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Amnesty: Arming Shia militias fuels war crimes in Iraq

January 5, 2017 at 12:34 pm

Amnesty International has today released a scathing report on “irresponsible” international arms transfers fuelling war crimes perpetrated by armed Shia militias primarily against the Sunni Arab community in Iraq.

The international human rights organisation drew upon data, including photographic and video evidence, from June 2014 to date and have therefore covered most of the conflict against the Daesh extremist group since they pushed the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) out of Mosul more than two years ago.

According to Amnesty, paramilitary Shia militias, primarily operating under the umbrella of the Iran-sponsored and Iraq-sanctioned Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), have been using arms from Iraq’s state arsenal.

Iraq’s arms come from a myriad of countries around the world, and Amnesty says that the PMF has access to Iraqi stockpiles that originate from at least 17 different countries.

Countries arming Iraq with a range of sophisticated weapons systems include the United States, the United Kingdom and other member states of the EU, Russia and Iran.

“International arms suppliers, including the USA, European countries, Russia and Iran, must wake up to the fact that all arms transfers to Iraq carry a real risk of ending up in the hands of militia groups with long histories of human rights violations,” said Patrick Wilcken, Researcher on Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International.

“Any state selling arms to Iraq has to show that there are strict measures in place to make sure the weapons will not be used by paramilitary militias to flagrantly violate rights. If they haven’t done that, no transfer should take place.”

Systematic violations by Shia militants

The PMF was recently legalised by the Iraqi government, therefore raising questions regarding its culpability for war crimes being committed by units within the formal Iraqi military chain of command.

Iraqi Shia jihadists armed, funded and politically supported by Iran have been accused of war crimes for years, with various human rights organisations including Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and even the United Nations reporting sectarian abuses and violations primarily against the Sunni Arab population.

Amnesty said that they had spoken to a man from Muqdadiya, a central Iraqi city in Diyala province, who described what happened to his 22-year-old brother Amer and other Sunni men in January 2016.

Amer was among 100 men and boys abducted from their homes when PMF militants went on a rampage in retaliation for a suicide attack on a Shia-owned cafe in the city. PMF fighters also burnt and destroyed Sunni mosques, shops and property.

“Many Sunnis were grabbed in the streets or dragged from their homes and instantly killed. In the first week of the events, militiamen drove around with speakers shouting for Sunni men to come out of their homes. On 13 January [2016], more than 100 men were taken and have not been seen since,” the man told Amnesty researchers.

Forced disappearance is a common tactic used by the PMF and other extremists, with a particularly notable example occurring in the town of Saqlawiyah during operations to recapture Fallujah last summer.

Governor of Anbar Sohaib Al-Rawi tweeted that 643 men and boys were abducted from the town in June, an account that was later corroborated by the United Nations. Their fate remains unknown to this day.

The Amnesty report is the latest in an increasingly growing body of evidence that Iran-backed jihadists are using Western and Russian arms to commit war crimes and atrocities while using Daesh as an excuse to justify their violence.