Report: Iraq militias violated human rights using US-supplied weapons
By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 6, 2017
IRBIL, Iraq — Shiite militias fighting as part of the government-led campaign to defeat Islamic State in Iraq were committing war crimes using weapons provided to the Iraqi military by at least 16 countries, including the United States, Russia and Iran, Amnesty International said Thursday.
In a report based on expert analysis of photos and videos, the rights group said weapons from Iraqi military stockpiles, including tanks, artillery and small weapons, had made their way into the hands of militias involved in abductions, extrajudicial killings, torture and property destruction.
Known as Popular Mobilization Forces, the umbrella group of dozens of militias was established in mid-2014 and has been backed by the Iraqi government since. It includes some groups that battled U.S. forces before the military left at the end of 2011.
Iraq’s parliament voted in November to incorporate the militias into the country’s armed forces, and thousands of members are participating in the operation to retake Mosul, now in its third month.
Rights organizations have long accused the Shiite militias of rights abuses. The Amnesty report cited 2 1/2 years of field research, including interviews with dozens of former detainees, witnesses, survivors and relatives of the militias’ victims.
It focused on four main militias — the Badr Organization, Asaib Ahl al-Haq, the Hezbollah Brigades and the Saraya al-Salam, successors of the Mahdi Army — which formed before the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 to oppose the U.S.-led invasion.
The U.S. and Russia are the top two suppliers of arms to Iraq, the report said. Amnesty determined that Kalashnikovs were the most prevalent light arms among the militias, but M16 variants were also found in significant numbers.
“The USA, European countries, Russia and Iran must wake up to the fact that all arms transfers to Iraq carry a real risk of ending up in the hands of militia groups with long histories of human rights violations,” Amnesty researcher Patrick Wilcken said in a statement.
He called on governments seeking to sell arms to Iraq to put in place strict measures to prevent the weapons from being used to violate human rights.
U.S. Army Col. Joseph Scrocca, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition supporting the Iraqi forces, said in a statement that militia groups it has trained — more than 30 so far — have been vetted and approved by Baghdad and, where applicable, the Kurdish regional government. None are known as Shiite militias, have historical ties to Iran or have ties to past atrocities, he said.
“We do not provide equipment to Iran-backed Shiite militias,” Scrocca said. “The coalition does not condone sectarian violence and stands by the government of Iraq in their message of a unified nation against the [Islamic State] enemy.”
Amnesty said though it was difficult to confirm the militia’s supply chains, they likely include self-funded purchases on the black market, battlefield capture, direct transfer from Iran, and sales, gifts or loans from Iraqi authorities and the army.
“We cannot eliminate the possibility that various factions of the Popular Mobilization Forces that the U.S. has not agreed to support are being armed/supplied with material that the [Iraqi army] needs from those warehouses” at the Taji National Depot and elsewhere, said a September 2015 Pentagon Inspector General report cited by Amnesty, which found poor Iraqi oversight of the stockpiles.
An Iraqi soldier loads a PK machine gun in the turret of an Iraqi army Humvee near Mosul, Nov. 19, 2016. Amnesty International found that Iraqi army weapons supplied by the U.S., Russia and other countries have wound up in the hands of Iran-backed Shiite militias accused of committing war crimes.
CHAD GARLAND/STARS AND STRIPES