Amnesty International has released two new briefings today (10 June) detailing deadly reprisal attacks by both Shi’a militias and Yezidi militias against local Sunni Arab communities following Islamic State crimes in northern Iraq.
The two massacres were apparently to avenge Islamic State crimes in the area, part of the armed group’s year-long reign of terror in northern Iraq.
In one of the reprisal attacks, at least 46 Sunni men were murdered in the village of Barwana in Diyala province by Shi’a militiamen and government forces. In a separate attack in the Sinjar region, members of a Yezidi militia killed 21 Sunni Arab residents in two villages called Jiri and Sibaya.
The father of two of the victims - a 15-year-old boy and his 20-year-old brother from Jiri - told Amnesty that his sons were shot dead and their bodies dumped in a nearby Yezidi village. Their younger brother, who is 12-years-old, was shot four times in the back, chest, arm and leg but miraculously survived. Nahla, a 34-year-old mother-of-five from Jiri, described how her husband and son had been shot dead in cold blood and even her baby had a narrow escape - a bullet pierced the blanket she had wrapped him in as she carried him in her arms. In the nearby village of Sibaya most of those slain were elderly, or men and women with disabilities who were unable to escape. Two children were also killed.
“We could not imagine the assailants would target the old and the sick but they did,” said one man describing how his 66-year-old father was shot dead in his wheelchair.
While the Kurdistan Regional Government authorities and Peshmerga forces have attempted to keep Yezidi and Arab communities separate to prevent further attacks, no investigations into the attacks on Jiri and Sibaya appear to have been carried out. Last year Islamic State carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Yezidi minority - whose members were abducted in large numbers last year, with men summarily killed in their hundreds, and women and girls raped and forced into sexual slavery.
Shi’a attacks on Sunnis in BarwanaIn Barwana, dozens of women and girls described to Amnesty how their male relatives and neighbours were seized from their homes and shot dead in cold blood on 26 January by members of Shi’a militias and government forces. Their bodies, many handcuffed and blindfolded, were found littered around the village, suggesting they were victims of execution-style summary killings amounting to war crimes.
Other residents described how gunmen, some of them believed to be from the Badr militia - one of Iraq’s most powerful militias, which had been battling Islamic State groups in the area for weeks - went door to door, taking the men but not searching their homes or questioning their relatives. Most of those killed were young men between the ages of 20 and 40 but the dead included children and elderly people.
Nadia, whose husband, son and son-in-law were among those killed during the attack, said:
“There were bodies everywhere. Tens and tens of bodies. Some by the rubbish dump, others in a field. I cannot forget the sight, heads exploded, contorted bodies, pools of blood. The children saw it too. The screams still ring in my head. It was unimaginable.”
A 17-year-old boy and his 21-year-old brother, who was married with a newborn baby, were also among those killed. Their mother described the attack to Amnesty:
“I heard shooting and screaming. When [it] stopped I went out and found my boy’s body by the rubbish dump … He had a big hole in the head, his brain was spilling out … He was just a child, he was only 17.”
The massacre followed the killing of members of Shi’a militias and government forces who had been battling Islamic State groups in the surrounding areas for weeks, and bears the hallmark of a revenge attack. Shi’a militias, supported and armed by the government of Iraq, have carried out similar attacks across Iraq, abducting and killing scores of Sunni civilians with total impunity and in some cases forcibly displacing entire Sunni communities. Despite commitments by President Haider Al-Abadi to open an investigation into the Barwana massacre, months later there are no signs that any steps have been taken to hold accountable those responsible for the killings.
Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Advisor Donatella Rovera, who has spent much of the past year in Iraq, said:
“The heinous crimes of the IS have been met by growing sectarian attacks by Shi’a militias, who are taking revenge for IS crimes by targeting Sunni Arabs.
“With perpetrators from the IS and from powerful Shi’a militias mostly out of reach of the law, civilians have no one to turn to for protection and victims have no access to justice.
“It is deeply troubling to see members of the Yezidi community, who have suffered so much at the hands of the IS, now themselves committing such brutal crimes.
“These misguided attempts to take justice into their own hands and take revenge on entire communities have only brought more tragedy and suffering on civilians.”
“Looking back at the carnage and chaos that has taken hold in the year since the IS takeover, the picture that emerges is of an Iraq more fractured and bitterly divided than ever and rival factions hell-bent on destroying each other, with no regard for who is actually a fighter or a civilian.”