IRBIL, Iraq — The Iraqi government said it has begun an investigation into one of its elite police units amid allegations that security forces have committed human rights abuses, including torture, rape and extrajudicial killings, in the battle to retake Mosul from Islamic State militants.
The inquiry comes after the German magazine Der Spiegel published a report by Iraqi photojournalist Ali Arkady this week detailing abuses allegedly committed by the Interior Ministry’s emergency response division. On Thursday, ABC television broadcast footage recorded by Arkady, who had been embedded with that unit.
One video broadcast by ABC and carrying a warning of graphic content shows a blindfolded man balanced on a stool in the middle of a room, his arms bound and fastened to the ceiling. A man in military uniform kicks the stool away, leaving the blindfolded man hanging and whimpering.
The Interior Ministry said in a statement that it would “investigate the matter clearly and impartially” and “take legal action in accordance with the laws.” The emergency response division said the report was fabricated.
In a video posted online, the division accuses Arkady of stealing cameras from a public affairs soldier and says he is wanted by Iraqi “authorities.”
Arkady’s allegations prompt concerns about whether the United States is doing enough to vet the forces with which it is partnering in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq. Arkady said he witnessed the abuses late last year, around the time the U.S.-led coalition expanded its advise-and-assist mission to work closely with Iraqi Interior Ministry forces — including the emergency response division — on planning operations and in providing air support.
However, as they are not directly armed or trained by the United States, the emergency response division forces are unlikely to be covered by the Leahy Law, which prohibits the United States from providing military assistance to units that carry out human rights abuses with impunity.
“While the Coalition cannot confirm the veracity of these allegations, any violation of the law of armed conflict would be unacceptable and should be investigated in a transparent manner,” Army Col. Joseph Scrocca, a spokesman for the coalition, said in an email. “Those deemed responsible are held accountable in accordance with due process and Iraqi law.”
Arkady said he had initially set out to document the heroic actions of the unit as it fought to wrest control of Mosul from the Islamic State, following two officers — one Sunni and the other Shiite — to counter the narrative of sectarianism in the Iraqi armed forces and show they were “liberators not destroyers.”
Mosul is a majority-Sunni city, and the Shiite-dominated Iraqi military has tried to showcase the lengths to which it has gone to avoid any sectarian strife.
Arkady said, however, that he found himself documenting what could amount to war crimes. In his account in Der Spiegel, he said he later saw the body of one of the men he had seen being tortured in the headquarters of the unit’s intelligence department. Detainees were accused of having links to the Islamic State or of having pledged allegiance to the group.
Arkady, who has received threats, has fled Iraq.
In a bid to refute Arkady’s allegations, the emergency response division released a video showing soldiers revisiting a man who they say was featured in one of Arkady’s videos, to prove that he is still alive — although he is not one of the people Arkady alleges were killed.
Morris reported from Beirut.