Iraq's mistreatment of its Sunni population has come under scrutiny following a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report which found that thousands of mainly Sunni Iraqi men were arbitrarily arrested and forcibly disappeared by government forces and allied local armed groups since 2014.
In the report titled "Life Without a Father is Meaningless", published today, the rights group documented the cases of enforced disappearance in the country. It found 74 cases of men and four cases of boys who were detained by Iraqi military and security forces between April 2014 and October 2017.
In the cases documented, family members said they could obtain no information about the fate or whereabouts of the detainees and detainees were not allowed any contact with the outside world.
With the exception of eight individuals who were disappeared all the cases documented in the report were Sunni Arab males. The youngest disappeared victim was nine years old, and the oldest 70, with the majority of the disappeared in their thirties.
The report described a trail of abuse the followed victims of enforced disappearance. "The enforced disappearance was accompanied by other human rights abuses including arbitrary arrest and detention; ill-treatment; and extrajudicial execution", the report said.
Family members were also subjected to extortions. Many relatives and witnesses cited in the report said that they were asked to pay extortionate sums of money for the release of prisoners. In one case, a father said an officer asked for a bribe in order to facilitate his son's release. The father said he refused, saying he did not have the means, and his son has not been released since.
Most of the victims are being detained by the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) or the National Security Service (NSS) in unofficial places of detention. These cases, according to HRW, "call into question the assertions by the PMF commission, the group's governing body, that PMF groups "do not detain any individuals in Iraq". HRW said that these originations, which have been incorporated into the state army, have no mandate to hold prisoners in this manner.
"The enforced disappearances documented in this report are part of a much wider pattern in Iraq," the report said, adding that a previous publication had documented the detention of at least 7,374 individuals in Mosul on charges of affiliation with Daesh, largely without notifying their families.
The group called on the US, UK, Germany, France "and other states providing military, security and intelligence assistance to Iraq to urge the Iraqi authorities to investigate allegations of enforced disappearances and to investigate the role of their own assistance in these alleged violations." They asked these countries to "suspend military, security and intelligence assistance to units involved in these violations". Furthermore, HRW called on these countries to "maintain the suspension of assistance until the government adopts measures to end these serious human rights violations".