But the military battle has also shone a spotlight on the appalling abuses against Sunni civilians in the region by government troops and especially by the Shia militias that are a central part of the Iraqi fighting force. As reports of abuses by pro-government militias multiply, both Iraq’s methods and U.S. policy toward Iraq are coming under increased scrutiny.
Yet the reality is that both the Baghdad government and successive U.S. administrations have been aware of the Iraqi security forces’ appalling record of abuses for years, not just during this campaign. Human Rights Watch, along with many other rights organizations and media outlets, have published copious documentation of these abuses. Sadly, neither the Iraqi nor the U.S. authorities have indicated that they are prepared to address the problem, including holding those responsible to account.
An ABC News report on March 11 was only the most recent to document the atrocities by Iraqi security forces and militias in their fight against ISIS. Human Rights Watch reviewed the horrific compilation in its entirety before the report was aired. It showed graphic evidence of Iraqi government forces committing torture, summarily executing civilians – including children – and even beheading captives.
While we were unable to verify the authenticity of every photograph and video, we have repeatedly documented the pattern of abusive conduct by Iraqi forces during the fight against ISIS and its predecessor group long before the current campaign began. Late last year, in and around the town of Amerli, we found a pattern of abuses by Iraqi security forces and Shia militias and other fighters assisting them after they forced ISIS to retreat. The destruction of villages, forced displacement of thousands of residents, and kidnappings of civilians by government forces appeared intended to permanently remove Sunni civilians from that area.