A major international human rights organisation has accused Iraqi government-sponsored Shia jihadists of illegally detaining and then forcibly disappearing refugees in and around Mosul at black sites, some of whom later reappeared on Iraqi TV stations belonging to Shia militants as alleged Daesh militants.
In a report published today by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), officially part of the Iraqi military and a predominantly Shia jihadist organisation backed by Iran, have been detaining men and "screening" them, despite not being licensed to do so.
Men who have been taken by the PMF disappear completely, or else end up on militia-owned television stations as alleged Daesh militants. The locations where the men, mostly Sunni Arabs, are being taken are unknown and relatives are never informed.
"In case after case, relatives are telling us that their male family members are being stopped by PMF fighters and disappearing," Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at HRW, said.
HRW has said that Iraqi authorities should only allow bodies with a screening mandate to screen people and ensure that anyone detained is held in a recognised detention centre accessible to independent monitors and granted their rights under Iraqi and international law.
Iraqi authorities have an obligation to let the relatives of detainees know where they are, HRW added.
In one instance, HRW interviewed families from the village of Nzara who said that the village had been completely depopulated by the PMF in November 2016, and they were forcibly bused the villagers to a nearby town to screen them.
Five men from Nzara, who had earlier left to sell sheep, were never seen again by their families until they saw them on Al-Walaa TV, owned by the Iran-backed Badr Organisation, one of the largest and most powerful Shia jihadist factions in the PMF. The Badr-owned channel claimed that the sheep traders were actually Daesh militants that they had captured.
On 10 January, a soldier from the Iraqi Army's Ninth Division told HRW that a PMF unit would come and detain groups of men who are not on the Iraqi government's "wanted lists" and take them away. HRW said that it was unable to identify where the detained men had been taken, or what had happened to them.
"Some men appear to be disappearing into the night even after official screenings by Iraqi security forces confirmed that they were not on their wanted lists," HRW's Fakih said. "It is crucial for the authorities to take all measures to ensure that their whereabouts are known and the scale of detention is documented."
HRW, Amnesty International, the United Nations and other major organisations have all expressed concerns that the PMF and other Iran-backed militant outfits have been illegally detaining Sunni men, and in some cases have documented war crimes and human rights violations committed by the PMF.
The disappearances of refugees from the fighting in Mosul is now raising concerns that similar abuses could be occurring at PMF, also known as the Hashd Al-Sha'abi in Arabic, black sites.