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Iraqi militias 'committing rights abuses' in Hawija operation: HRW

Pro-government militias are heavily involved in the battle against the Islamic State group [Getty]

Date of publication: 28 September, 2017

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Iraq’s pro-government militias were accused of illegally detaining villagers near the Islamic State-held district of Hawija in northern Iraq and subjecting them to torture and ill treatment.

Human Rights Watch accused Iraq’s pro-government militias of illegally detaining villagers near the Islamic State-held district of Hawija in northern Iraq and subjecting them to torture and ill treatment.

The rights group said in a report on Thursday that men from villages near Hawija were detained by militias from the Badr Organisation, a brigade embedded within the Popular Mobilisation Forces, and were taken to an unknown location.

“Human Rights Watch has documented that PMF groups, including units affiliated with the Badr Organisation, have screened, detained, and tortured people during the military operations,” said the report, which based its findings on interviews with villagers evacuated to a nearby refugee camp.

Women were also detained briefly by Iraqi security forces and were questioned about their male relatives’ activities before being transported to the refugee camp, HRW said.

But the leader of one of the militias, which are known as Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) or more commonly as al-Hashed al-Shaabi in Arabic, denied the accusation and said their fighters were strictly following the law in their dealings with civilians fleeing military operations in the area.

“We are strictly ordering our fighters to abide by the law and avoid mistreating refugees fleeing the fighting. But when we suspect someone is a terrorist we normally arrest him and hand him over to the security forces,” local Badr commander Kareem al-Mohammedawi said.

Iraq launched an offensive on September 21 to dislodge Islamic State from Hawija, which lies west of the oil city of Kirkuk and is one of two areas of the country still under the control of the militants.

“While Iraqi forces do need all the help they can get, the government should not allow abusive forces to use this opportunity for even more abuse,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch warned.

The Iraqi government was not immediately available to comment on the HRW report.

Hawija and a stretch of land along the Syrian border are the last pieces of Iraq still in the hands of Islamic State, which overran about a third of the country in 2014.

 

 

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