IRBIL, Iraq — A leading human rights group urged Iraqi authorities to investigate allegations of abuse against alleged Islamic State fighters and their families, after videos surfaced of detainees being beaten and executed.
Iraqi forces have arrested thousands of people in the former Islamic State stronghold of Mosul in recent months as the battle against the militants there reached its endgame.
Four videos uploaded to the Internet this week appeared to show Iraqi soldiers or federal policemen abusing suspected militants. In one video, a man is beaten before being thrown off a cliff and shot on the ground below.
In a statement Thursday, Human Rights Watch called on Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to launch an immediate investigation into the “serious crimes” that appeared to have been exposed on film, as well as into other recent reports of violations by armed forces in the context of the Mosul battle.
“Numerous witnesses on the front line have given me detailed reports of not only torture and extrajudicial killing of ISIS suspects captured by Iraqi security and military as they flee the Old City of Mosul, but a change in tenor, with armed forces no longer feeling the need to hide their actions,” said Belkis Wille, the rights group’s senior Iraq researcher.
The videos were posted to Facebook on Tuesday and Wednesday by Salah al-Imara, an Iraqi man who regularly publishes information regarding security and military activities in and around Mosul.
As Iraqi forces edged through Mosul’s densely populated western districts, they evacuated tens of thousands of people trapped inside the area. At screening centers across the city, men are separated from women and children, before having their names screened against a database of Islamic State suspects, and backstories put up for scrutiny in front of others evacuated from the same area.
In interviews with The Washington Post, aid workers with knowledge of the situation in the screening centers said that suspected Islamic State militants had been beaten there.
Human rights advocates have expressed concern over the sheer scale of the suspect databases used by different arms of the Iraqi security forces, arguing that civilians with no links to the militants are being caught in the dragnet.
In Washington Thursday, a spokesman for Iraq’s Interior Ministry, Brig. Gen Saad Maan, told Pentagon reporters through an interpreter that “we looked and suspended a number of those forces shown in those pictures and there is currently an investigation being conducted.”
Maan was likely referring to a report in the German magazine Der Speigel from May that implicated a number of officers from the Interior Ministry's Federal Police Unit. Maan added that “there might be some misbehavior or inappropriate conduct by some of the forces, yes, but the investigation is going on. We are against any violation against any human being and this is the position of the government.”
The reports come days after a report from Amnesty International accused Iraqi and coalition forces of waging a brutal campaign to retake West Mosul, one that might have violated international humanitarian law.
Much of the area now lies in ruins, having been shattered by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, Islamic State car bombs, and shelling and mortar fire. Thousands of civilians have also been killed in the fighting across the city, many of them still thought to be buried under the rubble.
Separately on Thursday, Human Rights Watch said that Iraqi security forces have forcibly relocated at least 170 families with alleged Islamic State members to a closed “rehabilitation camp” east of Mosul. Most are believed to be women and children.
“Iraqi authorities shouldn’t punish entire families because of their relatives’ actions,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These abusive acts are war crimes and are sabotaging efforts to promote reconciliation in areas retaken from ISIS.”
Speaking alongside Maan at the Pentagon, a spokesman for the Joint Operation Command said he was unaware of specific cases of families being forcibly moved from their homes.
“This topic, we didn’t have precise information about what is going on, however there is no situation or scenario where the Iraqi forces will forcefully get people out of their homes as Iraqi citizens,” Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasoul said.
Gibbons-Neff reported from Washington.