With world eyes fixed on fighters from Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, a leading human rights group has revealed that Iraqi security forces and militias affiliated with the government have executed at least 255 Sunni prisoners in retaliation for attacks by ISIL.
“Gunning down prisoners is an outrageous violation of international law,” Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement by HRW.
“While the world rightly denounces the atrocious acts of ISIS, it should not turn a blind eye to sectarian killing sprees by government and pro-government forces.”
HRW statement, released on Friday, accused Iraqi security forces and government-affiliated militias of executing at least 255 prisoners since 9 June.
The killings of prisoners, all Sunnis, occurred in six Iraqi villages: Mosul, Tal Afar, Baquba, Jumarkhe, Rawa and Hilla.
Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 35 people in person or by telephone about the five attacks.
They included witnesses and relatives of those killed, security and other government officials, and local activists.
Many had fled their homes and spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals by government forces. Human Rights Watch also reviewed video footage, still photos and media reports of the killings.
Reuters news agency, quoting police sources, reported that in a sixth attack, on June 23 in central Babil province, police executed 69 prisoners in their cells in the city of Hilla before transferring their bodies to Baghdad later that day.
Most of the executions took place as Iraqi forces fled advancing Isis fighters, HRW said in a statement.
“The mass extrajudicial killings may be evidence of war crimes or crimes against humanity, and appear to be revenge killings for atrocities by Isis,” the statement said.
Crimes Against Humanity
The HRW statement said that the executions, which it documented based primarily on interviews with eyewitnesses and officials, “may be evidence of war crimes or crimes against humanity”.
“In each case that Human Rights Watch investigated, the accounts we heard point directly to Iraqi security forces and pro-government militia slaughtering captive men in large numbers as ISIS and allied fighters were poised to seize the area,” Stork said.
“This isn’t one rogue commander on the loose – this seems to be a widespread campaign of killing Sunni prisoners in cold blood.”
The world focus was turned to the volatile area after Al-Qaeda splinter group, ISIL, seized control of Iraq’s second city of Mosul on June 10, storming government buildings, TV stations, banks and hoisting the blacks.
The fall of Mosul followed that of Tikrit, Anbar’s Fallujah and Ramadi as well as other parts since last December.
The situation on the ground has further deteriorated after Iraq’s most senior Shiite Muslim scholar Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani urged followers to take up arms against a Sunni insurgency in Iraq.
Last June 30, ISIL made a surprise announcement of the establishment of a new Islamic “caliphate” and changed its name into the Islamic State.
The declaration was made in an audio recording distributed online in which ISIL declared its chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi “the caliph” and “leader for Muslims everywhere”. ONISLAM