Battle for Mosul: Growing reports of abuse, killing of civilians by Iraqi forces


Reports have filtered out of regular and irregular forces abusing and summarily executed civilians under suspicion of links to Islamic State

Iraqi government forces advance in western Mosul's Zanjili neighbourhood (AFP)
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Thursday 8 June 2017 13:46 UTC

Human rights groups have warned against escalating civilians deaths as a result of Iraqi forces' assault on the city of Mosul, the last stronghold of the Islamic State group in the country.

The UN said on Thursday it was investigating reports that 50-80 people had died in an air strike on the Zanjili district of Mosul on 31 May. It did not say who carried out the strike.

“Thousands of families are trapped by ISIS in west Mosul, with its fighters preventing civilians from fleeing to safety,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“Iraqi and coalition forces should recognise that in the crowded Old City, using explosive weapons with wide area effects puts civilians at excessive risk.”

Iraqi government forces retook eastern Mosul in January and began a push on 27 May to capture the remaining Islamic State-held enclave in the western side of the city, where about 200,000 people are trapped in harrowing conditions.

Civilians have also been targeted by IS in mass killings of those trying to flee the city. The United Nations Human Rights Office said it had credible reports of at least 231 civilians being killed by IS as they tried to flee west Mosul between 26 May and 3 June.

Last week Iraqi police said at least seven civilians had been killed by IS mortar shells in the Zanjili area of western Mosul.

But a young man told Reuters he had been wounded when an air strike hit a group of 200-250 civilians collecting water because an IS fighter was hiding among them.

The UN statement said the deaths in Zanjili were reportedly caused by one of several recent air strikes that had inflicted civilian casualties and it was seeking further information about those attacks, without elaborating.

"The murder of civilians, as well as the intentional directing of an attack against civilians who are not directly taking part in hostilities, are war crimes," it said.

Extrajudicial killings 

The warnings come on the heels of reports indicating that the Iraqi army had carried out summary executions and tortured civilians.

According to HRW, at least 26 bodies of blindfolded and handcuffed men were found in government-held areas in and around Mosul which, according to local armed forces, were largely killed by government security forces.

They also reported that the paramilitary Popular Mobilisation Units (PMUs) had been blamed for killing 25 men and dumping their bodies in the Tigris.

There have been numerous reports of armed forces, including the PMUs, imprisoning civilians in formal and informal detention centres and torturing or killing them under suspicion of affiliation to IS.

“The bodies of bound and blindfolded men are being found one after the other in and around Mosul and in the Tigris River, raising serious concerns about extrajudicial killings by government forces,” said Fakih, of HRW.

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“The lack of any apparent government action to investigate these deaths undermines the government’s statements on protecting detainee rights.”

The Iraqi government has, however, promised to investigate reports in the German magazine Der Spiegel which documented abuse of prisoners by Iraqi forces.

An interior ministry statement in late May said that it would take legal action against anyone proven to have been "negligent" after photos showing detainees suspended from ceilings and others claiming they were tortured and raped were released in the magazine.

Ali Arkady, who took the photos for the magazine, said he had seen detainees "tortured to death" and said a male Sunni pro-government fighter was raped by Shia personnel belonging to the Emergency Response Division (ERD).

The group has denied the accusations, calling the photos a "fabrication".

Islamic State's self-declared "caliphate" is in retreat across Iraq and Syria. US-backed Syrian forces this week launched an operation to capture Raqqa, Islamic State's de facto capital in Syria.