirts of Fallujah over the previous days depicting abuses against local residents by government forces: one showed armed men in a mix of civilian and military dress driving two pickup trucks, each dragging a corpse behind them; the second showed armed men surrounding a pile of corpses and severed heads. In the clip a commander counted 16 decapitated bodies and heads. Human Rights Watch was not able to verify the origins of either video. On June 3, Human Rights Watch viewed a widely circulated video on Facebook, uploaded on June 3, which shows a man in a military-type uniform beating at least nine men lying on the ground with a large wooden stick while accusing them of collaborating with ISIS in “Fallujah”. Human Rights Watch was unable to verify the exact location and time of the videos.

A local sheikh from Karma, a town northeast of Fallujah, told Human Rights Watch that within the first few days of the military operation to retake the city, the Iraq Security Forces, PMF, police, and Sunni forces forced civilians living there to leave. During the exodus, at least 70 young men disappeared, he said, and the families have no information as to their whereabouts. The sheikh said that on June 1, the Iraqi Parliament Speaker, Salim al-Jiburi, had come to the area to speak to local elders and the military. A member of Anbar governorate council, who also provided information about the launch of the prime minister’s investigation, confirmed the number of missing men to Human Rights Watch and said that the government had opened investigations to determine where they are.

The military routinely separates men from women and takes the men for security screenings to determine their involvement with ISIS forces, according to all witnesses Human Rights Watch interviewed. The authorities may impose reasonable and proportionate security measures, but should do so under judicial supervision and in a transparent manner, Human Rights Watch said. The families of anyone detained should know where they are being held, and all persons detained should promptly be brought before a judge to determine the legality of their detention.

All suspected crimes, including torture, murder, and other abuses, committed by members of any side in the conflict, should be investigated by the criminal justice authorities, speedily, transparently, and effectively, up to the highest levels responsible. When evidence of criminal responsibility emerges, prosecutions should follow. Those conducting such criminal investigations and making decisions about prosecutions should be independent of those being investigated, including being outside any military chain of command and being free from political interference in their decisions. The authorities should ensure the safety of all witnesses. At the same time, a commission of inquiry or equivalent should be created to examine the wider concerns about whether such crimes and abuses are being committed in a widespread or systematic way.

On June 3, the highest Shia religious authority, Ayatollah al-Sistani “cautioned” that fighters must not attack non-combatants materially or psychologically. On June 5, Hadi al-Amiri, the commander of the Badr Brigades, vowedto hold those responsible for abuse accountable.

“I acknowledge that there were mistakes,” al-Abadi told Iraqi state television on June 4, “but they were not systematic and we will not cover up any [of them].”

“The government should not stand idly by while fighters commit atrocities in its name,” Stork said. “Political, security, and judicial officials should work together transparently to establish the truth about what has happened around Fallujah and why.”

The Fallujah Operation
On May 23, Iraqi security forces began operations to retake Fallujah, where UN officials estimate about 50,000 civilians, including 20,000 children, remain. Those forces include the elite US-trained military Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), local and federal police, militias under the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) umbrella, Sunni fighters from Anbar province, and Iraqi and US-led coalition air forces.

ISIS captured the city in early 2014. Government forces cut off supply routes into the city after recapturing nearby Ramadi in late December 2015 and the al-Jazira desert area north of Fallujah in March 2016. In late March, a medical source in Fallujah told Human Rights Watch that each day starving children were arriving at the local hospital and most foodstuffs were no longer available at any price. In April, Iraqi activists in touch with families inside Fallujah told Human Rights Watch that conditions had reduced families to eating flat bread made with flour from ground date seeds and soups from grass. A man who fled Fallujah in 2014 said in late May that sources in the city told him people who escaped from Fallujah in May 2016 were dropping plastic bags and water bottles filled with medical supplies into the Euphrates upstream for trapped residents to recover from the river as it ran through the city.

Human Rights Watch has not had access to Fallujah, but obtained information on conditions inside the city from relatives, journalists, officials, and humanitarian workers who said they had been in touch with people remaining there.

In recent years Human Rights Watch has documented extensive laws of war violations by the ISIS as well as by Iraqi military and the largely Shia militias that make up the Popular Mobilization Forces, including summary executions, disappearances, torture, use of child soldiers, widespread demolition of buildings, indiscriminate attacks, and unlawful restrictions on the movement of people fleeing the fighting.

Trapped Civilians
On May 22, the Iraqi government called on civilians inside the city, 65 kilometres west of Baghdad, to leave through unspecified secured routes. Fourteen thousand people have managed to escapethe areas surrounding the city center and reach displacement camps in the neighboring town of Amiriyat Fallujah.

Since the government offensive began on May 23, there have been regular reports of ISIS executing or shooting at civilians attempting to flee. A foreign correspondent told Human Rights Watch that Shia militiamen holding positions in Saqlawiya, a town northwest of the city, said they witnessed civilians carrying white flags make several failed attempts to escape from areas still under ISIS control. In each instance, ISIS opened fire on the militia positions the civilians were attempting to reach, forcing them to turn back. They said they had not seen ISIS firing directly on the civilians.

In early May, ISIS retook Hassi and Al-Bu Huwa, two villages south of Fallujah, for a few days. An engineer from Al-Bu Huwa who was able to escape to Baghdad said that, on May 10, ISIS ordered residents to evacuate the villages for Fallujah. Members of Al-Bu Isa tribe gathered their fighters together and refused the order, he said. He also said he had heard that two Al-Bu Isa women committed suicide. ISIS responded by executing 25 Al-Bu Isa men. The engineer said he saw the bodies of the executed men as he left the village. He said he escaped from ISIS as he was being transferred to Fallujah.

Intermingling with Civilians
ISIS is also exposing civilians to harm by placing their fighters among them, Human Rights Watch said. A man whose family is still in Fallujah with intermittent access to a phone said they told him that ISIS forced all civilians in the city, including his family, to relocate to the center, among its fighters.

In northern Iraq, on the Makhmur front line, the Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmerga and volunteer National Mobilization Forces, a group of volunteers within the Popular Mobilization Forces, are battling ISIS near Qayyara. Local residents who escaped Mahana, Kudila, Kharabarut and other villages near there told Human Rights Watch in late May that ISIS forces had fired from in between houses they said were inhabited by civilians at the time, which were then hit by return artillery fire.

Attacks on Civilian Objects
One man with family inside Fallujah showed Human Rights Watch photographs that he said a Fallujah General Hospital staff member sent him after an attack on the hospital at 8 p.m. on May 25. The hospital worker wrote that an airstrike damaged the emergency room and other parts of the facility. He said that ISIS fighters had been occupying the second floor of the hospital for months. The man was unable to confirm the extent of the damage or whether any civilians were wounded or killed in the attack.

A doctor who used to work at Fallujah hospital but left the city in 2015 sent Human Rights Watch footage of damage to the building and interviews with patients who said they had been wounded in the attack, but that it had been Iraqi forces’ shelling rather than an airstrike. He said the emergency room had been able to continue functioning despite the damage.

The hospital staff member said he was unaware of either the Iraqi military or the coalition informing patients and staff of an impending strike, such as through public messages or dropping flyers.

Under the laws of war, applicable to the armed conflict in Iraq, all hospitals and other medical facilities, whether civilian or military, have special protection. They may not be targeted, even if being used to treat enemy fighters. Medical facilities remain protected unless they are used to commit hostile acts that are outside their humanitarian function. Even then, they are only subject to attack after a warning has been given setting a reasonable time limit, and after such warning has gone unheeded. It is a violation for armed forces or groups to occupy medical facilities.


Source:Human Rights Watch

Iraq: Authorities must rein in Fallujah forces amid allegations of torture and deaths in custody

Iraqi authorities must rein in all forces participating in the recapture of Fallujah said Amnesty International today, amid reports that men and boys fleeing the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) have been tortured and otherwise ill-treated by government-backed militias and at least three have died as a result.

Amnesty has spoken to victims who described the torture and other ill-treatment meted out to them in detention and who claim to have witnessed killings.

Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, said:

“Civilians risking their lives to escape from IS atrocities must be protected and given the humanitarian aid they desperately need. Instead it seems that some are having to run the gauntlet of being subjected to further abuse and reprisal attacks.”

Local officials in Anbar province, where Fallujah is located, told Amnesty that on Sunday (5 June), 605 men and boys were handed over to the provincial council and that many of them had injuries including fractures, contusions, welts and open wounds as a result of beatings. Three bodies were also handed over, and another detainee is believed to have died after his transfer to the city of Amariyat al-Fallujah.

The detainees were from Saqlawiya, some 9km north-west of Fallujah, and had been held captive for several days by individuals belonging to government-backed and predominantly Shi’a militias known as Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU).

Amnesty spoke to several survivors who described being held at a military base in Anbar province known as Mazra’at Tarek (Tarek’s farm) for about four days after they fled IS fighters on 2 June. 

One detainee in his forties told Amnesty International:

“The treatment was very bad… we had nothing to drink or eat… Some people drank their urine. About four or five men would come into the room, and beat people with sticks and metal pipes. I don’t know what happened to my brother and two nephews detained with me. I don’t know if they are among the dead or still detained at the farm or transferred to another place… Even those released are suffering from wounds and dehydration. Some have lost consciousness.” 

The detainees described being crammed into small rooms with their hands tied behind their backs, insulted for allegedly supporting IS, and kicked and beaten with various objects including rubber hoses and metal bars. They said they were also deprived of food, water and sanitation facilities.

Several claimed that a number of detainees died as a result of beatings, including with sharp metal objects on the head.

The detainees are now being held in Amariyat al-Fallujah for further security screening and investigations. Several reported that their identification documents had been confiscated by the PMU.

On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi acknowledged in a televised interview with Iraqiya TV that “mistakes” had been committed by some fighters participating in the battle for Fallujah and vowed not to tolerate human rights violations.

His spokesperson later announced the establishment of a human rights committee to investigate abuses.

Philip Luther said:

“The promise of investigations into human rights abuses is a welcome first step; but more needs to be done to prevent further abuses and bring to justice those suspected of criminal responsibility.

“Any security procedures carried out by Iraqi forces must comply with international human rights law and all those deprived of their liberty must be protected from enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment. Those who are reasonably suspected of having committed criminal offences should be promptly referred to judicial authorities and receive a fair trial that meets international standards. The rest must be released.”

Amnesty is calling on the Iraqi authorities to conduct full, impartial and independent investigations into allegations of torture and unlawful killings by members of the PMU with a view to bringing those responsible to justice in fair trials.

Pending investigations and prosecutions, all those reasonably suspected of committing abuses should be removed from the ranks. The fate and whereabouts of those who have been disappeared must be immediately revealed.

Background

Since the start of the military offensive by Iraqi forces to retake the city of Fallujah from IS on 23 May, an estimated 10,000 people have managed to escape mainly from the city’s outskirts according to UN agencies.

About 50,000 civilians are believed to still be trapped in the city amid reports of shelling and starvation. Civilians who fled told Amnesty that IS fighters have been preventing civilians from central Fallujah from leaving, and have forcibly moved some civilians from the outskirts to the centre of the city.

Reports have also emerged regarding the alleged unlawful killings of 17 men and boys from Karma, about 20km north-east of Fallujah, which Amnesty is investigating.

PRESS RELEASE

For immediate release 3rd June 2016

 THE SLAUGHTER OF THE INNOCENTS

Catastrophe in Fallujah

 

Western policy in Iraq is aiding and abetting the slaughter of the innocents in Fallujah. This is the controversial view of Struan Stevenson, President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA). Speaking as the operation to ‘liberate’ Fallujah from Daesh (ISIS) fanatics enters its second week, Mr Stevenson said: “We seem to have learned no lessons from the fate of Ramadi, which was ‘liberated’ from Daesh earlier this year, but the final onslaught during the battle for its recapture saw virtually every building in the city destroyed; only a handful of women, children and elderly men remained. Some estimates state that the population of Ramadi was reduced by the conflict from over one million inhabitants to less than 1,000. Thousands of innocent civilians lost their lives. The ruthless Shi’ia militias waged a genocidal campaign against the predominantly Sunni population of that city, torturing, burning and butchering men, women and children at will. They will do the same in Fallujah. Thousands of civilians will be killed. The UN estimates that up to 20,000 children are trapped in Fallujah; Daesh is using some as human shields, while others are being forced to fight; the Shi’ia militias will mercilessly butcher them.

“Militias affiliated with the Iranian regime, under the command of the Iranian terrorist Quds force leader Qassem Soleimani, are unilaterally leading the offensive and killing and slaughtering innocent civilians and burning houses and mosques and even beheading people in Fallujah. Seventeen militia groups under Iran’s command including the terrorist Badr organization with six thousand men, Asa'ib al-Haq with five thousand men, Kata'ib Hezbollah with four thousand men, Kata'ib Imam Ali with three thousand men are taking part in this operation. Footage posted online shows militias chanting sectarian slogans after beheading 17 people in the Garmeh neighbourhood of Fallujah.

“This is while according to official figures, only four thousand Sunni troops, close to the government, are taking part in this battle. The Sunni forces do not have heavy arms and are therefore deployed mainly on the side-lines of the battle. The only way to defeat Daesh and free al-Anbar Province is to organize and arm the Sunni tribes and involve them directly in the liberation of their own territories. However, the influence from Iran, which now dominates Iraq, is preventing this from happening.

“Qais al-Khazali the head of the Asa'ib militias whose crimes have been repeatedly condemned by the international community has described Fallujah and its inhabitants as “a source of terrorism” describing it as a “cancerous tumour that must be uprooted.” The former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, under whose term in office the sectarian genocide began, has described Fallujah as the “head of the snake.”

“Now the defenceless people of Fallujah are stuck between Daesh and the Iraqi militias. While the sectarian barbarities committed by the militias have created widespread condemnation both in Iraq and internationally, the al-Abadi government has unfortunately remained silent in dealing with these crimes. Sadly, the West has seen fit to assist in this holocaust by providing air strikes and bombing raids on the city. American & British airstrikes assisted in the recapture of Ramadi, crushing most of the city’s buildings and infrastructure to dust. Now warplanes from a US-led international coalition have begun bombing raids on Daesh targets around Fallujah.

“Western intervention in Iraq is being widely applauded by the mullah-led Iranian regime, which is financing, training and commanding many of the Shi’ia militias engaged in the battle against Daesh. The Iranian regime regards Daesh as a convenient vehicle for implementing its objective of ethnically cleansing the Iraqi Sunni population. By condoning this strategy, the West is relentlessly pushing Iraq’s hounded and oppressed Sunnis into an invidious position where they can either choose to support Daesh or die at the hands of the Shi’ia militias. We need to re-think Western policy and embrace Iraq’s Sunnis in a new and inclusive, Western-trained military force. The Iranian-led Shi’ia militias should be disbanded without delay and Iranian meddling in Iraq outlawed.”

Struan Stevenson

President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA)

Struan Stevenson was a Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014 and was President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq from 2009 to 2014

BAGHDAD — American commandos are on the front lines in Syria in a new push toward the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Raqqa, but in Iraq it is an entirely different story: Iran, not the United States, has become the face of an operation to retake the jihadist stronghold of Falluja from the militant group.

On the outskirts of Falluja, tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers, police officers and Shiite militiamen backed by Iran are preparing for an assault on the Sunni city, raising fears of a sectarian blood bath. Iran has placed advisers, including its top spymaster, Qassim Suleimani, on the ground to assist in the operation.

The battle over Falluja has evolved into yet another example of how United States and Iranian interests seemingly converge and clash at the same time in Iraq. Both want to defeat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. But the United States has long believed that Iran’s role, which relies on militias accused of sectarian abuses, can make matters worse by angering Sunnis and making them more sympathetic to the militants.

While the battle against the Islamic State straddles the borders of Iraq and Syria, the United States has approached it as two separate fights. In Syria, where the government of Bashar al-Assad is an enemy, America’s ally is the Kurds.

But in Iraq, where the United States backs the central government, and trains and advises the Iraqi Army, it has been limited by the role of Iran, the most powerful foreign power inside the country.

That United States dilemma is on full display in Falluja as the fighting intensifies.

Inside the city, tens of thousands of Sunni civilians are trapped, starving and lacking medicine, according to activists and interviews with residents. Some were shot dead by the Islamic State as they tried to flee, and others died under buildings that collapsed under heavy military and militia artillery bombardment in recent days, according to the United Nations.

The few civilians who have made it to safety have escaped at night, traveling through the irrigation pipes.

In an extraordinary statement on Wednesday, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the world’s pre-eminent Shiite religious leader, who lives in Najaf in southern Iraq and is said to be concerned by Iran’s growing role in Iraq, urged security forces and militia to restrain themselves and abide by “the standard behaviors of jihad.”

The grim sectarian tableau in Falluja — starving Sunni civilians trapped in a city surrounded by a mostly Shiite force — provides the backdrop to a final assault that Iraqi officials have promised will come soon.

The United States has thousands of military personnel in Iraq and has trained Iraqi security forces for nearly two years, yet is largely on the sidelines in the battle to retake Falluja. It says its air and artillery strikes have killed dozens of Islamic State fighters, including the group’s Falluja commander. But it worries that an assault on the city could backfire — inflaming the same sectarian sentiments that have allowed the Islamic State to flourish there.

Already, as the army and militiamen battled this past week in outlying areas, taking some villages and the center of the city of Karma, to the northeast, the fight has taken on sectarian overtones.

Militiamen have plastered artillery shells with the name of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a Shiite cleric close to Iran whose execution this year by Saudi Arabia, a Sunni power, deepened the region’s sectarian divide, before firing them at Falluja.

A Shiite militia leader, in a widely circulated video, is seen rallying his men with a message of revenge against the people of Falluja, whom many Iraqi Shiites believe to be Islamic State sympathizers rather than innocent civilians. Falluja is also believed to be a staging ground for suicide bombers targeting the capital, Baghdad, about 40 miles to the east. The decision to move on the city was made after several recent attacks in Baghdad killed nearly 200 people.

“Falluja is a terrorism stronghold,” said the militia leader, Aws al-Khafaji, the head of the Abu Fadhil al-Abbas militia. “It’s been the stronghold since 2004 until today.”

He continued: “There are no patriots, no real religious people in Falluja. It’s our chance to clear Iraq by eradicating the cancer of Falluja.”

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who has stressed that civilians must be protected in the operation and ordered that humanitarian corridors be opened to allow civilians to leave the city safely, disavowed the militia leader’s comments.

Reflecting these concerns of sectarianism, and the deep sense of foreboding surrounding a battle for the city, a chorus of voices in Iraq and abroad has urged restraint.

In his statement, Ayatollah Sistani said: “The Prophet Muhammad used to tell his companions before sending them to fight, to go forward in the name of Allah, with Allah and upon the religion of the messenger of Allah. Do not kill the elderly, children or women, do not steal the spoils but collect them, and do not cut down trees unless you are forced to do so.”

The concern was amplified in a second statement, released during Friday prayers by a representative for the ayatollah, saying that “saving an innocent human being from dangers around him is much more important than targeting and eliminating the enemy.”

Accounts of dire conditions in Falluja have emerged from the few residents who managed to escape in recent days, Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency, told reporters in Geneva on Friday. She said that some residents had been killed for refusing to fight for the jihadists, and that those inside were surviving on old stacks of rice, a few dates and water from unsafe sources such as drainage ditches.


Source: The New York Times


Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Sunday that Iran must stop meddling in Iraq and that the presence of Iranian military units there is "unacceptable."

His comments come as thousands of Iraqi Shiite militiamen, soldiers and police, backed by Iran, surround the Sunni city of Fallujah ahead of an operation to retake it from the Islamic State group.

Iran says its military advisers in Iraq are there at Baghdad's request to help Iraqi forces fight militants. It has repeatedly rejected Saudi criticisms of its role in Iraq, instead accusing its regional rival of supporting extremism.

Al-Jubeir, speaking in a joint press conference with British Foreign Minister Phillip Hammond in Saudi Arabia Sunday, said Iran had sown "sedition and division in Iraq" through its policies, which he said had provoked sectarianism among Sunnis and Shiites there.

Hammond had earlier held meetings with Saudi King Salman and senior princes in the Red Sea city of Jiddah to discuss the wars in Syria and Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and Iran back opposing sides of the conflicts, and the ongoing turmoil in Libya. He told reporters during the press conference that his country is committed to the security and stability of Gulf Arab countries.

Saudi Arabia and Iran severed diplomatic ties earlier this year after Iranian protesters ransacked Saudi diplomatic offices there to protest the execution of a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric in January. The tensions have impacted the annual hajj pilgrimage, required of all able-bodied Muslims to perform once in their lives.

An Iranian delegation left the kingdom after a second round of talks without reaching an agreement to send Iranian pilgrims to the hajj this year, which is taking place in September.

Saudi Arabia says it could not agree to a demand made by the Iranians to allow a Shiite ritual during the hajj that includes protests against the West and often against the Sunni-ruled kingdom itself. Saudi Arabia says formally allowing them the right to protest would lead to chaos and disrupt the flow of some two million pilgrims from around the world.

Iran's Hajj Organization said the Saudis failed to meet demands for the "security and respect" of pilgrims, while Iran's Culture Minister Ali Jannati said Sunday that Saudi "sabotage and obstacles" mean "Iranians pilgrims cannot go to hajj this year."

A stampede and crush of people during last year's hajj killed more than 2,400 pilgrims, according to an Associated Press count based on figures reported by various hajj ministries and governments. Some 464 Iranians were among the dead. The official Saudi toll of 769 people killed and 934 injured has not changed since Sept. 26, and officials have yet to address the discrepancy.

Source: ABC News


 

If the international community is serious about solving the Syrian crisis, they need to atone for the original sin that is Iraq.

Even by its customarily low standards, Iraq has sunk to even greater depths than previously thought possible. It is not as though the Iraqis do not have to contend with one of the most feared global terrorist threats that has eclipsed even al-Qaeda at its zenith, the forces of the so-called Islamic State (IS).

Nevertheless, Iraqi politicians, with their corruption, nepotism, patronage networks and Mafia-like ways, still seem to think that politicking and jockeying over who has what ministry so that they may further their own economic interests is more important than attending to the crisis afflicting the country that they were installed – I mean “elected” – to serve. One is then left to wonder just how overblown the IS threat has become.

And why should one not wonder if the IS threat has been exaggerated, when Iraq’s leaders have enough time on their hands to try and unseat one another so that their own personal cliques may benefit at the expense of the common Iraqi citizen
 
The sad thing is that, in the past few months, terrorist leaders responsible for death squads that committed some of the worst sectarian atrocities in Iraq are now being painted as heroes of democracy and Iraqi social plurality. Of course, here we are discussing Moqtada al-Sadr, scion of the Sadr family of Shia clerics, leader of the Mahdi Army terrorist organisation and of their now rebranded Peace Brigades.

Although I have elsewhere likened the prospects of Sadr acting as the hero who can save Iraq from sectarianism as being as realistic as Danger Mouse saving the world, it is still disconcerting that people can believe that a man who was up until recently overtly bent on the destruction of the Sunni population can suddenly have a change of heart.

The parliamentary tumult he caused was less to do with creating unity amongst Iraqis, and more to do with Sadr throwing his toys out of the pram because Iran has granted a greater share of power and influence to others at his expense. This is evidenced by the fact that Sadr and his supporters criticised Iranian influence over other Shia Iraqi groups in public demonstrations, ironically forgetting how his own power base was bred, funded and trained by Iran.

His criticisms of Iran did not go down well amongst either his detractors or his benefactors, as the former pointed out that he had just concluded a meeting with Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah chief and fellow Iranian stooge, and the latter, in the form of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, allegedly threatened to set their hounds on Sadr if he did not cease and desist from biting the hand that had fed him.

Nevertheless, Sadr’s antics created the perfect opportunity for other sectarian blocs, including some under the control of former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, to attempt to purge the Iraqi government of any vestige of Sunni Arab presence, even if that presence served only to legitimise the grossly intolerant and sectional parliament. To achieve these ends, parliament voted to hoist the Iraqi Islamic Party’s Sunni Arab Saleem al-Jabouri out of his chair and post as Speaker, but failed due to their own factional in-fighting and inability to agree on which bloc or party had the largest piece of the Iraqi pie, now seeping with blood.

Jabouri seemed shocked that some of his former Iran-backed allies were now trying their utmost to hurl him out of his job as parliamentary speaker. It is not as though he did not have any prior warning about the perils of being a token Sunni working in a sectarian system established by the Americans and dominated by Shia parties, many with undeniable and strong connections to the radical mullahs of Iran.

After all, American forces humiliatingly assaulted the home of former Islamic Party leader Muhsin Abdulhamid, and later Maliki was to turn on another token Sunni, former vice president Tariq al-Hashimi, and had him sentenced to death in absentia while he was in exile in Turkey. The idea that Jabouri was caught by surprise is funny in itself, and in Iraq such a person is commonly known as a qashmar – someone eminently gullible.

The disaster of Iraq’s political system is further illustrated by the country’s leaders having established Iraq as one of the most corrupt countries on Earth. In fact, Iraq ranks even lower than “fantastically corrupt” Nigeria, as Prime Minister David Cameron put it to the Queen last week. In 2012, Transparency International gave Iraq a score of just 18 out of 100 in terms of the perception of its ability to counter corruption. It has since slipped to repeatedly scoring a meagre 16 points every year since then, demonstrating how Iraq is getting worse in yet another way aside from the continuing, merciless violence.

The apathy towards Iraq has gotten so bad that almost no one is even reporting that the city of Fallujah is being smashed between the hammer of the Green Zone government and the anvil of IS fanatics. The Iraqi authorities have imposed a total siege on the city, and have been shelling it incessantly since January 2014 when IS took control. Fighting IS is one thing, and shelling Fallujah General Hospital to the point where it is barely functioning is another. In fact, it is a war crime, yet it is too inconvenient for the international community to acknowledge that the Iraq they created has surpassed Saddam Hussein by any and all metrics of brutality, mass murder and repression.

Whilst the centrepiece of much of today’s news is Syria, occasionally flitting back to Palestine now and then, Iraq is largely forgotten. It seems that society has become content to imagine that whoever is fighting IS must be good, not heeding the fact that the Iraqi government and its rampant sectarianism is largely to blame for the birth of IS in the first place. The roots of the Syrian crisis can be found deeply burrowed in the catastrophe of Iraq, its corrupt tendrils extending across the fertile crescent all the way to its main source of nourishment, Tehran.

If the international community is serious about solving the Syrian crisis, they need to atone for the original sin that is Iraq, and how it was handed over to sectarian fanatics covered in the shroud of a false democracy.


Source http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/cirque-du-iraq-1506494766

PRESS RELEASE - For immediate release 19th May 2016

In the absence of real reform,

IRAQ LURCHING TOWARDS CATASTROPHE

 

“If real and comprehensive reforms are not carried out, Iraq will lurch towards catastrophe.” This was the view expressed today by Struan Stevenson, President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA) and a former President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-2014). Stevenson strongly condemned the recent explosions in Baghdad and other cities and said it would be impossible to sort out the current crisis unless the Iranian regime and its cohorts are expelled from Iraq and the true representatives of the Sunnis are allowed to have a share of political power and to be seriously involved in the fight against Daesh (ISIS).

 He added: “The Iraqi population is sick of those politicians who use their power systematically to rob the nation and fill their offshore bank accounts, while the country’s infrastructure and public services rot and the struggle to survive intensifies. Plummeting oil revenues have shattered the Iraqi economy and the combination of venal corruption and political instability has made Iraq a high-risk zone even for bailouts from the IMF.

 “The recent events have simply reinforced the view that Prime Minister Abadi is running out of time and must stop Iran from manipulating the situation His attempts at reform have been resoundingly rebuffed by political factions who are determined to keep their hands in the national cash register. When he tried to recall parliament last week so that he could issue an ultimatum on his reform agenda, the politicians simply stayed at home, boycotting the proceedings. The main obstacles to reform are former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and his men who are under the absolute control of Tehran and act in full coordination with the militias affiliated to the terrorist Iranian Quds force.

“In an interesting development, Tariq al-Hashimi, the former vice president of Iraq and a prominent Sunni leader, who was sentenced to death in absence in a disgraceful show trial by Maliki, was taken off Interpol’s red notice list on Monday. This move by Interpol clearly exposes the level of corruption that prevailed in the Iraqi government under Maliki. It also highlights the need for al-Abadi urgently to restore the integrity of Sunni leaders who were arrested or sentenced in absentia by Maliki. 

“The political vacuum has created a seething sense of unrest and rising tension, which some commentators believe could herald a revolution and the overthrow of the Abadi government. Such a catastrophic event would play directly into the hands of the Iranian regime and Daesh, whose ultimate aims are to seize control over the whole of Iraq. Daesh has held Mosul, Iraq’s second city, for almost two years. The long awaited campaign to recapture the city began in March, but was quickly repulsed by the jihadists. Mosul’s two million Sunni inhabitants now nervously wait for the next onslaught, fearing the brutal pro-Iranian militias and the random air strikes by US and other Western bombers, almost as much as they fear the barbaric savagery of Daesh.”

 “The Sunni inhabitants of Mosul may have a long wait. Abadi has recalled most of his Iraqi military forces to provide a protective cordon around Baghdad, following the series of Daesh suicide bombings that last week killed scores of civilians. Any further deterioration in national security could pave the way for a Daesh assault on the Iraqi capital, which would inevitably suck in the Americans and potentially the British too. Obama’s reluctance to put US boots on the ground in Iraq, particularly during the dying days of his presidency, has paved the way for this crisis. But his obduracy could well be overwhelmed by a battle for Baghdad.”

Struan Stevenson concluded: “The only possible solution to the growing unrest is the formation of a government of national salvation to pacify the nation and unify Iraq. If Prime Minister Abadi is to survive, he must sweep away all of the corrupt ministers and replace them with technocrats who are prepared to work for the benefit of the country rather than to enrich themselves. He must evict the Iranian regime from Iraq and declare his liberation from their meddling. He must bring the Shi’ite militias under the immediate control of the Iraqi military and put an end to their sectarian campaign of genocidal slaughter. The US, UN and EU should quickly use their power to persuade Abadi on this course of action before it is too late.”

Office of Struan Stevenson
President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA)
Brussels

(Struan Stevenson was a Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014 and was President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq from 2009 to 2014

-- 

European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA),  1050 Brussels, Belgium

President: Struan Stevenson, Chairman of European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-2014), Members of the board: Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Vice President of the European Parliament (1999-2014); Stephen Hughes, 1st Vice-President of European Parliament Socialist Group (2009-2014),  Giulio Terzi, Former Foreign Minister of Italy; Ryszard Czarnecki,Vice-President of the European Parliament; Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC; Paulo Casaca MEP (1999-2009); Kimmo Sasi, MP (Finland), Honorary members include Tariq al-Hashemi, former Vice President of Iraq , Sid Ahmed Ghozali, former Prime Minister of Algeria

Webwww.eu-iraq.org/        Facebookwww.facebook.com/EuIraq        Twitterwww.twitter.com/EuIraq

Men who flee the ISIL-held city are often abused, or killed, by armed groups bent on revenge.

By Salam Khoder

Amiriyat al-Fallujah, Iraq - As the Iraqi armed forces and allied militias continue their battle to take Fallujah from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), a growing number of civilians have said that they were tortured after escaping the besieged city.

In one tent in the Amiriyat al-Fallujah camp, which is hosting displaced people from Fallujah, three men claimed to have been tortured while held captive by sectarian militias affiliated with the Popular Mobilisation Forces.

The men, along with their families and many others, fled the al-Azraqiyah area, northwest of Fallujah, as the Iraqi military advanced towards their houses. Although they knew the road to reach the camp was not completely safe, they decided to leave out of fear of what might happen if they stayed.

"We knew that the militias might arrest or even kill us, but we had to leave," said Abu Muhammad, 57, who asked that his real name not be used. "Staying in the area meant sure death, whereas if we tried to leave, we might have the chance of surviving - or if not us, at least our families."

Since 2014, a number of sectarian militias, collectively known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces or al-Hashd al-Shaabi, has played a major role in assisting the Iraqi armed forces in the fight against ISIL. But they have also been accused of perpetrating human rights abuses against civilians on sectarian basis.

Abu Muhammad said he experienced "days of hell" during his detention by the militia fighters. "We saw men in uniforms with army vehicles. We thought it was the Iraqi army that was approaching. We walked towards them holding white flags to make sure they know that we are civilians and unarmed," he explained.

The families soon discovered that the men in uniforms were not army soldiers, but militiamen who belong to the mobilisation forces. "They separated women and children from the men, and put everyone in houses taken from families who had fled as the military operation started," Abu Muhammad said. After two days, the women and children were moved to the Amiriyat al-Fallujah camp, while the men remained in detention.

They would put me face down, and start pulling the rope higher and higher. I felt that my limbs would be detached from my body. I lost consciousness several times during those days.

Thamer Hassoun al-Shoukor, a tortured Fallujah resident

According to Abu Muhammad, this is when the agony began.

"The militants told us: 'We know that you have fled a place which is more like hell - al-Azraqiyah - but we will send you to hell again'." 

Abu Muhammad said he was beaten repeatedly for six days. "They would beat us with water pipes; they would take turns to torture us. My hands were tied behind my back, and one of the militants sat on my chest after he got tired of beating me. He just threw himself on me. I felt my ribs breaking. I screamed in pain; I spat blood. I asked for water, but I was denied even that."

A week after their ordeal started, the Iraqi federal police arrived and moved the hundreds of detained men to the al-Mazraa military base, located east of Fallujah. They were held there for interrogation, then transferred to Amiriyat al-Fallujah.

Mahmoud al-Naji al-Shoukor, who also fled al-Azraqiyah, said he had "lost the will to live" as a result of his and his family's treatment at the hands of the sectarian militia.

"I was humiliated by my countrymen for reasons I do not comprehend until now. My two brothers, Ahmad and Hussein al-Naji al-Shoukor, along with my two cousins Muthanna and Ahmad al-Naji al-Shoukor were detained the same night. But we still have not found them; they are still missing. I think they are dead - so I have nothing left to lose."

While detained, Mahmoud said he saw civilians being slaughtered "like chicken", and that he himself was very close to being executed. "They put some of us in a line on our knees, with our eyes blindfolded," he said.

"They started taking us one by one. They killed several men before it was my turn. I could hear the men scream and beg the militia men to spare their lives - they were swearing that they never fought, and that they never joined ISIL - but that did not stop the militia fighters from killing them," Mahmoud told Al Jazeera.

"One of the fighters dragged me on the ground, saying that it is my turn to die. But at that moment I heard a voice saying that the killing has to stop, because the religious authority in al-Najaf [the religious leader of Iraq's Shia, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani] had issued an order that was circulating among the militia men to stop the executions after the news of sectarian killings had been leaked."

Mahmoud said the militiamen told them that if it weren't for Sistani's orders, all of them would have been killed in a "blink of an eye".

Removing his shirt, Mahmoud showed the marks of torture on his body: Deep wounds from beating and flogging.

The third man in the tent was Thamer Hassoun Mohammad al-Shoukor. He was unable to easily move his arms: For six days, his hands were tied behind his back from the elbow, and his legs tied together from the ankles. 

"They would put me face down, and start pulling the rope higher and higher. I felt that my limbs would be detached from my body. I lost consciousness several times during those days," Shoukor said.

One night, they heard the sound of a helicopter approaching. It was the Iraqi federal police. "If they did not show up, we could have been dead," he said.

Upon the men's arrival at the al-Mazraa military base, they were immediately given food and water, and several medical teams attended to those in urgent need of care. 

"When we arrived, lots of tribal fighters from Hashed al-Anbar, which is a Sunni militia fighting with the government forces, started comforting us and telling us that our families are safe in Amiriyat al-Fallujah camp, and that we will be released once we receive medical care," Thamer said.

That same night, they received a visit from Yahia al-Ghazi, a member of parliament from the province. "We asked him about our families and about other men who were detained with us. All he had to say was that, 'we thank God that you are alive', and that our families were in the camp. But he didn't give us any information on the missing men and boys."

Sohaib al-Rawi, the governor of al-Anbar province where Fallujah is located, confirmed that civilians fleeing the city and surrounding areas had been tortured by some militias fighting alongside the Iraqi armed forces.

Rawi told Al Jazeera that "more than 49 civilians have lost their lives under torture". He added that 643 men were missing, with no information on whether they had been executed or are still in detention.

Although Rawi refused to give the name of the militia that carried out these acts, he said that "the government and the security forces were given the names of the 643 who are still missing".

Last week, Human Rights Watch issued a report stating that it had "received credible allegations of summary executions, beatings of unarmed men, enforced disappearances, and mutilation of corpses by government forces over the two weeks of fighting, mostly on the outskirts of the city of Fallujah".

Quoting witnesses who survived the killings, the report found that "a group consisting of Federal Police and PMF [Popular Mobilisation Forces] had separated men from women, marched the men to where the troops' officers were, lined them up, and shot at least 17 of them, including one teenage boy".

On Wednesday, June 15, Salama al-Khufaji, a member of the Iraqi Commission for Human Rights, announced that Iraqi security forces had arrested a militia fighter in connection with the killing of the 17 civilians.

However, it is yet to be seen whether other militiamen involved in abuses will face justice.

Source: Aljazeera

 

Baghdad – While Sadr is in Iran for seclusion, a number of his followers attacked offices of certain political parties in south Iraq. The attackiers torched the offices including the photos of Khomeini and Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei.

Council member of one of the southern districts told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the attacks also targeted offices of factions and parties affiliated with Iran. The council member, who preferred to remain anonymous, said protesters also burned the photos of political leaders and religious authorities including the leaders of the Islamic republic.

Consequently, a number of parties and forces in Amarah district gave the Sadrist movement 24 hours to denounce the members that burned down their offices.

Of the parties protesting: Badr Organization, Dawa Party Head Office, al-Jihad wa Binaa Movement, Islamic Supreme Council, Dawa Party, League of Righteous, Khorasani Brigades, Imam’s Soldiers’ Battalions, Imam Ali Brigades, and Abu Fadhal al-Abbas Brigades.

Meanwhile, Sadrist Movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr called for excluding Najaf from protests after a wave of office attacks of several Shi’ite parties in the country’s south and center. When asked by his followers, Sadr said in a statement issued Friday: “Yes exclude Najaf from protests for its sanctity. Who wants to protest shall go to Baghdad.”

He added that protests against corrupt parties should be peaceful whether in Najaf or any other district.

Earlier, Sadr called for postponing protests demanding reform during the month of Ramadan. He considered protests a kind of prayer and devotion.

Following a series of attacks on political parties, fears have risen of inter-Shi’ite clashes in the country’s central and southern districts. Security forces blocked all roads and bridges leading to the Liberation Square in central Baghdad where protests have been ongoing for over a year.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Abadi warned of the “reckless” behavior that targets public facilities or any political office.

Abadi urged in his statement political leaders to reject such heinous acts and called on patriotic demonstrators to distance themselves from such acts of extremism.

Ministry of Interior (MoI) announced it had taken all required measures to protect state institutions.

MoI pledged in a statement to protect all public and private institutions, headquarters of political parties, and other organizations.

The statement added that the ISIS strategy is to keep security forces occupied to alleviate the pressure from Fallujah and whoever wants reform should resort to peaceful protests.

Commander of Civil Democratic Alliance Jasem Halfi said that the weekly protests in Baghdad are done in coordination with many parties including the Sadrist Movement. He added that the protests are peaceful and aim to achieve reform.

Halfi confirmed they will carry on with the peaceful protests unified under Iraqi flag.

Friday prayer Imam of Najaf Sadr Din Qabbanji warned of a Shi’ite-Shi’ite conflict after a series of offices in several districts have been torched. He added that the government is responsible of protecting the public institutions, while denouncing the anonymous groups that attacked the public institutions. Qabbanji said: “While we are preparing to liberate Fallujah, some are trying to create a Shiite – Shiite strife.

Qabbanji explained that religious leaders are with protests but attacking offices is not acceptable.

Source: ASHARQ AL-AWSAT

RESS RELEASE

For immediate release 10th June 2016

IRAQ: INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY IGNORING ETHNIC CLEANSING IN FALLUJAH

Horrific sectarian atrocities are being committed in the final push to ‘liberate’ the ancient city of Fallujah, 43 miles from Baghdad. Iranian-led Shi’ite militias who form the main part of the force fighting to re-capture the city from Daesh (ISIS) are systematically arresting Sunni men and women fleeing the besieged city. Many are being tortured and executed.

Struan Stevenson, President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association said today: “The international community must stop this barbaric crime against innocent civilians. The Shi’ite militias are financed and led by the Iranian terrorist Qods Force whose senior commander General Qasem Soleimani is on the EU and US terrorist lists. Soleimani is spearheading the attack on Fallujah. His presence was confirmed in an astonishing statement by Iraq’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim Jafari on 7th June, when he said:  “Qasem Soleimani provides military advice on Iraqi soil and this is with the complete awareness of our government.”

“Iran is exploiting their role in ousting Daesh (ISIS) as a means for implementing their genocidal policy of ethnic cleansing to annihilate the Sunnis in Iraq’s al-Anbar Province. They claim that they have to detain all people fleeing from the city in case some of them may be Daesh jihadists. But this is simply an excuse to perpetrate barbaric atrocities on innocent Sunnis.

On 7th June the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said: “Eyewitnesses have described how armed groups operating in support of the Iraqi security forces are intercepting people fleeing the conflict, separating the men and teenage boys from the women and children, and detaining the males for ‘security screening’, which in some cases degenerates into physical violations and other forms of abuse, apparently in order to elicit forced confessions. There are even allegations that some individuals have been summarily executed by these armed groups.”

“The same thing happened during the so-called liberation of Ramadi, a city of over one million predominantly Sunni people, which was reduced to dust and rubble. Barely a single building has been left intact and the male population has simply disappeared. This scenario is being repeated in Fallujah, where mass graves have already been discovered in some of the nearby Sunni villages containing bodies that have been burned, stabbed and brutalised.

“The United Nations on Wednesday 8th June revised significantly their estimate of the number of civilians believed trapped in besieged Fallujah, raising the figure to 90,000 from a previous estimate of 50,000. It seems clear that there has been a deliberate attempt by Iraqi forces to provide a lower figure for the civilian population in Fallujah, in order to hide the inevitable death toll arising from the savage bombardment of residential areas, as well as the active participation of the Iranian regime's Qods Force and its affiliated militias.

“Tehran is relentlessly strengthening its grip over Iraq. Corruption and poor training has rendered the Iraqi army almost useless, leaving a vacuum, which the Iranian regime has been quick to fill, pressurising Iraq’s Prime Minister into allowing the Iranian-funded militias to take control of military operations. Political disarray in Baghdad, combined with a directionless and dysfunctional American foreign policy, has paved the way for the fascist Iranian mullah-led regime to consolidate its hold in Iraq.

“The European Iraqi Freedom Association has repeatedly warned of the dangers of allowing the Iranian-funded Shi’ite militias to have free reign in Iraq and our warnings have been ignored. The Iraqi Sunnis of al-Anbar have paid a heavy price for international complacency. Once they have achieved their sectarian objectives in Fallujah, Tehran will turn its attention to Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city with a population of more than two million Sunnis. Daesh has held Mosul for more than two years and its ethnic cleansing features highly on the Iranian regime’s priority list.

“How much longer can the international community remain silent in the face of such crimes against humanity? The Iranian-funded and led militias are now guilty of crimes every bit as horrific as the terrorist Daesh jihadists who they are supposed to be trying to defeat. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, US President Barack Obama and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Federica Mogherini must speak out now and demand an end to these atrocities and an end to Iranian meddling in Iraq.”

Office of Struan Stevenson
President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA)
Brussels

 

(Struan Stevenson was a Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014 and was President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq from 2009 to 2014.)

-- 

European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA),  1050 Brussels, Belgium


President: Struan Stevenson, Chairman of European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-2014), Members of the board: Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Vice President of the European Parliament (1999-2014); Stephen Hughes, 1st Vice-President of European Parliament Socialist Group (2009-2014),  Giulio Terzi, Former Foreign Minister of Italy; Ryszard Czarnecki,Vice-President of the European Parliament; Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC; Paulo Casaca MEP (1999-2009); Kimmo Sasi, MP (Finland), Honorary members include Tariq al-Hashemi, former Vice President of Iraq , Sid Ahmed Ghozali, former Prime Minister of Algeria

 

Webwww.eu-iraq.org/        Facebookwww.facebook.com/EuIraq        Twitterwww.twitter.com/EuIraq

Investigate Government Command Responsibility; ISIS Stops Civilians From Fleeing

(Beirut) – The announced investigation into allegations of abuse of civilians around Fallujah by Iraqi government forces is a test for the government’s ability to hold abusive forces accountable. Judicial officials should conduct this investigation transparently and impartially, assess co

mmand responsibility, and ensure protection for victims and witnesses.

Ahead of the offensive in Fallujah against forces of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that his government had taken measures to protect civilians. Human Rights Watch, however, has received credible allegations of summary executions, beatings of unarmed men, enforced disappearances, and mutilation of corpses by government forces over the two weeks of fighting, mostly on the outskirts of the city, since May 23. On June 4, 2016, in response to allegations of abuse, al-Abadi launched an investigation into abuses in Fallujah and issued orders to arrest those responsible for “transgressions” against civilians. On June 7, al-Abadi announcedthe “detention and transfer of those accused of committing violations to the judiciary to receive their punishment according to the law.”

“The Iraqi government needs to control and hold accountable its own forces if it hopes to claim the moral upper hand in its fight against ISIS,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “It’s high time for Iraqi authorities to unravel the web of culpability underlying the government forces’ repeated outrages against civilians.”

Human Rights Watch also expressed grave concern about reports of ISIS preventing civilians from fleeing Fallujah and allegedly executing and shooting at those who attempted to do so. Human Rights Watch is concerned about the presence of ISIS fighters among civilians inside Fallujah, perhaps amounting to human shielding, a war crime. But the presence of fighters among civilians does not absolve forces fighting ISIS from the obligation to target only military objectives and to take all feasible measures to avoid civilian harm, Human Rights Watch said. ISIS forces should allow civilians to leave areas under their control and not use civilians to shield its military objectives from attack, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch directed questions about the composition of the investigative committee, its authority, and relation to the judiciary to five Iraqi government institutions in addition to the human rights section of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq. A member of the parliamentary Human Rights Committee told Human Rights Watch that the committee had started its own investigation and was liaising with the investigation by the prime minister’s office, which remained secret. The other officials contacted did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

On June 3, Human Rights Watch received information alleging that members of the Federal Police and the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an auxiliary fighting force created after ISIS advanced in June 2014, and that includes many pre-existing Shia militias, had executed more than a dozen civilians from the Jumaila tribe fleeing Sajar, a village north of Fallujah. Human Rights Watch spoke to five people, including two officials from Anbar governorate, who said they were protecting three surviving witnesses to the executions.

Three of those interviewed confirmed the account that a survivor gave on Tigris (Dijla) Channel television that a group consisting of Federal Police and PMF had separated men from women, marched the men to where the troops’ officers were, lined them up, and shot at least 17 of them, including one teenage boy. One person said that the incident took place on June 2. The PMF are, at least nominally, under the command of the prime minister.

One of the Anbar governorate officials provided Human Rights Watch with a list of names of those killed and said that the incident happened near the Sharhabil school in Al-Bu Sudaira neighborhood in the northern outskirts of Fallujah. The other Anbar official said that the witnesses met with senior Iraqi government officials on June 5, following which he said Prime Minister al-Abadi launched an investigation into the incident. A former Iraqi government official with good contacts in the security forces told Human Rights Watch, on June 5, that the investigation had already led to the arrest of a police officer whom survivors could name.

Another person who said he was in the Sajar area, 7 kilometers northeast of Fallujah, at the time told Human Rights Watch that on May 28, he saw Federal Police and PMF, including dozens of fighters from the Badr Brigades and Hezbollah (two prominent Shia militias in the PMF), fatally shoot civilians with white flags raised fleeing toward the government forces that day. He said that a fighter told him his superior officer had ordered the shootings. He also told Human Rights Watch he was in Saqlawiya around May 30. This person said a villager and several PMF fighters in the area told him that PMF fighters stabbed dozens of villagers to death with knives.

On June 6, an Anbar governorate official who provided the names for those killed from the Jumaila tribe was visiting a camp for internally displaced people in Amiriyat Fallujah, a town south of Fallujah itself, when he spoke to Human Rights Watch. More than 600 men whom Hezbollah and the Badr Brigades, among other PMFs, had released from detention the day before had just arrived in Amiriyat Fallujah Hospital, he said. He added that the militias had detained the men, most from the al-Mahamda tribe, since the beginning of the operation in homes and other buildings in the Hayy al-Shuhada area in Saqlawiya, only releasing them on June 5. He said that he saw hundreds of people among the former detainees who showed signs of torture, including rape, burns, knife cuts, and bruising from beatings. He said the men who were released told him that they saw the PMF fighters take away another at least 600 al-Mahamda men.

A Baghdad resident told Human Rights Watch on June 6 that during a visit to Amiriyat Fallujah Hospital on June 5, she saw hundreds of visibly injured men. Five of the men she spoke to said that PMF forces detained them in groups as they recaptured Saqlawiya over the previous or two weeks. The men told her that the PMF had altogether arrested 1,700 men, whom they beat and dragged bound to a moving car by a rope (sahl) before releasing 605 men to receive medical treatment on June 5. The woman said the men told her that four men died from beatings and from being dragged behind cars. She told Human Rights Watch that hospital staff in Amiriyat Fallujah said a fifth man died on June 5 in the hospital. Human Rights Watch reviewed a video of three injured men stepping out of an ambulance at what the person said was Amiriyat Fallujah Hospital, in addition to pictures of half a dozen injured men being treated in the hospital’s garden.

On May 24, Human Rights Watch viewed a video, uploaded on May 23, in which a commander tells a room filled with fighters that Fallujah had been a bastion of terrorism since 2004 and that no civilians or true Muslims were left inside the city. The video bore the logo of Abu al-Fadhl al-Abbas, one of the brigades within the Leagues of the Righteous militia that is part of the PMF. On May 27, Iraqi activists sent Human Rights Watch two videos they said were filmed on the outskirts of Fallujah over the previous days depicting abuses against local residents by government forces: one showed armed men in a mix of civilian and military dress driving two pickup trucks, each dragging a corpse behind them; the second showed armed men surrounding a pile of corpses and severed heads. In the clip a commander counted 16 decapitated bodies and heads. Human Rights Watch was not able to verify the origins of either video. On June 3, Human Rights Watch viewed a widely circulated video on Facebook, uploaded on June 3, which shows a man in a military-type uniform beating at least nine men lying on the ground with a large wooden stick while accusing them of collaborating with ISIS in “Fallujah”. Human Rights Watch was unable to verify the exact location and time of the videos.

A local sheikh from Karma, a town northeast of Fallujah, told Human Rights Watch that within the first few days of the military operation to retake the city, the Iraq Security Forces, PMF, police, and Sunni forces forced civilians living there to leave. During the exodus, at least 70 young men disappeared, he said, and the families have no information as to their whereabouts. The sheikh said that on June 1, the Iraqi Parliament Speaker, Salim al-Jiburi, had come to the area to speak to local elders and the military. A member of Anbar governorate council, who also provided information about the launch of the prime minister’s investigation, confirmed the number of missing men to Human Rights Watch and said that the government had opened investigations to determine where they are.

The military routinely separates men from women and takes the men for security screenings to determine their involvement with ISIS forces, according to all witnesses Human Rights Watch interviewed. The authorities may impose reasonable and proportionate security measures, but should do so under judicial supervision and in a transparent manner, Human Rights Watch said. The families of anyone detained should know where they are being held, and all persons detained should promptly be brought before a judge to determine the legality of their detention.

All suspected crimes, including torture, murder, and other abuses, committed by members of any side in the conflict, should be investigated by the criminal justice authorities, speedily, transparently, and effectively, up to the highest levels responsible. When evidence of criminal responsibility emerges, prosecutions should follow. Those conducting such criminal investigations and making decisions about prosecutions should be independent of those being investigated, including being outside any military chain of command and being free from political interference in their decisions. The authorities should ensure the safety of all witnesses. At the same time, a commission of inquiry or equivalent should be created to examine the wider concerns about whether such crimes and abuses are being committed in a widespread or systematic way.

On June 3, the highest Shia religious authority, Ayatollah al-Sistani “cautioned” that fighters must not attack non-combatants materially or psychologically. On June 5, Hadi al-Amiri, the commander of the Badr Brigades, vowedto hold those responsible for abuse accountable.

“I acknowledge that there were mistakes,” al-Abadi told Iraqi state television on June 4, “but they were not systematic and we will not cover up any [of them].”

“The government should not stand idly by while fighters commit atrocities in its name,” Stork said. “Political, security, and judicial officials should work together transparently to establish the truth about what has happened around Fallujah and why.”

The Fallujah Operation
On May 23, Iraqi security forces began operations to retake Fallujah, where UN officials estimate about 50,000 civilians, including 20,000 children, remain. Those forces include the elite US-trained military Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), local and federal police, militias under the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) umbrella, Sunni fighters from Anbar province, and Iraqi and US-led coalition air forces.

ISIS captured the city in early 2014. Government forces cut off supply routes into the city after recapturing nearby Ramadi in late December 2015 and the al-Jazira desert area north of Fallujah in March 2016. In late March, a medical source in Fallujah told Human Rights Watch that each day starving children were arriving at the local hospital and most foodstuffs were no longer available at any price. In April, Iraqi activists in touch with families inside Fallujah told Human Rights Watch that conditions had reduced families to eating flat bread made with flour from ground date seeds and soups from grass. A man who fled Fallujah in 2014 said in late May that sources in the city told him people who escaped from Fallujah in May 2016 were dropping plastic bags and water bottles filled with medical supplies into the Euphrates upstream for trapped residents to recover from the river as it ran through the city.

Human Rights Watch has not had access to Fallujah, but obtained information on conditions inside the city from relatives, journalists, officials, and humanitarian workers who said they had been in touch with people remaining there.

In recent years Human Rights Watch has documented extensive laws of war violations by the ISIS as well as by Iraqi military and the largely Shia militias that make up the Popular Mobilization Forces, including summary executions, disappearances, torture, use of child soldiers, widespread demolition of buildings, indiscriminate attacks, and unlawful restrictions on the movement of people fleeing the fighting.

Trapped Civilians
On May 22, the Iraqi government called on civilians inside the city, 65 kilometres west of Baghdad, to leave through unspecified secured routes. Fourteen thousand people have managed to escapethe areas surrounding the city center and reach displacement camps in the neighboring town of Amiriyat Fallujah.

Since the government offensive began on May 23, there have been regular reports of ISIS executing or shooting at civilians attempting to flee. A foreign correspondent told Human Rights Watch that Shia militiamen holding positions in Saqlawiya, a town northwest of the city, said they witnessed civilians carrying white flags make several failed attempts to escape from areas still under ISIS control. In each instance, ISIS opened fire on the militia positions the civilians were attempting to reach, forcing them to turn back. They said they had not seen ISIS firing directly on the civilians.

In early May, ISIS retook Hassi and Al-Bu Huwa, two villages south of Fallujah, for a few days. An engineer from Al-Bu Huwa who was able to escape to Baghdad said that, on May 10, ISIS ordered residents to evacuate the villages for Fallujah. Members of Al-Bu Isa tribe gathered their fighters together and refused the order, he said. He also said he had heard that two Al-Bu Isa women committed suicide. ISIS responded by executing 25 Al-Bu Isa men. The engineer said he saw the bodies of the executed men as he left the village. He said he escaped from ISIS as he was being transferred to Fallujah.

Intermingling with Civilians
ISIS is also exposing civilians to harm by placing their fighters among them, Human Rights Watch said. A man whose family is still in Fallujah with intermittent access to a phone said they told him that ISIS forced all civilians in the city, including his family, to relocate to the center, among its fighters.

In northern Iraq, on the Makhmur front line, the Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmerga and volunteer National Mobilization Forces, a group of volunteers within the Popular Mobilization Forces, are battling ISIS near Qayyara. Local residents who escaped Mahana, Kudila, Kharabarut and other villages near there told Human Rights Watch in late May that ISIS forces had fired from in between houses they said were inhabited by civilians at the time, which were then hit by return artillery fire.

Attacks on Civilian Objects
One man with family inside Fallujah showed Human Rights Watch photographs that he said a Fallujah General Hospital staff member sent him after an attack on the hospital at 8 p.m. on May 25. The hospital worker wrote that an airstrike damaged the emergency room and other parts of the facility. He said that ISIS fighters had been occupying the second floor of the hospital for months. The man was unable to confirm the extent of the damage or whether any civilians were wounded or killed in the attack.

A doctor who used to work at Fallujah hospital but left the city in 2015 sent Human Rights Watch footage of damage to the building and interviews with patients who said they had been wounded in the attack, but that it had been Iraqi forces’ shelling rather than an airstrike. He said the emergency room had been able to continue functioning despite the damage.

The hospital staff member said he was unaware of either the Iraqi military or the coalition informing patients and staff of an impending strike, such as through public messages or dropping flyers.

Under the laws of war, applicable to the armed conflict in Iraq, all hospitals and other medical facilities, whether civilian or military, have special protection. They may not be targeted, even if being used to treat enemy fighters. Medical facilities remain protected unless they are used to commit hostile acts that are outside their humanitarian function. Even then, they are only subject to attack after a warning has been given setting a reasonable time limit, and after such warning has gone unheeded. It is a violation for armed forces or groups to occupy medical facilities.


Source:Human Rights Watch

Iraq: Authorities must rein in Fallujah forces amid allegations of torture and deaths in custody

Iraqi authorities must rein in all forces participating in the recapture of Fallujah said Amnesty International today, amid reports that men and boys fleeing the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) have been tortured and otherwise ill-treated by government-backed militias and at least three have died as a result.

Amnesty has spoken to victims who described the torture and other ill-treatment meted out to them in detention and who claim to have witnessed killings.

Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, said:

“Civilians risking their lives to escape from IS atrocities must be protected and given the humanitarian aid they desperately need. Instead it seems that some are having to run the gauntlet of being subjected to further abuse and reprisal attacks.”

Local officials in Anbar province, where Fallujah is located, told Amnesty that on Sunday (5 June), 605 men and boys were handed over to the provincial council and that many of them had injuries including fractures, contusions, welts and open wounds as a result of beatings. Three bodies were also handed over, and another detainee is believed to have died after his transfer to the city of Amariyat al-Fallujah.

The detainees were from Saqlawiya, some 9km north-west of Fallujah, and had been held captive for several days by individuals belonging to government-backed and predominantly Shi’a militias known as Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU).

Amnesty spoke to several survivors who described being held at a military base in Anbar province known as Mazra’at Tarek (Tarek’s farm) for about four days after they fled IS fighters on 2 June. 

One detainee in his forties told Amnesty International:

“The treatment was very bad… we had nothing to drink or eat… Some people drank their urine. About four or five men would come into the room, and beat people with sticks and metal pipes. I don’t know what happened to my brother and two nephews detained with me. I don’t know if they are among the dead or still detained at the farm or transferred to another place… Even those released are suffering from wounds and dehydration. Some have lost consciousness.” 

The detainees described being crammed into small rooms with their hands tied behind their backs, insulted for allegedly supporting IS, and kicked and beaten with various objects including rubber hoses and metal bars. They said they were also deprived of food, water and sanitation facilities.

Several claimed that a number of detainees died as a result of beatings, including with sharp metal objects on the head.

The detainees are now being held in Amariyat al-Fallujah for further security screening and investigations. Several reported that their identification documents had been confiscated by the PMU.

On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi acknowledged in a televised interview with Iraqiya TV that “mistakes” had been committed by some fighters participating in the battle for Fallujah and vowed not to tolerate human rights violations.

His spokesperson later announced the establishment of a human rights committee to investigate abuses.

Philip Luther said:

“The promise of investigations into human rights abuses is a welcome first step; but more needs to be done to prevent further abuses and bring to justice those suspected of criminal responsibility.

“Any security procedures carried out by Iraqi forces must comply with international human rights law and all those deprived of their liberty must be protected from enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment. Those who are reasonably suspected of having committed criminal offences should be promptly referred to judicial authorities and receive a fair trial that meets international standards. The rest must be released.”

Amnesty is calling on the Iraqi authorities to conduct full, impartial and independent investigations into allegations of torture and unlawful killings by members of the PMU with a view to bringing those responsible to justice in fair trials.

Pending investigations and prosecutions, all those reasonably suspected of committing abuses should be removed from the ranks. The fate and whereabouts of those who have been disappeared must be immediately revealed.

Background

Since the start of the military offensive by Iraqi forces to retake the city of Fallujah from IS on 23 May, an estimated 10,000 people have managed to escape mainly from the city’s outskirts according to UN agencies.

About 50,000 civilians are believed to still be trapped in the city amid reports of shelling and starvation. Civilians who fled told Amnesty that IS fighters have been preventing civilians from central Fallujah from leaving, and have forcibly moved some civilians from the outskirts to the centre of the city.

Reports have also emerged regarding the alleged unlawful killings of 17 men and boys from Karma, about 20km north-east of Fallujah, which Amnesty is investigating.

PRESS RELEASE

For immediate release 3rd June 2016

 THE SLAUGHTER OF THE INNOCENTS

Catastrophe in Fallujah

 

Western policy in Iraq is aiding and abetting the slaughter of the innocents in Fallujah. This is the controversial view of Struan Stevenson, President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA). Speaking as the operation to ‘liberate’ Fallujah from Daesh (ISIS) fanatics enters its second week, Mr Stevenson said: “We seem to have learned no lessons from the fate of Ramadi, which was ‘liberated’ from Daesh earlier this year, but the final onslaught during the battle for its recapture saw virtually every building in the city destroyed; only a handful of women, children and elderly men remained. Some estimates state that the population of Ramadi was reduced by the conflict from over one million inhabitants to less than 1,000. Thousands of innocent civilians lost their lives. The ruthless Shi’ia militias waged a genocidal campaign against the predominantly Sunni population of that city, torturing, burning and butchering men, women and children at will. They will do the same in Fallujah. Thousands of civilians will be killed. The UN estimates that up to 20,000 children are trapped in Fallujah; Daesh is using some as human shields, while others are being forced to fight; the Shi’ia militias will mercilessly butcher them.

“Militias affiliated with the Iranian regime, under the command of the Iranian terrorist Quds force leader Qassem Soleimani, are unilaterally leading the offensive and killing and slaughtering innocent civilians and burning houses and mosques and even beheading people in Fallujah. Seventeen militia groups under Iran’s command including the terrorist Badr organization with six thousand men, Asa'ib al-Haq with five thousand men, Kata'ib Hezbollah with four thousand men, Kata'ib Imam Ali with three thousand men are taking part in this operation. Footage posted online shows militias chanting sectarian slogans after beheading 17 people in the Garmeh neighbourhood of Fallujah.

“This is while according to official figures, only four thousand Sunni troops, close to the government, are taking part in this battle. The Sunni forces do not have heavy arms and are therefore deployed mainly on the side-lines of the battle. The only way to defeat Daesh and free al-Anbar Province is to organize and arm the Sunni tribes and involve them directly in the liberation of their own territories. However, the influence from Iran, which now dominates Iraq, is preventing this from happening.

“Qais al-Khazali the head of the Asa'ib militias whose crimes have been repeatedly condemned by the international community has described Fallujah and its inhabitants as “a source of terrorism” describing it as a “cancerous tumour that must be uprooted.” The former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, under whose term in office the sectarian genocide began, has described Fallujah as the “head of the snake.”

“Now the defenceless people of Fallujah are stuck between Daesh and the Iraqi militias. While the sectarian barbarities committed by the militias have created widespread condemnation both in Iraq and internationally, the al-Abadi government has unfortunately remained silent in dealing with these crimes. Sadly, the West has seen fit to assist in this holocaust by providing air strikes and bombing raids on the city. American & British airstrikes assisted in the recapture of Ramadi, crushing most of the city’s buildings and infrastructure to dust. Now warplanes from a US-led international coalition have begun bombing raids on Daesh targets around Fallujah.

“Western intervention in Iraq is being widely applauded by the mullah-led Iranian regime, which is financing, training and commanding many of the Shi’ia militias engaged in the battle against Daesh. The Iranian regime regards Daesh as a convenient vehicle for implementing its objective of ethnically cleansing the Iraqi Sunni population. By condoning this strategy, the West is relentlessly pushing Iraq’s hounded and oppressed Sunnis into an invidious position where they can either choose to support Daesh or die at the hands of the Shi’ia militias. We need to re-think Western policy and embrace Iraq’s Sunnis in a new and inclusive, Western-trained military force. The Iranian-led Shi’ia militias should be disbanded without delay and Iranian meddling in Iraq outlawed.”

Struan Stevenson

President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA)

Struan Stevenson was a Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014 and was President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq from 2009 to 2014

BAGHDAD — American commandos are on the front lines in Syria in a new push toward the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Raqqa, but in Iraq it is an entirely different story: Iran, not the United States, has become the face of an operation to retake the jihadist stronghold of Falluja from the militant group.

On the outskirts of Falluja, tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers, police officers and Shiite militiamen backed by Iran are preparing for an assault on the Sunni city, raising fears of a sectarian blood bath. Iran has placed advisers, including its top spymaster, Qassim Suleimani, on the ground to assist in the operation.

The battle over Falluja has evolved into yet another example of how United States and Iranian interests seemingly converge and clash at the same time in Iraq. Both want to defeat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. But the United States has long believed that Iran’s role, which relies on militias accused of sectarian abuses, can make matters worse by angering Sunnis and making them more sympathetic to the militants.

While the battle against the Islamic State straddles the borders of Iraq and Syria, the United States has approached it as two separate fights. In Syria, where the government of Bashar al-Assad is an enemy, America’s ally is the Kurds.

But in Iraq, where the United States backs the central government, and trains and advises the Iraqi Army, it has been limited by the role of Iran, the most powerful foreign power inside the country.

That United States dilemma is on full display in Falluja as the fighting intensifies.

Inside the city, tens of thousands of Sunni civilians are trapped, starving and lacking medicine, according to activists and interviews with residents. Some were shot dead by the Islamic State as they tried to flee, and others died under buildings that collapsed under heavy military and militia artillery bombardment in recent days, according to the United Nations.

The few civilians who have made it to safety have escaped at night, traveling through the irrigation pipes.

In an extraordinary statement on Wednesday, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the world’s pre-eminent Shiite religious leader, who lives in Najaf in southern Iraq and is said to be concerned by Iran’s growing role in Iraq, urged security forces and militia to restrain themselves and abide by “the standard behaviors of jihad.”

The grim sectarian tableau in Falluja — starving Sunni civilians trapped in a city surrounded by a mostly Shiite force — provides the backdrop to a final assault that Iraqi officials have promised will come soon.

The United States has thousands of military personnel in Iraq and has trained Iraqi security forces for nearly two years, yet is largely on the sidelines in the battle to retake Falluja. It says its air and artillery strikes have killed dozens of Islamic State fighters, including the group’s Falluja commander. But it worries that an assault on the city could backfire — inflaming the same sectarian sentiments that have allowed the Islamic State to flourish there.

Already, as the army and militiamen battled this past week in outlying areas, taking some villages and the center of the city of Karma, to the northeast, the fight has taken on sectarian overtones.

Militiamen have plastered artillery shells with the name of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a Shiite cleric close to Iran whose execution this year by Saudi Arabia, a Sunni power, deepened the region’s sectarian divide, before firing them at Falluja.

A Shiite militia leader, in a widely circulated video, is seen rallying his men with a message of revenge against the people of Falluja, whom many Iraqi Shiites believe to be Islamic State sympathizers rather than innocent civilians. Falluja is also believed to be a staging ground for suicide bombers targeting the capital, Baghdad, about 40 miles to the east. The decision to move on the city was made after several recent attacks in Baghdad killed nearly 200 people.

“Falluja is a terrorism stronghold,” said the militia leader, Aws al-Khafaji, the head of the Abu Fadhil al-Abbas militia. “It’s been the stronghold since 2004 until today.”

He continued: “There are no patriots, no real religious people in Falluja. It’s our chance to clear Iraq by eradicating the cancer of Falluja.”

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who has stressed that civilians must be protected in the operation and ordered that humanitarian corridors be opened to allow civilians to leave the city safely, disavowed the militia leader’s comments.

Reflecting these concerns of sectarianism, and the deep sense of foreboding surrounding a battle for the city, a chorus of voices in Iraq and abroad has urged restraint.

In his statement, Ayatollah Sistani said: “The Prophet Muhammad used to tell his companions before sending them to fight, to go forward in the name of Allah, with Allah and upon the religion of the messenger of Allah. Do not kill the elderly, children or women, do not steal the spoils but collect them, and do not cut down trees unless you are forced to do so.”

The concern was amplified in a second statement, released during Friday prayers by a representative for the ayatollah, saying that “saving an innocent human being from dangers around him is much more important than targeting and eliminating the enemy.”

Accounts of dire conditions in Falluja have emerged from the few residents who managed to escape in recent days, Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency, told reporters in Geneva on Friday. She said that some residents had been killed for refusing to fight for the jihadists, and that those inside were surviving on old stacks of rice, a few dates and water from unsafe sources such as drainage ditches.


Source: The New York Times


Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Sunday that Iran must stop meddling in Iraq and that the presence of Iranian military units there is "unacceptable."

His comments come as thousands of Iraqi Shiite militiamen, soldiers and police, backed by Iran, surround the Sunni city of Fallujah ahead of an operation to retake it from the Islamic State group.

Iran says its military advisers in Iraq are there at Baghdad's request to help Iraqi forces fight militants. It has repeatedly rejected Saudi criticisms of its role in Iraq, instead accusing its regional rival of supporting extremism.

Al-Jubeir, speaking in a joint press conference with British Foreign Minister Phillip Hammond in Saudi Arabia Sunday, said Iran had sown "sedition and division in Iraq" through its policies, which he said had provoked sectarianism among Sunnis and Shiites there.

Hammond had earlier held meetings with Saudi King Salman and senior princes in the Red Sea city of Jiddah to discuss the wars in Syria and Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and Iran back opposing sides of the conflicts, and the ongoing turmoil in Libya. He told reporters during the press conference that his country is committed to the security and stability of Gulf Arab countries.

Saudi Arabia and Iran severed diplomatic ties earlier this year after Iranian protesters ransacked Saudi diplomatic offices there to protest the execution of a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric in January. The tensions have impacted the annual hajj pilgrimage, required of all able-bodied Muslims to perform once in their lives.

An Iranian delegation left the kingdom after a second round of talks without reaching an agreement to send Iranian pilgrims to the hajj this year, which is taking place in September.

Saudi Arabia says it could not agree to a demand made by the Iranians to allow a Shiite ritual during the hajj that includes protests against the West and often against the Sunni-ruled kingdom itself. Saudi Arabia says formally allowing them the right to protest would lead to chaos and disrupt the flow of some two million pilgrims from around the world.

Iran's Hajj Organization said the Saudis failed to meet demands for the "security and respect" of pilgrims, while Iran's Culture Minister Ali Jannati said Sunday that Saudi "sabotage and obstacles" mean "Iranians pilgrims cannot go to hajj this year."

A stampede and crush of people during last year's hajj killed more than 2,400 pilgrims, according to an Associated Press count based on figures reported by various hajj ministries and governments. Some 464 Iranians were among the dead. The official Saudi toll of 769 people killed and 934 injured has not changed since Sept. 26, and officials have yet to address the discrepancy.

Source: ABC News


 

If the international community is serious about solving the Syrian crisis, they need to atone for the original sin that is Iraq.

Even by its customarily low standards, Iraq has sunk to even greater depths than previously thought possible. It is not as though the Iraqis do not have to contend with one of the most feared global terrorist threats that has eclipsed even al-Qaeda at its zenith, the forces of the so-called Islamic State (IS).

Nevertheless, Iraqi politicians, with their corruption, nepotism, patronage networks and Mafia-like ways, still seem to think that politicking and jockeying over who has what ministry so that they may further their own economic interests is more important than attending to the crisis afflicting the country that they were installed – I mean “elected” – to serve. One is then left to wonder just how overblown the IS threat has become.

And why should one not wonder if the IS threat has been exaggerated, when Iraq’s leaders have enough time on their hands to try and unseat one another so that their own personal cliques may benefit at the expense of the common Iraqi citizen
 
The sad thing is that, in the past few months, terrorist leaders responsible for death squads that committed some of the worst sectarian atrocities in Iraq are now being painted as heroes of democracy and Iraqi social plurality. Of course, here we are discussing Moqtada al-Sadr, scion of the Sadr family of Shia clerics, leader of the Mahdi Army terrorist organisation and of their now rebranded Peace Brigades.

Although I have elsewhere likened the prospects of Sadr acting as the hero who can save Iraq from sectarianism as being as realistic as Danger Mouse saving the world, it is still disconcerting that people can believe that a man who was up until recently overtly bent on the destruction of the Sunni population can suddenly have a change of heart.

The parliamentary tumult he caused was less to do with creating unity amongst Iraqis, and more to do with Sadr throwing his toys out of the pram because Iran has granted a greater share of power and influence to others at his expense. This is evidenced by the fact that Sadr and his supporters criticised Iranian influence over other Shia Iraqi groups in public demonstrations, ironically forgetting how his own power base was bred, funded and trained by Iran.

His criticisms of Iran did not go down well amongst either his detractors or his benefactors, as the former pointed out that he had just concluded a meeting with Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah chief and fellow Iranian stooge, and the latter, in the form of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, allegedly threatened to set their hounds on Sadr if he did not cease and desist from biting the hand that had fed him.

Nevertheless, Sadr’s antics created the perfect opportunity for other sectarian blocs, including some under the control of former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, to attempt to purge the Iraqi government of any vestige of Sunni Arab presence, even if that presence served only to legitimise the grossly intolerant and sectional parliament. To achieve these ends, parliament voted to hoist the Iraqi Islamic Party’s Sunni Arab Saleem al-Jabouri out of his chair and post as Speaker, but failed due to their own factional in-fighting and inability to agree on which bloc or party had the largest piece of the Iraqi pie, now seeping with blood.

Jabouri seemed shocked that some of his former Iran-backed allies were now trying their utmost to hurl him out of his job as parliamentary speaker. It is not as though he did not have any prior warning about the perils of being a token Sunni working in a sectarian system established by the Americans and dominated by Shia parties, many with undeniable and strong connections to the radical mullahs of Iran.

After all, American forces humiliatingly assaulted the home of former Islamic Party leader Muhsin Abdulhamid, and later Maliki was to turn on another token Sunni, former vice president Tariq al-Hashimi, and had him sentenced to death in absentia while he was in exile in Turkey. The idea that Jabouri was caught by surprise is funny in itself, and in Iraq such a person is commonly known as a qashmar – someone eminently gullible.

The disaster of Iraq’s political system is further illustrated by the country’s leaders having established Iraq as one of the most corrupt countries on Earth. In fact, Iraq ranks even lower than “fantastically corrupt” Nigeria, as Prime Minister David Cameron put it to the Queen last week. In 2012, Transparency International gave Iraq a score of just 18 out of 100 in terms of the perception of its ability to counter corruption. It has since slipped to repeatedly scoring a meagre 16 points every year since then, demonstrating how Iraq is getting worse in yet another way aside from the continuing, merciless violence.

The apathy towards Iraq has gotten so bad that almost no one is even reporting that the city of Fallujah is being smashed between the hammer of the Green Zone government and the anvil of IS fanatics. The Iraqi authorities have imposed a total siege on the city, and have been shelling it incessantly since January 2014 when IS took control. Fighting IS is one thing, and shelling Fallujah General Hospital to the point where it is barely functioning is another. In fact, it is a war crime, yet it is too inconvenient for the international community to acknowledge that the Iraq they created has surpassed Saddam Hussein by any and all metrics of brutality, mass murder and repression.

Whilst the centrepiece of much of today’s news is Syria, occasionally flitting back to Palestine now and then, Iraq is largely forgotten. It seems that society has become content to imagine that whoever is fighting IS must be good, not heeding the fact that the Iraqi government and its rampant sectarianism is largely to blame for the birth of IS in the first place. The roots of the Syrian crisis can be found deeply burrowed in the catastrophe of Iraq, its corrupt tendrils extending across the fertile crescent all the way to its main source of nourishment, Tehran.

If the international community is serious about solving the Syrian crisis, they need to atone for the original sin that is Iraq, and how it was handed over to sectarian fanatics covered in the shroud of a false democracy.


Source http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/cirque-du-iraq-1506494766

PRESS RELEASE - For immediate release 19th May 2016

In the absence of real reform,

IRAQ LURCHING TOWARDS CATASTROPHE

 

“If real and comprehensive reforms are not carried out, Iraq will lurch towards catastrophe.” This was the view expressed today by Struan Stevenson, President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA) and a former President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-2014). Stevenson strongly condemned the recent explosions in Baghdad and other cities and said it would be impossible to sort out the current crisis unless the Iranian regime and its cohorts are expelled from Iraq and the true representatives of the Sunnis are allowed to have a share of political power and to be seriously involved in the fight against Daesh (ISIS).

 He added: “The Iraqi population is sick of those politicians who use their power systematically to rob the nation and fill their offshore bank accounts, while the country’s infrastructure and public services rot and the struggle to survive intensifies. Plummeting oil revenues have shattered the Iraqi economy and the combination of venal corruption and political instability has made Iraq a high-risk zone even for bailouts from the IMF.

 “The recent events have simply reinforced the view that Prime Minister Abadi is running out of time and must stop Iran from manipulating the situation His attempts at reform have been resoundingly rebuffed by political factions who are determined to keep their hands in the national cash register. When he tried to recall parliament last week so that he could issue an ultimatum on his reform agenda, the politicians simply stayed at home, boycotting the proceedings. The main obstacles to reform are former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and his men who are under the absolute control of Tehran and act in full coordination with the militias affiliated to the terrorist Iranian Quds force.

“In an interesting development, Tariq al-Hashimi, the former vice president of Iraq and a prominent Sunni leader, who was sentenced to death in absence in a disgraceful show trial by Maliki, was taken off Interpol’s red notice list on Monday. This move by Interpol clearly exposes the level of corruption that prevailed in the Iraqi government under Maliki. It also highlights the need for al-Abadi urgently to restore the integrity of Sunni leaders who were arrested or sentenced in absentia by Maliki. 

“The political vacuum has created a seething sense of unrest and rising tension, which some commentators believe could herald a revolution and the overthrow of the Abadi government. Such a catastrophic event would play directly into the hands of the Iranian regime and Daesh, whose ultimate aims are to seize control over the whole of Iraq. Daesh has held Mosul, Iraq’s second city, for almost two years. The long awaited campaign to recapture the city began in March, but was quickly repulsed by the jihadists. Mosul’s two million Sunni inhabitants now nervously wait for the next onslaught, fearing the brutal pro-Iranian militias and the random air strikes by US and other Western bombers, almost as much as they fear the barbaric savagery of Daesh.”

 “The Sunni inhabitants of Mosul may have a long wait. Abadi has recalled most of his Iraqi military forces to provide a protective cordon around Baghdad, following the series of Daesh suicide bombings that last week killed scores of civilians. Any further deterioration in national security could pave the way for a Daesh assault on the Iraqi capital, which would inevitably suck in the Americans and potentially the British too. Obama’s reluctance to put US boots on the ground in Iraq, particularly during the dying days of his presidency, has paved the way for this crisis. But his obduracy could well be overwhelmed by a battle for Baghdad.”

Struan Stevenson concluded: “The only possible solution to the growing unrest is the formation of a government of national salvation to pacify the nation and unify Iraq. If Prime Minister Abadi is to survive, he must sweep away all of the corrupt ministers and replace them with technocrats who are prepared to work for the benefit of the country rather than to enrich themselves. He must evict the Iranian regime from Iraq and declare his liberation from their meddling. He must bring the Shi’ite militias under the immediate control of the Iraqi military and put an end to their sectarian campaign of genocidal slaughter. The US, UN and EU should quickly use their power to persuade Abadi on this course of action before it is too late.”

Office of Struan Stevenson
President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA)
Brussels

(Struan Stevenson was a Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014 and was President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq from 2009 to 2014

-- 

European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA),  1050 Brussels, Belgium

President: Struan Stevenson, Chairman of European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-2014), Members of the board: Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Vice President of the European Parliament (1999-2014); Stephen Hughes, 1st Vice-President of European Parliament Socialist Group (2009-2014),  Giulio Terzi, Former Foreign Minister of Italy; Ryszard Czarnecki,Vice-President of the European Parliament; Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC; Paulo Casaca MEP (1999-2009); Kimmo Sasi, MP (Finland), Honorary members include Tariq al-Hashemi, former Vice President of Iraq , Sid Ahmed Ghozali, former Prime Minister of Algeria

Webwww.eu-iraq.org/        Facebookwww.facebook.com/EuIraq        Twitterwww.twitter.com/EuIraq

Men who flee the ISIL-held city are often abused, or killed, by armed groups bent on revenge.

By Salam Khoder

Amiriyat al-Fallujah, Iraq - As the Iraqi armed forces and allied militias continue their battle to take Fallujah from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), a growing number of civilians have said that they were tortured after escaping the besieged city.

In one tent in the Amiriyat al-Fallujah camp, which is hosting displaced people from Fallujah, three men claimed to have been tortured while held captive by sectarian militias affiliated with the Popular Mobilisation Forces.

The men, along with their families and many others, fled the al-Azraqiyah area, northwest of Fallujah, as the Iraqi military advanced towards their houses. Although they knew the road to reach the camp was not completely safe, they decided to leave out of fear of what might happen if they stayed.

"We knew that the militias might arrest or even kill us, but we had to leave," said Abu Muhammad, 57, who asked that his real name not be used. "Staying in the area meant sure death, whereas if we tried to leave, we might have the chance of surviving - or if not us, at least our families."

Since 2014, a number of sectarian militias, collectively known as the Popular Mobilisation Forces or al-Hashd al-Shaabi, has played a major role in assisting the Iraqi armed forces in the fight against ISIL. But they have also been accused of perpetrating human rights abuses against civilians on sectarian basis.

Abu Muhammad said he experienced "days of hell" during his detention by the militia fighters. "We saw men in uniforms with army vehicles. We thought it was the Iraqi army that was approaching. We walked towards them holding white flags to make sure they know that we are civilians and unarmed," he explained.

The families soon discovered that the men in uniforms were not army soldiers, but militiamen who belong to the mobilisation forces. "They separated women and children from the men, and put everyone in houses taken from families who had fled as the military operation started," Abu Muhammad said. After two days, the women and children were moved to the Amiriyat al-Fallujah camp, while the men remained in detention.

They would put me face down, and start pulling the rope higher and higher. I felt that my limbs would be detached from my body. I lost consciousness several times during those days.

Thamer Hassoun al-Shoukor, a tortured Fallujah resident

According to Abu Muhammad, this is when the agony began.

"The militants told us: 'We know that you have fled a place which is more like hell - al-Azraqiyah - but we will send you to hell again'." 

Abu Muhammad said he was beaten repeatedly for six days. "They would beat us with water pipes; they would take turns to torture us. My hands were tied behind my back, and one of the militants sat on my chest after he got tired of beating me. He just threw himself on me. I felt my ribs breaking. I screamed in pain; I spat blood. I asked for water, but I was denied even that."

A week after their ordeal started, the Iraqi federal police arrived and moved the hundreds of detained men to the al-Mazraa military base, located east of Fallujah. They were held there for interrogation, then transferred to Amiriyat al-Fallujah.

Mahmoud al-Naji al-Shoukor, who also fled al-Azraqiyah, said he had "lost the will to live" as a result of his and his family's treatment at the hands of the sectarian militia.

"I was humiliated by my countrymen for reasons I do not comprehend until now. My two brothers, Ahmad and Hussein al-Naji al-Shoukor, along with my two cousins Muthanna and Ahmad al-Naji al-Shoukor were detained the same night. But we still have not found them; they are still missing. I think they are dead - so I have nothing left to lose."

While detained, Mahmoud said he saw civilians being slaughtered "like chicken", and that he himself was very close to being executed. "They put some of us in a line on our knees, with our eyes blindfolded," he said.

"They started taking us one by one. They killed several men before it was my turn. I could hear the men scream and beg the militia men to spare their lives - they were swearing that they never fought, and that they never joined ISIL - but that did not stop the militia fighters from killing them," Mahmoud told Al Jazeera.

"One of the fighters dragged me on the ground, saying that it is my turn to die. But at that moment I heard a voice saying that the killing has to stop, because the religious authority in al-Najaf [the religious leader of Iraq's Shia, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani] had issued an order that was circulating among the militia men to stop the executions after the news of sectarian killings had been leaked."

Mahmoud said the militiamen told them that if it weren't for Sistani's orders, all of them would have been killed in a "blink of an eye".

Removing his shirt, Mahmoud showed the marks of torture on his body: Deep wounds from beating and flogging.

The third man in the tent was Thamer Hassoun Mohammad al-Shoukor. He was unable to easily move his arms: For six days, his hands were tied behind his back from the elbow, and his legs tied together from the ankles. 

"They would put me face down, and start pulling the rope higher and higher. I felt that my limbs would be detached from my body. I lost consciousness several times during those days," Shoukor said.

One night, they heard the sound of a helicopter approaching. It was the Iraqi federal police. "If they did not show up, we could have been dead," he said.

Upon the men's arrival at the al-Mazraa military base, they were immediately given food and water, and several medical teams attended to those in urgent need of care. 

"When we arrived, lots of tribal fighters from Hashed al-Anbar, which is a Sunni militia fighting with the government forces, started comforting us and telling us that our families are safe in Amiriyat al-Fallujah camp, and that we will be released once we receive medical care," Thamer said.

That same night, they received a visit from Yahia al-Ghazi, a member of parliament from the province. "We asked him about our families and about other men who were detained with us. All he had to say was that, 'we thank God that you are alive', and that our families were in the camp. But he didn't give us any information on the missing men and boys."

Sohaib al-Rawi, the governor of al-Anbar province where Fallujah is located, confirmed that civilians fleeing the city and surrounding areas had been tortured by some militias fighting alongside the Iraqi armed forces.

Rawi told Al Jazeera that "more than 49 civilians have lost their lives under torture". He added that 643 men were missing, with no information on whether they had been executed or are still in detention.

Although Rawi refused to give the name of the militia that carried out these acts, he said that "the government and the security forces were given the names of the 643 who are still missing".

Last week, Human Rights Watch issued a report stating that it had "received credible allegations of summary executions, beatings of unarmed men, enforced disappearances, and mutilation of corpses by government forces over the two weeks of fighting, mostly on the outskirts of the city of Fallujah".

Quoting witnesses who survived the killings, the report found that "a group consisting of Federal Police and PMF [Popular Mobilisation Forces] had separated men from women, marched the men to where the troops' officers were, lined them up, and shot at least 17 of them, including one teenage boy".

On Wednesday, June 15, Salama al-Khufaji, a member of the Iraqi Commission for Human Rights, announced that Iraqi security forces had arrested a militia fighter in connection with the killing of the 17 civilians.

However, it is yet to be seen whether other militiamen involved in abuses will face justice.

Source: Aljazeera

 

Baghdad – While Sadr is in Iran for seclusion, a number of his followers attacked offices of certain political parties in south Iraq. The attackiers torched the offices including the photos of Khomeini and Iran’s Supreme Leader Khamenei.

Council member of one of the southern districts told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the attacks also targeted offices of factions and parties affiliated with Iran. The council member, who preferred to remain anonymous, said protesters also burned the photos of political leaders and religious authorities including the leaders of the Islamic republic.

Consequently, a number of parties and forces in Amarah district gave the Sadrist movement 24 hours to denounce the members that burned down their offices.

Of the parties protesting: Badr Organization, Dawa Party Head Office, al-Jihad wa Binaa Movement, Islamic Supreme Council, Dawa Party, League of Righteous, Khorasani Brigades, Imam’s Soldiers’ Battalions, Imam Ali Brigades, and Abu Fadhal al-Abbas Brigades.

Meanwhile, Sadrist Movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr called for excluding Najaf from protests after a wave of office attacks of several Shi’ite parties in the country’s south and center. When asked by his followers, Sadr said in a statement issued Friday: “Yes exclude Najaf from protests for its sanctity. Who wants to protest shall go to Baghdad.”

He added that protests against corrupt parties should be peaceful whether in Najaf or any other district.

Earlier, Sadr called for postponing protests demanding reform during the month of Ramadan. He considered protests a kind of prayer and devotion.

Following a series of attacks on political parties, fears have risen of inter-Shi’ite clashes in the country’s central and southern districts. Security forces blocked all roads and bridges leading to the Liberation Square in central Baghdad where protests have been ongoing for over a year.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar Abadi warned of the “reckless” behavior that targets public facilities or any political office.

Abadi urged in his statement political leaders to reject such heinous acts and called on patriotic demonstrators to distance themselves from such acts of extremism.

Ministry of Interior (MoI) announced it had taken all required measures to protect state institutions.

MoI pledged in a statement to protect all public and private institutions, headquarters of political parties, and other organizations.

The statement added that the ISIS strategy is to keep security forces occupied to alleviate the pressure from Fallujah and whoever wants reform should resort to peaceful protests.

Commander of Civil Democratic Alliance Jasem Halfi said that the weekly protests in Baghdad are done in coordination with many parties including the Sadrist Movement. He added that the protests are peaceful and aim to achieve reform.

Halfi confirmed they will carry on with the peaceful protests unified under Iraqi flag.

Friday prayer Imam of Najaf Sadr Din Qabbanji warned of a Shi’ite-Shi’ite conflict after a series of offices in several districts have been torched. He added that the government is responsible of protecting the public institutions, while denouncing the anonymous groups that attacked the public institutions. Qabbanji said: “While we are preparing to liberate Fallujah, some are trying to create a Shiite – Shiite strife.

Qabbanji explained that religious leaders are with protests but attacking offices is not acceptable.

Source: ASHARQ AL-AWSAT

RESS RELEASE

For immediate release 10th June 2016

IRAQ: INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY IGNORING ETHNIC CLEANSING IN FALLUJAH

Horrific sectarian atrocities are being committed in the final push to ‘liberate’ the ancient city of Fallujah, 43 miles from Baghdad. Iranian-led Shi’ite militias who form the main part of the force fighting to re-capture the city from Daesh (ISIS) are systematically arresting Sunni men and women fleeing the besieged city. Many are being tortured and executed.

Struan Stevenson, President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association said today: “The international community must stop this barbaric crime against innocent civilians. The Shi’ite militias are financed and led by the Iranian terrorist Qods Force whose senior commander General Qasem Soleimani is on the EU and US terrorist lists. Soleimani is spearheading the attack on Fallujah. His presence was confirmed in an astonishing statement by Iraq’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim Jafari on 7th June, when he said:  “Qasem Soleimani provides military advice on Iraqi soil and this is with the complete awareness of our government.”

“Iran is exploiting their role in ousting Daesh (ISIS) as a means for implementing their genocidal policy of ethnic cleansing to annihilate the Sunnis in Iraq’s al-Anbar Province. They claim that they have to detain all people fleeing from the city in case some of them may be Daesh jihadists. But this is simply an excuse to perpetrate barbaric atrocities on innocent Sunnis.

On 7th June the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said: “Eyewitnesses have described how armed groups operating in support of the Iraqi security forces are intercepting people fleeing the conflict, separating the men and teenage boys from the women and children, and detaining the males for ‘security screening’, which in some cases degenerates into physical violations and other forms of abuse, apparently in order to elicit forced confessions. There are even allegations that some individuals have been summarily executed by these armed groups.”

“The same thing happened during the so-called liberation of Ramadi, a city of over one million predominantly Sunni people, which was reduced to dust and rubble. Barely a single building has been left intact and the male population has simply disappeared. This scenario is being repeated in Fallujah, where mass graves have already been discovered in some of the nearby Sunni villages containing bodies that have been burned, stabbed and brutalised.

“The United Nations on Wednesday 8th June revised significantly their estimate of the number of civilians believed trapped in besieged Fallujah, raising the figure to 90,000 from a previous estimate of 50,000. It seems clear that there has been a deliberate attempt by Iraqi forces to provide a lower figure for the civilian population in Fallujah, in order to hide the inevitable death toll arising from the savage bombardment of residential areas, as well as the active participation of the Iranian regime's Qods Force and its affiliated militias.

“Tehran is relentlessly strengthening its grip over Iraq. Corruption and poor training has rendered the Iraqi army almost useless, leaving a vacuum, which the Iranian regime has been quick to fill, pressurising Iraq’s Prime Minister into allowing the Iranian-funded militias to take control of military operations. Political disarray in Baghdad, combined with a directionless and dysfunctional American foreign policy, has paved the way for the fascist Iranian mullah-led regime to consolidate its hold in Iraq.

“The European Iraqi Freedom Association has repeatedly warned of the dangers of allowing the Iranian-funded Shi’ite militias to have free reign in Iraq and our warnings have been ignored. The Iraqi Sunnis of al-Anbar have paid a heavy price for international complacency. Once they have achieved their sectarian objectives in Fallujah, Tehran will turn its attention to Mosul, Iraq’s second biggest city with a population of more than two million Sunnis. Daesh has held Mosul for more than two years and its ethnic cleansing features highly on the Iranian regime’s priority list.

“How much longer can the international community remain silent in the face of such crimes against humanity? The Iranian-funded and led militias are now guilty of crimes every bit as horrific as the terrorist Daesh jihadists who they are supposed to be trying to defeat. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, US President Barack Obama and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Federica Mogherini must speak out now and demand an end to these atrocities and an end to Iranian meddling in Iraq.”

Office of Struan Stevenson
President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA)
Brussels

 

(Struan Stevenson was a Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014 and was President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq from 2009 to 2014.)

-- 

European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA),  1050 Brussels, Belgium


President: Struan Stevenson, Chairman of European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-2014), Members of the board: Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Vice President of the European Parliament (1999-2014); Stephen Hughes, 1st Vice-President of European Parliament Socialist Group (2009-2014),  Giulio Terzi, Former Foreign Minister of Italy; Ryszard Czarnecki,Vice-President of the European Parliament; Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC; Paulo Casaca MEP (1999-2009); Kimmo Sasi, MP (Finland), Honorary members include Tariq al-Hashemi, former Vice President of Iraq , Sid Ahmed Ghozali, former Prime Minister of Algeria

 

Webwww.eu-iraq.org/        Facebookwww.facebook.com/EuIraq        Twitterwww.twitter.com/EuIraq

Investigate Government Command Responsibility; ISIS Stops Civilians From Fleeing

(Beirut) – The announced investigation into allegations of abuse of civilians around Fallujah by Iraqi government forces is a test for the government’s ability to hold abusive forces accountable. Judicial officials should conduct this investigation transparently and impartially, assess co

mmand responsibility, and ensure protection for victims and witnesses.

Ahead of the offensive in Fallujah against forces of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that his government had taken measures to protect civilians. Human Rights Watch, however, has received credible allegations of summary executions, beatings of unarmed men, enforced disappearances, and mutilation of corpses by government forces over the two weeks of fighting, mostly on the outskirts of the city, since May 23. On June 4, 2016, in response to allegations of abuse, al-Abadi launched an investigation into abuses in Fallujah and issued orders to arrest those responsible for “transgressions” against civilians. On June 7, al-Abadi announcedthe “detention and transfer of those accused of committing violations to the judiciary to receive their punishment according to the law.”

“The Iraqi government needs to control and hold accountable its own forces if it hopes to claim the moral upper hand in its fight against ISIS,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “It’s high time for Iraqi authorities to unravel the web of culpability underlying the government forces’ repeated outrages against civilians.”

Human Rights Watch also expressed grave concern about reports of ISIS preventing civilians from fleeing Fallujah and allegedly executing and shooting at those who attempted to do so. Human Rights Watch is concerned about the presence of ISIS fighters among civilians inside Fallujah, perhaps amounting to human shielding, a war crime. But the presence of fighters among civilians does not absolve forces fighting ISIS from the obligation to target only military objectives and to take all feasible measures to avoid civilian harm, Human Rights Watch said. ISIS forces should allow civilians to leave areas under their control and not use civilians to shield its military objectives from attack, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch directed questions about the composition of the investigative committee, its authority, and relation to the judiciary to five Iraqi government institutions in addition to the human rights section of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq. A member of the parliamentary Human Rights Committee told Human Rights Watch that the committee had started its own investigation and was liaising with the investigation by the prime minister’s office, which remained secret. The other officials contacted did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

On June 3, Human Rights Watch received information alleging that members of the Federal Police and the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an auxiliary fighting force created after ISIS advanced in June 2014, and that includes many pre-existing Shia militias, had executed more than a dozen civilians from the Jumaila tribe fleeing Sajar, a village north of Fallujah. Human Rights Watch spoke to five people, including two officials from Anbar governorate, who said they were protecting three surviving witnesses to the executions.

Three of those interviewed confirmed the account that a survivor gave on Tigris (Dijla) Channel television that a group consisting of Federal Police and PMF had separated men from women, marched the men to where the troops’ officers were, lined them up, and shot at least 17 of them, including one teenage boy. One person said that the incident took place on June 2. The PMF are, at least nominally, under the command of the prime minister.

One of the Anbar governorate officials provided Human Rights Watch with a list of names of those killed and said that the incident happened near the Sharhabil school in Al-Bu Sudaira neighborhood in the northern outskirts of Fallujah. The other Anbar official said that the witnesses met with senior Iraqi government officials on June 5, following which he said Prime Minister al-Abadi launched an investigation into the incident. A former Iraqi government official with good contacts in the security forces told Human Rights Watch, on June 5, that the investigation had already led to the arrest of a police officer whom survivors could name.

Another person who said he was in the Sajar area, 7 kilometers northeast of Fallujah, at the time told Human Rights Watch that on May 28, he saw Federal Police and PMF, including dozens of fighters from the Badr Brigades and Hezbollah (two prominent Shia militias in the PMF), fatally shoot civilians with white flags raised fleeing toward the government forces that day. He said that a fighter told him his superior officer had ordered the shootings. He also told Human Rights Watch he was in Saqlawiya around May 30. This person said a villager and several PMF fighters in the area told him that PMF fighters stabbed dozens of villagers to death with knives.

On June 6, an Anbar governorate official who provided the names for those killed from the Jumaila tribe was visiting a camp for internally displaced people in Amiriyat Fallujah, a town south of Fallujah itself, when he spoke to Human Rights Watch. More than 600 men whom Hezbollah and the Badr Brigades, among other PMFs, had released from detention the day before had just arrived in Amiriyat Fallujah Hospital, he said. He added that the militias had detained the men, most from the al-Mahamda tribe, since the beginning of the operation in homes and other buildings in the Hayy al-Shuhada area in Saqlawiya, only releasing them on June 5. He said that he saw hundreds of people among the former detainees who showed signs of torture, including rape, burns, knife cuts, and bruising from beatings. He said the men who were released told him that they saw the PMF fighters take away another at least 600 al-Mahamda men.

A Baghdad resident told Human Rights Watch on June 6 that during a visit to Amiriyat Fallujah Hospital on June 5, she saw hundreds of visibly injured men. Five of the men she spoke to said that PMF forces detained them in groups as they recaptured Saqlawiya over the previous or two weeks. The men told her that the PMF had altogether arrested 1,700 men, whom they beat and dragged bound to a moving car by a rope (sahl) before releasing 605 men to receive medical treatment on June 5. The woman said the men told her that four men died from beatings and from being dragged behind cars. She told Human Rights Watch that hospital staff in Amiriyat Fallujah said a fifth man died on June 5 in the hospital. Human Rights Watch reviewed a video of three injured men stepping out of an ambulance at what the person said was Amiriyat Fallujah Hospital, in addition to pictures of half a dozen injured men being treated in the hospital’s garden.

On May 24, Human Rights Watch viewed a video, uploaded on May 23, in which a commander tells a room filled with fighters that Fallujah had been a bastion of terrorism since 2004 and that no civilians or true Muslims were left inside the city. The video bore the logo of Abu al-Fadhl al-Abbas, one of the brigades within the Leagues of the Righteous militia that is part of the PMF. On May 27, Iraqi activists sent Human Rights Watch two videos they said were filmed on the outskirts of Fallujah over the previous days depicting abuses against local residents by government forces: one showed armed men in a mix of civilian and military dress driving two pickup trucks, each dragging a corpse behind them; the second showed armed men surrounding a pile of corpses and severed heads. In the clip a commander counted 16 decapitated bodies and heads. Human Rights Watch was not able to verify the origins of either video. On June 3, Human Rights Watch viewed a widely circulated video on Facebook, uploaded on June 3, which shows a man in a military-type uniform beating at least nine men lying on the ground with a large wooden stick while accusing them of collaborating with ISIS in “Fallujah”. Human Rights Watch was unable to verify the exact location and time of the videos.

A local sheikh from Karma, a town northeast of Fallujah, told Human Rights Watch that within the first few days of the military operation to retake the city, the Iraq Security Forces, PMF, police, and Sunni forces forced civilians living there to leave. During the exodus, at least 70 young men disappeared, he said, and the families have no information as to their whereabouts. The sheikh said that on June 1, the Iraqi Parliament Speaker, Salim al-Jiburi, had come to the area to speak to local elders and the military. A member of Anbar governorate council, who also provided information about the launch of the prime minister’s investigation, confirmed the number of missing men to Human Rights Watch and said that the government had opened investigations to determine where they are.

The military routinely separates men from women and takes the men for security screenings to determine their involvement with ISIS forces, according to all witnesses Human Rights Watch interviewed. The authorities may impose reasonable and proportionate security measures, but should do so under judicial supervision and in a transparent manner, Human Rights Watch said. The families of anyone detained should know where they are being held, and all persons detained should promptly be brought before a judge to determine the legality of their detention.

All suspected crimes, including torture, murder, and other abuses, committed by members of any side in the conflict, should be investigated by the criminal justice authorities, speedily, transparently, and effectively, up to the highest levels responsible. When evidence of criminal responsibility emerges, prosecutions should follow. Those conducting such criminal investigations and making decisions about prosecutions should be independent of those being investigated, including being outside any military chain of command and being free from political interference in their decisions. The authorities should ensure the safety of all witnesses. At the same time, a commission of inquiry or equivalent should be created to examine the wider concerns about whether such crimes and abuses are being committed in a widespread or systematic way.

On June 3, the highest Shia religious authority, Ayatollah al-Sistani “cautioned” that fighters must not attack non-combatants materially or psychologically. On June 5, Hadi al-Amiri, the commander of the Badr Brigades, vowedto hold those responsible for abuse accountable.

“I acknowledge that there were mistakes,” al-Abadi told Iraqi state television on June 4, “but they were not systematic and we will not cover up any [of them].”

“The government should not stand idly by while fighters commit atrocities in its name,” Stork said. “Political, security, and judicial officials should work together transparently to establish the truth about what has happened around Fallujah and why.”

The Fallujah Operation
On May 23, Iraqi security forces began operations to retake Fallujah, where UN officials estimate about 50,000 civilians, including 20,000 children, remain. Those forces include the elite US-trained military Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), local and federal police, militias under the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) umbrella, Sunni fighters from Anbar province, and Iraqi and US-led coalition air forces.

ISIS captured the city in early 2014. Government forces cut off supply routes into the city after recapturing nearby Ramadi in late December 2015 and the al-Jazira desert area north of Fallujah in March 2016. In late March, a medical source in Fallujah told Human Rights Watch that each day starving children were arriving at the local hospital and most foodstuffs were no longer available at any price. In April, Iraqi activists in touch with families inside Fallujah told Human Rights Watch that conditions had reduced families to eating flat bread made with flour from ground date seeds and soups from grass. A man who fled Fallujah in 2014 said in late May that sources in the city told him people who escaped from Fallujah in May 2016 were dropping plastic bags and water bottles filled with medical supplies into the Euphrates upstream for trapped residents to recover from the river as it ran through the city.

Human Rights Watch has not had access to Fallujah, but obtained information on conditions inside the city from relatives, journalists, officials, and humanitarian workers who said they had been in touch with people remaining there.

In recent years Human Rights Watch has documented extensive laws of war violations by the ISIS as well as by Iraqi military and the largely Shia militias that make up the Popular Mobilization Forces, including summary executions, disappearances, torture, use of child soldiers, widespread demolition of buildings, indiscriminate attacks, and unlawful restrictions on the movement of people fleeing the fighting.

Trapped Civilians
On May 22, the Iraqi government called on civilians inside the city, 65 kilometres west of Baghdad, to leave through unspecified secured routes. Fourteen thousand people have managed to escapethe areas surrounding the city center and reach displacement camps in the neighboring town of Amiriyat Fallujah.

Since the government offensive began on May 23, there have been regular reports of ISIS executing or shooting at civilians attempting to flee. A foreign correspondent told Human Rights Watch that Shia militiamen holding positions in Saqlawiya, a town northwest of the city, said they witnessed civilians carrying white flags make several failed attempts to escape from areas still under ISIS control. In each instance, ISIS opened fire on the militia positions the civilians were attempting to reach, forcing them to turn back. They said they had not seen ISIS firing directly on the civilians.

In early May, ISIS retook Hassi and Al-Bu Huwa, two villages south of Fallujah, for a few days. An engineer from Al-Bu Huwa who was able to escape to Baghdad said that, on May 10, ISIS ordered residents to evacuate the villages for Fallujah. Members of Al-Bu Isa tribe gathered their fighters together and refused the order, he said. He also said he had heard that two Al-Bu Isa women committed suicide. ISIS responded by executing 25 Al-Bu Isa men. The engineer said he saw the bodies of the executed men as he left the village. He said he escaped from ISIS as he was being transferred to Fallujah.

Intermingling with Civilians
ISIS is also exposing civilians to harm by placing their fighters among them, Human Rights Watch said. A man whose family is still in Fallujah with intermittent access to a phone said they told him that ISIS forced all civilians in the city, including his family, to relocate to the center, among its fighters.

In northern Iraq, on the Makhmur front line, the Iraqi army, Kurdish Peshmerga and volunteer National Mobilization Forces, a group of volunteers within the Popular Mobilization Forces, are battling ISIS near Qayyara. Local residents who escaped Mahana, Kudila, Kharabarut and other villages near there told Human Rights Watch in late May that ISIS forces had fired from in between houses they said were inhabited by civilians at the time, which were then hit by return artillery fire.

Attacks on Civilian Objects
One man with family inside Fallujah showed Human Rights Watch photographs that he said a Fallujah General Hospital staff member sent him after an attack on the hospital at 8 p.m. on May 25. The hospital worker wrote that an airstrike damaged the emergency room and other parts of the facility. He said that ISIS fighters had been occupying the second floor of the hospital for months. The man was unable to confirm the extent of the damage or whether any civilians were wounded or killed in the attack.

A doctor who used to work at Fallujah hospital but left the city in 2015 sent Human Rights Watch footage of damage to the building and interviews with patients who said they had been wounded in the attack, but that it had been Iraqi forces’ shelling rather than an airstrike. He said the emergency room had been able to continue functioning despite the damage.

The hospital staff member said he was unaware of either the Iraqi military or the coalition informing patients and staff of an impending strike, such as through public messages or dropping flyers.

Under the laws of war, applicable to the armed conflict in Iraq, all hospitals and other medical facilities, whether civilian or military, have special protection. They may not be targeted, even if being used to treat enemy fighters. Medical facilities remain protected unless they are used to commit hostile acts that are outside their humanitarian function. Even then, they are only subject to attack after a warning has been given setting a reasonable time limit, and after such warning has gone unheeded. It is a violation for armed forces or groups to occupy medical facilities.


Source:Human Rights Watch

Iraq: Authorities must rein in Fallujah forces amid allegations of torture and deaths in custody

Iraqi authorities must rein in all forces participating in the recapture of Fallujah said Amnesty International today, amid reports that men and boys fleeing the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) have been tortured and otherwise ill-treated by government-backed militias and at least three have died as a result.

Amnesty has spoken to victims who described the torture and other ill-treatment meted out to them in detention and who claim to have witnessed killings.

Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme, said:

“Civilians risking their lives to escape from IS atrocities must be protected and given the humanitarian aid they desperately need. Instead it seems that some are having to run the gauntlet of being subjected to further abuse and reprisal attacks.”

Local officials in Anbar province, where Fallujah is located, told Amnesty that on Sunday (5 June), 605 men and boys were handed over to the provincial council and that many of them had injuries including fractures, contusions, welts and open wounds as a result of beatings. Three bodies were also handed over, and another detainee is believed to have died after his transfer to the city of Amariyat al-Fallujah.

The detainees were from Saqlawiya, some 9km north-west of Fallujah, and had been held captive for several days by individuals belonging to government-backed and predominantly Shi’a militias known as Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU).

Amnesty spoke to several survivors who described being held at a military base in Anbar province known as Mazra’at Tarek (Tarek’s farm) for about four days after they fled IS fighters on 2 June. 

One detainee in his forties told Amnesty International:

“The treatment was very bad… we had nothing to drink or eat… Some people drank their urine. About four or five men would come into the room, and beat people with sticks and metal pipes. I don’t know what happened to my brother and two nephews detained with me. I don’t know if they are among the dead or still detained at the farm or transferred to another place… Even those released are suffering from wounds and dehydration. Some have lost consciousness.” 

The detainees described being crammed into small rooms with their hands tied behind their backs, insulted for allegedly supporting IS, and kicked and beaten with various objects including rubber hoses and metal bars. They said they were also deprived of food, water and sanitation facilities.

Several claimed that a number of detainees died as a result of beatings, including with sharp metal objects on the head.

The detainees are now being held in Amariyat al-Fallujah for further security screening and investigations. Several reported that their identification documents had been confiscated by the PMU.

On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi acknowledged in a televised interview with Iraqiya TV that “mistakes” had been committed by some fighters participating in the battle for Fallujah and vowed not to tolerate human rights violations.

His spokesperson later announced the establishment of a human rights committee to investigate abuses.

Philip Luther said:

“The promise of investigations into human rights abuses is a welcome first step; but more needs to be done to prevent further abuses and bring to justice those suspected of criminal responsibility.

“Any security procedures carried out by Iraqi forces must comply with international human rights law and all those deprived of their liberty must be protected from enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment. Those who are reasonably suspected of having committed criminal offences should be promptly referred to judicial authorities and receive a fair trial that meets international standards. The rest must be released.”

Amnesty is calling on the Iraqi authorities to conduct full, impartial and independent investigations into allegations of torture and unlawful killings by members of the PMU with a view to bringing those responsible to justice in fair trials.

Pending investigations and prosecutions, all those reasonably suspected of committing abuses should be removed from the ranks. The fate and whereabouts of those who have been disappeared must be immediately revealed.

Background

Since the start of the military offensive by Iraqi forces to retake the city of Fallujah from IS on 23 May, an estimated 10,000 people have managed to escape mainly from the city’s outskirts according to UN agencies.

About 50,000 civilians are believed to still be trapped in the city amid reports of shelling and starvation. Civilians who fled told Amnesty that IS fighters have been preventing civilians from central Fallujah from leaving, and have forcibly moved some civilians from the outskirts to the centre of the city.

Reports have also emerged regarding the alleged unlawful killings of 17 men and boys from Karma, about 20km north-east of Fallujah, which Amnesty is investigating.

PRESS RELEASE

For immediate release 3rd June 2016

 THE SLAUGHTER OF THE INNOCENTS

Catastrophe in Fallujah

 

Western policy in Iraq is aiding and abetting the slaughter of the innocents in Fallujah. This is the controversial view of Struan Stevenson, President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA). Speaking as the operation to ‘liberate’ Fallujah from Daesh (ISIS) fanatics enters its second week, Mr Stevenson said: “We seem to have learned no lessons from the fate of Ramadi, which was ‘liberated’ from Daesh earlier this year, but the final onslaught during the battle for its recapture saw virtually every building in the city destroyed; only a handful of women, children and elderly men remained. Some estimates state that the population of Ramadi was reduced by the conflict from over one million inhabitants to less than 1,000. Thousands of innocent civilians lost their lives. The ruthless Shi’ia militias waged a genocidal campaign against the predominantly Sunni population of that city, torturing, burning and butchering men, women and children at will. They will do the same in Fallujah. Thousands of civilians will be killed. The UN estimates that up to 20,000 children are trapped in Fallujah; Daesh is using some as human shields, while others are being forced to fight; the Shi’ia militias will mercilessly butcher them.

“Militias affiliated with the Iranian regime, under the command of the Iranian terrorist Quds force leader Qassem Soleimani, are unilaterally leading the offensive and killing and slaughtering innocent civilians and burning houses and mosques and even beheading people in Fallujah. Seventeen militia groups under Iran’s command including the terrorist Badr organization with six thousand men, Asa'ib al-Haq with five thousand men, Kata'ib Hezbollah with four thousand men, Kata'ib Imam Ali with three thousand men are taking part in this operation. Footage posted online shows militias chanting sectarian slogans after beheading 17 people in the Garmeh neighbourhood of Fallujah.

“This is while according to official figures, only four thousand Sunni troops, close to the government, are taking part in this battle. The Sunni forces do not have heavy arms and are therefore deployed mainly on the side-lines of the battle. The only way to defeat Daesh and free al-Anbar Province is to organize and arm the Sunni tribes and involve them directly in the liberation of their own territories. However, the influence from Iran, which now dominates Iraq, is preventing this from happening.

“Qais al-Khazali the head of the Asa'ib militias whose crimes have been repeatedly condemned by the international community has described Fallujah and its inhabitants as “a source of terrorism” describing it as a “cancerous tumour that must be uprooted.” The former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, under whose term in office the sectarian genocide began, has described Fallujah as the “head of the snake.”

“Now the defenceless people of Fallujah are stuck between Daesh and the Iraqi militias. While the sectarian barbarities committed by the militias have created widespread condemnation both in Iraq and internationally, the al-Abadi government has unfortunately remained silent in dealing with these crimes. Sadly, the West has seen fit to assist in this holocaust by providing air strikes and bombing raids on the city. American & British airstrikes assisted in the recapture of Ramadi, crushing most of the city’s buildings and infrastructure to dust. Now warplanes from a US-led international coalition have begun bombing raids on Daesh targets around Fallujah.

“Western intervention in Iraq is being widely applauded by the mullah-led Iranian regime, which is financing, training and commanding many of the Shi’ia militias engaged in the battle against Daesh. The Iranian regime regards Daesh as a convenient vehicle for implementing its objective of ethnically cleansing the Iraqi Sunni population. By condoning this strategy, the West is relentlessly pushing Iraq’s hounded and oppressed Sunnis into an invidious position where they can either choose to support Daesh or die at the hands of the Shi’ia militias. We need to re-think Western policy and embrace Iraq’s Sunnis in a new and inclusive, Western-trained military force. The Iranian-led Shi’ia militias should be disbanded without delay and Iranian meddling in Iraq outlawed.”

Struan Stevenson

President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA)

Struan Stevenson was a Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014 and was President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq from 2009 to 2014

BAGHDAD — American commandos are on the front lines in Syria in a new push toward the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Raqqa, but in Iraq it is an entirely different story: Iran, not the United States, has become the face of an operation to retake the jihadist stronghold of Falluja from the militant group.

On the outskirts of Falluja, tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers, police officers and Shiite militiamen backed by Iran are preparing for an assault on the Sunni city, raising fears of a sectarian blood bath. Iran has placed advisers, including its top spymaster, Qassim Suleimani, on the ground to assist in the operation.

The battle over Falluja has evolved into yet another example of how United States and Iranian interests seemingly converge and clash at the same time in Iraq. Both want to defeat the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL. But the United States has long believed that Iran’s role, which relies on militias accused of sectarian abuses, can make matters worse by angering Sunnis and making them more sympathetic to the militants.

While the battle against the Islamic State straddles the borders of Iraq and Syria, the United States has approached it as two separate fights. In Syria, where the government of Bashar al-Assad is an enemy, America’s ally is the Kurds.

But in Iraq, where the United States backs the central government, and trains and advises the Iraqi Army, it has been limited by the role of Iran, the most powerful foreign power inside the country.

That United States dilemma is on full display in Falluja as the fighting intensifies.

Inside the city, tens of thousands of Sunni civilians are trapped, starving and lacking medicine, according to activists and interviews with residents. Some were shot dead by the Islamic State as they tried to flee, and others died under buildings that collapsed under heavy military and militia artillery bombardment in recent days, according to the United Nations.

The few civilians who have made it to safety have escaped at night, traveling through the irrigation pipes.

In an extraordinary statement on Wednesday, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the world’s pre-eminent Shiite religious leader, who lives in Najaf in southern Iraq and is said to be concerned by Iran’s growing role in Iraq, urged security forces and militia to restrain themselves and abide by “the standard behaviors of jihad.”

The grim sectarian tableau in Falluja — starving Sunni civilians trapped in a city surrounded by a mostly Shiite force — provides the backdrop to a final assault that Iraqi officials have promised will come soon.

The United States has thousands of military personnel in Iraq and has trained Iraqi security forces for nearly two years, yet is largely on the sidelines in the battle to retake Falluja. It says its air and artillery strikes have killed dozens of Islamic State fighters, including the group’s Falluja commander. But it worries that an assault on the city could backfire — inflaming the same sectarian sentiments that have allowed the Islamic State to flourish there.

Already, as the army and militiamen battled this past week in outlying areas, taking some villages and the center of the city of Karma, to the northeast, the fight has taken on sectarian overtones.

Militiamen have plastered artillery shells with the name of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a Shiite cleric close to Iran whose execution this year by Saudi Arabia, a Sunni power, deepened the region’s sectarian divide, before firing them at Falluja.

A Shiite militia leader, in a widely circulated video, is seen rallying his men with a message of revenge against the people of Falluja, whom many Iraqi Shiites believe to be Islamic State sympathizers rather than innocent civilians. Falluja is also believed to be a staging ground for suicide bombers targeting the capital, Baghdad, about 40 miles to the east. The decision to move on the city was made after several recent attacks in Baghdad killed nearly 200 people.

“Falluja is a terrorism stronghold,” said the militia leader, Aws al-Khafaji, the head of the Abu Fadhil al-Abbas militia. “It’s been the stronghold since 2004 until today.”

He continued: “There are no patriots, no real religious people in Falluja. It’s our chance to clear Iraq by eradicating the cancer of Falluja.”

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who has stressed that civilians must be protected in the operation and ordered that humanitarian corridors be opened to allow civilians to leave the city safely, disavowed the militia leader’s comments.

Reflecting these concerns of sectarianism, and the deep sense of foreboding surrounding a battle for the city, a chorus of voices in Iraq and abroad has urged restraint.

In his statement, Ayatollah Sistani said: “The Prophet Muhammad used to tell his companions before sending them to fight, to go forward in the name of Allah, with Allah and upon the religion of the messenger of Allah. Do not kill the elderly, children or women, do not steal the spoils but collect them, and do not cut down trees unless you are forced to do so.”

The concern was amplified in a second statement, released during Friday prayers by a representative for the ayatollah, saying that “saving an innocent human being from dangers around him is much more important than targeting and eliminating the enemy.”

Accounts of dire conditions in Falluja have emerged from the few residents who managed to escape in recent days, Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency, told reporters in Geneva on Friday. She said that some residents had been killed for refusing to fight for the jihadists, and that those inside were surviving on old stacks of rice, a few dates and water from unsafe sources such as drainage ditches.


Source: The New York Times


Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Sunday that Iran must stop meddling in Iraq and that the presence of Iranian military units there is "unacceptable."

His comments come as thousands of Iraqi Shiite militiamen, soldiers and police, backed by Iran, surround the Sunni city of Fallujah ahead of an operation to retake it from the Islamic State group.

Iran says its military advisers in Iraq are there at Baghdad's request to help Iraqi forces fight militants. It has repeatedly rejected Saudi criticisms of its role in Iraq, instead accusing its regional rival of supporting extremism.

Al-Jubeir, speaking in a joint press conference with British Foreign Minister Phillip Hammond in Saudi Arabia Sunday, said Iran had sown "sedition and division in Iraq" through its policies, which he said had provoked sectarianism among Sunnis and Shiites there.

Hammond had earlier held meetings with Saudi King Salman and senior princes in the Red Sea city of Jiddah to discuss the wars in Syria and Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and Iran back opposing sides of the conflicts, and the ongoing turmoil in Libya. He told reporters during the press conference that his country is committed to the security and stability of Gulf Arab countries.

Saudi Arabia and Iran severed diplomatic ties earlier this year after Iranian protesters ransacked Saudi diplomatic offices there to protest the execution of a prominent Saudi Shiite cleric in January. The tensions have impacted the annual hajj pilgrimage, required of all able-bodied Muslims to perform once in their lives.

An Iranian delegation left the kingdom after a second round of talks without reaching an agreement to send Iranian pilgrims to the hajj this year, which is taking place in September.

Saudi Arabia says it could not agree to a demand made by the Iranians to allow a Shiite ritual during the hajj that includes protests against the West and often against the Sunni-ruled kingdom itself. Saudi Arabia says formally allowing them the right to protest would lead to chaos and disrupt the flow of some two million pilgrims from around the world.

Iran's Hajj Organization said the Saudis failed to meet demands for the "security and respect" of pilgrims, while Iran's Culture Minister Ali Jannati said Sunday that Saudi "sabotage and obstacles" mean "Iranians pilgrims cannot go to hajj this year."

A stampede and crush of people during last year's hajj killed more than 2,400 pilgrims, according to an Associated Press count based on figures reported by various hajj ministries and governments. Some 464 Iranians were among the dead. The official Saudi toll of 769 people killed and 934 injured has not changed since Sept. 26, and officials have yet to address the discrepancy.

Source: ABC News


 

If the international community is serious about solving the Syrian crisis, they need to atone for the original sin that is Iraq.

Even by its customarily low standards, Iraq has sunk to even greater depths than previously thought possible. It is not as though the Iraqis do not have to contend with one of the most feared global terrorist threats that has eclipsed even al-Qaeda at its zenith, the forces of the so-called Islamic State (IS).

Nevertheless, Iraqi politicians, with their corruption, nepotism, patronage networks and Mafia-like ways, still seem to think that politicking and jockeying over who has what ministry so that they may further their own economic interests is more important than attending to the crisis afflicting the country that they were installed – I mean “elected” – to serve. One is then left to wonder just how overblown the IS threat has become.

And why should one not wonder if the IS threat has been exaggerated, when Iraq’s leaders have enough time on their hands to try and unseat one another so that their own personal cliques may benefit at the expense of the common Iraqi citizen
 
The sad thing is that, in the past few months, terrorist leaders responsible for death squads that committed some of the worst sectarian atrocities in Iraq are now being painted as heroes of democracy and Iraqi social plurality. Of course, here we are discussing Moqtada al-Sadr, scion of the Sadr family of Shia clerics, leader of the Mahdi Army terrorist organisation and of their now rebranded Peace Brigades.

Although I have elsewhere likened the prospects of Sadr acting as the hero who can save Iraq from sectarianism as being as realistic as Danger Mouse saving the world, it is still disconcerting that people can believe that a man who was up until recently overtly bent on the destruction of the Sunni population can suddenly have a change of heart.

The parliamentary tumult he caused was less to do with creating unity amongst Iraqis, and more to do with Sadr throwing his toys out of the pram because Iran has granted a greater share of power and influence to others at his expense. This is evidenced by the fact that Sadr and his supporters criticised Iranian influence over other Shia Iraqi groups in public demonstrations, ironically forgetting how his own power base was bred, funded and trained by Iran.

His criticisms of Iran did not go down well amongst either his detractors or his benefactors, as the former pointed out that he had just concluded a meeting with Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah chief and fellow Iranian stooge, and the latter, in the form of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, allegedly threatened to set their hounds on Sadr if he did not cease and desist from biting the hand that had fed him.

Nevertheless, Sadr’s antics created the perfect opportunity for other sectarian blocs, including some under the control of former prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, to attempt to purge the Iraqi government of any vestige of Sunni Arab presence, even if that presence served only to legitimise the grossly intolerant and sectional parliament. To achieve these ends, parliament voted to hoist the Iraqi Islamic Party’s Sunni Arab Saleem al-Jabouri out of his chair and post as Speaker, but failed due to their own factional in-fighting and inability to agree on which bloc or party had the largest piece of the Iraqi pie, now seeping with blood.

Jabouri seemed shocked that some of his former Iran-backed allies were now trying their utmost to hurl him out of his job as parliamentary speaker. It is not as though he did not have any prior warning about the perils of being a token Sunni working in a sectarian system established by the Americans and dominated by Shia parties, many with undeniable and strong connections to the radical mullahs of Iran.

After all, American forces humiliatingly assaulted the home of former Islamic Party leader Muhsin Abdulhamid, and later Maliki was to turn on another token Sunni, former vice president Tariq al-Hashimi, and had him sentenced to death in absentia while he was in exile in Turkey. The idea that Jabouri was caught by surprise is funny in itself, and in Iraq such a person is commonly known as a qashmar – someone eminently gullible.

The disaster of Iraq’s political system is further illustrated by the country’s leaders having established Iraq as one of the most corrupt countries on Earth. In fact, Iraq ranks even lower than “fantastically corrupt” Nigeria, as Prime Minister David Cameron put it to the Queen last week. In 2012, Transparency International gave Iraq a score of just 18 out of 100 in terms of the perception of its ability to counter corruption. It has since slipped to repeatedly scoring a meagre 16 points every year since then, demonstrating how Iraq is getting worse in yet another way aside from the continuing, merciless violence.

The apathy towards Iraq has gotten so bad that almost no one is even reporting that the city of Fallujah is being smashed between the hammer of the Green Zone government and the anvil of IS fanatics. The Iraqi authorities have imposed a total siege on the city, and have been shelling it incessantly since January 2014 when IS took control. Fighting IS is one thing, and shelling Fallujah General Hospital to the point where it is barely functioning is another. In fact, it is a war crime, yet it is too inconvenient for the international community to acknowledge that the Iraq they created has surpassed Saddam Hussein by any and all metrics of brutality, mass murder and repression.

Whilst the centrepiece of much of today’s news is Syria, occasionally flitting back to Palestine now and then, Iraq is largely forgotten. It seems that society has become content to imagine that whoever is fighting IS must be good, not heeding the fact that the Iraqi government and its rampant sectarianism is largely to blame for the birth of IS in the first place. The roots of the Syrian crisis can be found deeply burrowed in the catastrophe of Iraq, its corrupt tendrils extending across the fertile crescent all the way to its main source of nourishment, Tehran.

If the international community is serious about solving the Syrian crisis, they need to atone for the original sin that is Iraq, and how it was handed over to sectarian fanatics covered in the shroud of a false democracy.


Source http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/cirque-du-iraq-1506494766

PRESS RELEASE - For immediate release 19th May 2016

In the absence of real reform,

IRAQ LURCHING TOWARDS CATASTROPHE

 

“If real and comprehensive reforms are not carried out, Iraq will lurch towards catastrophe.” This was the view expressed today by Struan Stevenson, President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA) and a former President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-2014). Stevenson strongly condemned the recent explosions in Baghdad and other cities and said it would be impossible to sort out the current crisis unless the Iranian regime and its cohorts are expelled from Iraq and the true representatives of the Sunnis are allowed to have a share of political power and to be seriously involved in the fight against Daesh (ISIS).

 He added: “The Iraqi population is sick of those politicians who use their power systematically to rob the nation and fill their offshore bank accounts, while the country’s infrastructure and public services rot and the struggle to survive intensifies. Plummeting oil revenues have shattered the Iraqi economy and the combination of venal corruption and political instability has made Iraq a high-risk zone even for bailouts from the IMF.

 “The recent events have simply reinforced the view that Prime Minister Abadi is running out of time and must stop Iran from manipulating the situation His attempts at reform have been resoundingly rebuffed by political factions who are determined to keep their hands in the national cash register. When he tried to recall parliament last week so that he could issue an ultimatum on his reform agenda, the politicians simply stayed at home, boycotting the proceedings. The main obstacles to reform are former Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and his men who are under the absolute control of Tehran and act in full coordination with the militias affiliated to the terrorist Iranian Quds force.

“In an interesting development, Tariq al-Hashimi, the former vice president of Iraq and a prominent Sunni leader, who was sentenced to death in absence in a disgraceful show trial by Maliki, was taken off Interpol’s red notice list on Monday. This move by Interpol clearly exposes the level of corruption that prevailed in the Iraqi government under Maliki. It also highlights the need for al-Abadi urgently to restore the integrity of Sunni leaders who were arrested or sentenced in absentia by Maliki. 

“The political vacuum has created a seething sense of unrest and rising tension, which some commentators believe could herald a revolution and the overthrow of the Abadi government. Such a catastrophic event would play directly into the hands of the Iranian regime and Daesh, whose ultimate aims are to seize control over the whole of Iraq. Daesh has held Mosul, Iraq’s second city, for almost two years. The long awaited campaign to recapture the city began in March, but was quickly repulsed by the jihadists. Mosul’s two million Sunni inhabitants now nervously wait for the next onslaught, fearing the brutal pro-Iranian militias and the random air strikes by US and other Western bombers, almost as much as they fear the barbaric savagery of Daesh.”

 “The Sunni inhabitants of Mosul may have a long wait. Abadi has recalled most of his Iraqi military forces to provide a protective cordon around Baghdad, following the series of Daesh suicide bombings that last week killed scores of civilians. Any further deterioration in national security could pave the way for a Daesh assault on the Iraqi capital, which would inevitably suck in the Americans and potentially the British too. Obama’s reluctance to put US boots on the ground in Iraq, particularly during the dying days of his presidency, has paved the way for this crisis. But his obduracy could well be overwhelmed by a battle for Baghdad.”

Struan Stevenson concluded: “The only possible solution to the growing unrest is the formation of a government of national salvation to pacify the nation and unify Iraq. If Prime Minister Abadi is to survive, he must sweep away all of the corrupt ministers and replace them with technocrats who are prepared to work for the benefit of the country rather than to enrich themselves. He must evict the Iranian regime from Iraq and declare his liberation from their meddling. He must bring the Shi’ite militias under the immediate control of the Iraqi military and put an end to their sectarian campaign of genocidal slaughter. The US, UN and EU should quickly use their power to persuade Abadi on this course of action before it is too late.”

Office of Struan Stevenson
President of the European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA)
Brussels

(Struan Stevenson was a Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2014 and was President of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq from 2009 to 2014

-- 

European Iraqi Freedom Association (EIFA),  1050 Brussels, Belgium

President: Struan Stevenson, Chairman of European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with Iraq (2009-2014), Members of the board: Alejo Vidal-Quadras, Vice President of the European Parliament (1999-2014); Stephen Hughes, 1st Vice-President of European Parliament Socialist Group (2009-2014),  Giulio Terzi, Former Foreign Minister of Italy; Ryszard Czarnecki,Vice-President of the European Parliament; Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC; Paulo Casaca MEP (1999-2009); Kimmo Sasi, MP (Finland), Honorary members include Tariq al-Hashemi, former Vice President of Iraq , Sid Ahmed Ghozali, former Prime Minister of Algeria

Webwww.eu-iraq.org/        Facebookwww.facebook.com/EuIraq        Twitterwww.twitter.com/EuIraq

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