Iraq: government-backed Shi'a militias abducting and killing Sunnis in anti-ISIS revenge attacks - new briefing
Fighters from Saraya al-Salam, a new Shi'a armed group which includes personnel from the now-dissolved Mahdi Army © ALI AL-SAADI/AFP/Getty Images
In one single day more than 30 Sunni men were abducted from or near their homes in Samarra, shot dead and their bodies were dumped nearby
‘Shi’a militias are ruthlessly targeting Sunni civilians on a sectarian basis under the guise of fighting terrorism’ - Donatella Rovera
Shi’a militias in Iraq, supported and armed by the government of Iraq, have abducted and killed scores of Sunni civilians in recent months and enjoy total impunity for these war crimes, said Amnesty International in a new briefing today (14 October).
The 28-page briefing - Absolute Impunity: Militia Rule in Iraq
- provides harrowing details of sectarian attacks carried out by increasingly powerful Shi’a militias in the cities of Baghdad, Samarra and Kirkuk, apparently in revenge for attacks by the Islamic State armed group. Scores of unidentified bodies have been discovered, handcuffed and with gunshot wounds to the head, indicating a pattern of execution-style killings.
For example, in and around Samarra, a predominantly Sunni city of 400,000 inhabitants, Amnesty has obtained the details of more than 170 mostly young Sunni men abducted since early June. Dozens have later been found dead and the rest remain unaccounted for. In one single day - Friday 6 June - more than 30 were abducted from or near their homes, shot dead and their bodies dumped nearby. The killing spree seems to have been in reprisal for a brief incursion into the city the previous day by Islamic State fighters.
Among the Shi’a militias believed to be behind the new wave of abductions and killings are ‘Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, the Badr Brigades, the Mahdi Army, and Kata’ib Hizbullah. These militias have seen a new rise in power since June, after the Iraqi army retreated from Islamic State fighters in northern Iraq. The militias, numbering into the tens of thousands, wear military uniforms but operate outside any legal framework and without any official oversight.
One government official explained that militias “mostly … kidnap Sunnis, because the victims can easily be labelled as terrorists and nobody is going to do anything about it”. At a checkpoint north of Baghdad, Amnesty heard a member of the ‘Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq militia say: “If we catch ‘those dogs’ [Sunnis] coming down from the Tikrit area we execute them …. They come to Baghdad to commit terrorist crimes, so we have to stop them.”
The fate of many of those abducted by Shi’a militias remains unknown. Some captives were killed even after their families had paid ransoms of more than £50,000 to secure their release. Salem, a 40-year-old businessman and father of nine from Baghdad, was abducted in July. Two weeks after his family had paid the kidnappers a £37,000 ransom his body was found in Baghdad’s morgue with his head crushed and his hands still cuffed together. The relative of another victim from Kirkuk told Amnesty: “I have lost one son and don’t want to lose any more. Nothing can bring him back and I can’t put my other children at risk. Who knows who will be next? There is no rule of law, no protection.”
Meanwhile, Iraqi government forces are also perpetrating serious human rights violations in an atmosphere of deteriorating security and general lawlessness. Amnesty has uncovered evidence of the torture and ill-treatment of detainees, as well as deaths in custody, of Sunni men detained under Iraq’s 2005 anti-terrorism law. In one typical case, the body of a 33-year-old lawyer and father of two young children who died in Iraqi government custody showed bruises, open wounds and burns consistent with the application of electricity. Another man held for five months was tortured with electric shocks and threatened with rape with a stick before being released without charge.
Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser Donatella Rovera said:
“By granting its blessing to militias who routinely commit such abhorrent abuses, the Iraqi government is sanctioning war crimes and fuelling a dangerous cycle of sectarian violence that is tearing the country apart.
“Shi’a militias are ruthlessly targeting Sunni civilians on a sectarian basis under the guise of fighting terrorism, in an apparent bid to punish Sunnis for the rise of the IS and for its heinous crimes.
“The new Iraqi government of Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi must act now to rein in the militias and establish the rule of law.”
View latest press releases