The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has taken over many areas of Iraq, including Mosul, Tikrit, and towns in Salah al-Din province and there is fear that they will continue their advance towards the capital, Baghdad. The Iraqi Government has asked for help to the US To fight them. Human Rights Watch warns that the advance of ISIL in Iraq and Syria puts civilians in danger.
In a press release, Human Rights Watch said that has previously documented crimes committed by ISIL in other areas of Iraq and Syria, including car and suicide bomb attacks in civilian areas, summary executions, torture in detention, discrimination against women, and destruction of religious property. Human Rights Watch has found that some of these acts may amount to crimes against humanity.
“The possibility that ISIL will repeat the atrocities it has committed in other parts of Iraq, and impose the same intolerant and abusive rule as it has in Syria, is deeply troubling,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “But the Iraqi government needs to deal with the situation without the brutal tactics for which civilians elsewhere in the country have long been paying a heavy price.”
In fighting ISIL and seeking to regain control of Mosul and other lost areas, Iraq’s government should take all feasible measures to protect civilians, including not indiscriminately attacking civilian areas and ensuring civilians safe escape routes. While many Mosul residents fled the city, at least four people told Human Rights Watch that security forces prevented them from leaving.
On June 10, 2014, after ISIL took over key areas of the city, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appeared on the state-owned Iraqiyya channel asking parliament to declare martial law. He called on all Iraqis to “carry weapons and fight ISIL,” after reports that hundreds of soldiers had deserted and that the security forces had “collapsed.” On June 11, Maliki announced the formation of a “reservist” army to fight ISIL, and centers opened in Basra, Najaf and other largely Shia areas to accept volunteers, HRW said.
On June 9, after four days of fighting with government forces, ISIL took control of the western area of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, including its airport and the governor’s office. Since then, ISIL has also taken over the town of Sharqat, in Salah al-Din province, and parts of Beiji, including an army barracks, a police station, and a power station that serves Baghdad, Salah ad-Din, and Kirkuk.
Human Rights Watch has not been able to investigate ISIL’s actions in areas it has controlled since June 10, but media reports indicate that ISIL has kidnapped a Turkish consul, 24 of his consular staff in Mosul and the governor of Salah al-Din; and killed 15 soldiers in Kirkuk.
“I don’t feel safe at all,” one Mosul resident told Human Rights Watch. “I fear ISIL, they might kill me for any reason: because I worked as a government employee … if they notice that I don’t go to the mosque and pray as they want everyone to, [or] if my beard isn’t long enough.”
In May, before ISIL gained control of Mosul, Human Rights Watch had documented numerous abuses against local civilians by the group in the city and surrounding areas over the previous six months. These included 10 summary executions, two kidnappings, several attacks on journalists, and enforced taxation of local businesses. In ISIL-led operations in Syria, Human Rights Watch has documented systematic rights abuses including the intentional targeting and abduction of civilians. In Syrian areas under ISIL control, Human Rights Watch documented the imposition of strict and discriminatory rules on women and girls as well as the active recruitment of child soldiers with schooling campaigns and public events. On May 29, according to accounts from first responders and local Kurdish officials, ISIL forces entered the village of al-Taliliya near Ras al-`Ayn in northern Syria without resistance and executed at least 15 civilians, including seven children.
Human Rights Watch has also documented numerous abuses by government forces in their fight against ISIL and other anti-government armed groups in Anbar province and other areas throughout the country. Government security forces and pro-government militias have targeted civilian objects, used barrel bombs to attack residential areas, and illegally detained, tortured and extrajudicially executed an unknown number of people since the conflict in Anbar began in January.
Mosul residents reported to local media that security forces apparently carried out indiscriminate attacks in residential areas throughout the city on June 6, 7, and 8, after ISIL initially tried to take the city in the early morning hours of June 6.
Maliki’s creation of a reservist army and incorporation of Shia militias into security forces risks further abuses, Human Rights Watch said. Based on Human Rights Watch interviews with more than 20 residents of towns around Baghdad, in the area known as the Baghdad “Belt,” these militias, including Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqq and Kata’ib Hezbollah, conducted indiscriminate attacks in civilian areas, and have carried out numerous kidnappings and summary executions of Sunnis in the towns of Buhriz, Mada’in, and al-Heetawy, among others.
A Kata’ib Hezbollah fighter told Human Rights Watch on June 10 that members of the militia were taking part in the fighting in Mosul, and that three militia members had been killed. Human Rights Watch has not been able to independently confirm whether militias are fighting in Mosul or, if so, who ordered their deployment. But the government should not support or use armed groups responsible for widespread or systematic abuses, and risks being complicit in any further abuses if it does.
Iraqi authorities should protect civilians from indiscriminate attacks, arbitrary detention and summary executions, Human Rights Watch said.
All sides, including ISIL, government authorities and security forces in central Iraq and the Kurdistan region, should permit rapid and unimpeded humanitarian access to civilians in need. All sides also need to take all feasible steps to evacuate the civilian population from the vicinity of military objects.
The US, which has been a key supporter of Iraq’s government, including providing weapons to the Iraqi army, should ensure that its military support is not used in violation of international humanitarian law or for serious human rights abuses, Human Rights Watch said. The US should confirm that its equipment is not used in indiscriminate attacks or attacks targeting civilians, or to support pro-government militias that have committed widespread violations against civilians during a government offensive to retake areas in Anbar and Baghdad provinces.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) should publish as early as possible initial findings on any abuse committed in connection with the recent offensive, with a view to identify those responsible, as a means to advance accountability, Human Rights Watch said.
The UN Security Council should call on all parties to respect international law and to put human rights violators on all sides on notice that they could face sanctions. The Security Council should demand that the government of Iraq cease abusive tactics and hold abusers accountable, the organisation added.
“The last decade in Iraq has shown time and time again that offensives that alienate civilian populations set the ground for future battles,” Houry said.