ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Human Rights Watch on Thursday released a statement claiming Iraqi Shia militias members of the Hashd al-Shaabi, also known as the Popular Mobilization forces, have been illegally detaining and torturing civilians near the city of Hawija in the southwest of Kirkuk Province.
The Commander of one of the Shia militias rejected the accusations, stating the fighters are strictly following rules of engagement when dealing with civilians fleeing the area as the military operation to retake the Islamic State (IS)-held town continues.
On Sep. 21, Iraqi forces launched the offensive to liberate Hawija from IS, the jihadist group's last stronghold in northern Iraq, which has been under IS occupation since mid-2014.
According to HRW interviews with displaced persons in the area, the Badr Organization of the Hashd al-Shaabi, a pro-Iran militia group, has taken a number of villagers to an unknown location.
The civilians mentioned the militia fighters would beat detained individuals, and some complained that during their unlawful detention, the militia group would only bring them food once, along with little water.
“Human Rights Watch has documented that PMF groups, including units affiliated with the Badr Organization, have screened, detained, and tortured people during the military operations,” HRW reported.
“While Iraqi forces do need all the help they can get, the government should not allow abusive forces to use this opportunity to carry out even more abuse,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch.
The Iraqi government has not made comments on the reported violations, but local Badr Commander Karim al-Mohammedawi denied any abuse against the local villagers.
“We are ordering our fighters to strictly abide by the law and avoid mistreating refugees fleeing ongoing clashes. But when we suspect someone is a terrorist, we normally arrest him and hand him over to the security forces,” he told Reuters.
Amnesty and HRW have repeatedly reported the Hashd al-Shaabi militias for human rights violations and war crimes against civilians during military operations to retake cities in Iraq, namely in Fallujah and Tikrit.
Editing by G.H. Renaud