Paramilitary militias nominally operating as part of the Iraqi armed forces in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) are using arms from Iraqi military stockpiles, provided by the US, Europe, Russia and Iran, to commit war crimes, revenge attacks and other atrocities, according to an Amnesty International report.
Amnesty International said that field research and detailed expert analysis of photographic and video evidence since June 2014 has found that these paramilitary militias have benefited from transfers of arms manufactured in at least 16 countries, which include tanks and artillery as well as a wide range of small arms.
The predominantly Shi’a militias have used those arms to facilitate the enforced disappearance and abduction of thousands of mainly Sunni men and boys, torture and extrajudicial executions as well as wanton destruction of property, Amnesty International said.
“International arms suppliers, including 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,” said Patrick Wilcken, Researcher on Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International.
“Any state selling arms to Iraq has to show that there are strict measures in place to make sure the weapons will not be used by paramilitary militias to flagrantly violate rights. If they haven’t done that, no transfer should take place.”
The Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) – comprised of as many as 40 or 50 distinct militias – were established in mid-2014 to aid in the fight against IS. In 2016, the PMU formally became part of the Iraqi armed forces, but have enjoyed government support since long before that, Amnesty International said.
The report focuses on four main militias that Amnesty International has documented committing serious human rights violations: Munathamat Badr (Badr Brigades or Badr Organization), ‘Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (League of the Righteous), Kata’ib Hizbullah (Hizbullah Brigades) and the Saraya al-Salam (Peace Brigades).
Amnesty International said its research shows how PMU militias have grown in power and influence since 2014. They receive arms and salaries from the Iraqi authorities, and have increasingly gone into battle or controlled checkpoints together with Iraqi troops. Under this cloak of official approval, some PMUs have been documented carrying out revenge attacks mainly targeting Sunni Arabs, and nobody is holding them to account.
“The Iraqi authorities have helped to arm and equip the PMU militias and pay their salaries – they must stop turning a blind eye to this systematic pattern of serious human rights violations and war crimes,” said Patrick Wilcken.
“Any militiamen fighting shoulder to shoulder with the Iraqi military must be thoroughly and rigorously vetted. Those suspected of committing serious violations must be removed from their ranks, pending judicial investigations and prosecutions. Unaccountable and unruly militias must be either truly brought into the fold and discipline of the armed forces, or disarmed and demobilized completely.”
The Iraqi authorities face tremendous security threats from IS, which continues to commit atrocities in areas under its control and to carry out deadly attacks on civilians elsewhere in Iraq. But measures responding to these threats must respect international human rights and humanitarian law.