War crimes by all sides as sectarian violence against civilians continues in Iraq

ISIS, armed groups and militias, and Iraqi Government forces have committed war crimes and gross abuses of human rights in the conflict spreading across Iraq. Northern Iraq: Civilians in the Line of Fire is a new briefing by Amnesty International which reports on the indiscriminate attacks, sectarian violence and illegal killings which have caused the displacement of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children fleeing the conflict.

'Once again beleaguered civilians in Iraq find themselves trapped in a spiral of sectarian violence from all sides. All sides are showing utter disregard for international humanitarian law.'
Amnesty Advisor Donatella Rovera, who has just returned from a research trip to northern Iraq

With the Iraqi government having withdrawn from a number of cities in Northern Iraq, ISIS now control vast swathes of the country. The conflict takes place against a background of years of violence, with some of those currently targeted or at risk of attack by ISIS having been caught up in previous waves of sectarian or political violence.

Amnesty researchers found that in every town and village which has come under the control of ISIS in recent weeks, men have been abducted and their families have struggled to find out their fate. The victims are men of all ages, professions, socio-economic status, and ethnic and religious groups, although particularly at risk are Shi'a Muslims, minority groups such as Yezidis and Christians, and Sunni Muslims associated with security forces, government or US forces. Some of the men detained were later released while others remain missing. A number of families told Amnesty that their relatives were executed by ISIS and their bodies found in terrible condition.

Amnesty has also found evidence of abuses by government forces and Shi'a militias, with illegal executions of detainees in Tal 'Afar, Mosul and Ba'quba. In Tal 'Afar jail around 50 Sunni detainees, most of whom were being held in pre-trial detention, were killed by government soldiers in an indiscriminate attack. In Mosul up to 20 Sunni detainees were killed whilst being detained in the Anti-Terrorism Agency.

Many Iraqis have fled their homes for fear of being caught up the violence, with government air strikes on ISIS controlled areas increasing. Dozens of civilians were killed and injured in an air strike on 6 July in al-Rashidiya, on the northern outskirts of Mosul, while on 7 June five young men sitting drinking tea and chatting on the roof terrace were killed by an artillery shell. Shelling of residential areas, an imprecise method of attack which should never be used against civilians, is being being carried out far too regularly.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled to Kurdish controlled parts of Iraq, with families living in dire conditions in camps while others shelter in schools, mosques, churches, and with host communities. Recently non-Kurdish Iraqis have found it difficult to enter the Kurdish Region and civilians are finding it increasingly difficult to find safe places in Iraq.

Even in war there are rules which must be respected, and Amnesty is calling on all parties to respect international humanitarian law by ending the indiscriminate attacks of civilian areas, to treat detainees humanely and to allow those fleeing the conflict, regardless of religion or ethnicity, to seek refuge in and safe passage through Kurdish territories.

You can see some of the pictures and stories gathered by Donatella Rovera, Amnesty's Senior Crisis Advisor during the research visit to northern Iraq. 

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