U.S. Supports ‘Orderly Conclusion’ for U.N. Investigation of ISIS Crimes in Iraq, Syria

Presumably, UNITAD will also be ready to share its information documenting ISIS's war crimes with the KRG.
State Dept spokesperson Matthew Miller answers questions during a briefing in Washington, July 18, 2023. (Photo: AP)
State Dept spokesperson Matthew Miller answers questions during a briefing in Washington, July 18, 2023. (Photo: AP)

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – In 2017, the U.N. Security Council approved the creation of a unit tasked with investigating the war crimes committed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. That unit was established the following year and was known as UNITAD: U.N. Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL.

Since Sept. 2021, UNITAD has been led by Christian Ritscher, a former Federal Public Prosecutor in 

Germany. Until then, it had been headed by Karim Ahmad Khan, a British lawyer specialized in international criminal law. In June 2021, Khan became the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and was then followed by Ritscher. 

Last week, Reuters reported that UNITAD was “being forced to shut down prematurely,” before it will be able to finish its investigations, “following a souring of its relationship with the Iraqi government.”

Qualified U.S. Reaction

Asked on Thursday about the U.S. position on that development, State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller gave a qualified response. 

The U.S. does not oppose the ending of UNITAD’s mission, but wants to see “an orderly conclusion of its work.”

That means that UNITAD would share the results of its six-year long investigation into ISIS’s war crimes with the Iraqi government, as well as other governments that could be in a position to prosecute members of ISIS for crimes they committed in association with the terrorist organization.

Presumably, UNITAD will also be ready to share its information with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG.)

But even as Miller did not oppose the conclusion of UNITAD’s mandate, he also expressed Washington’s deep appreciation of what it has done. Since UNITAD’s creation, he said, “The United States has strongly supported its work, which has aided the international community’s efforts to bring ISIS members to justice for their atrocities, including acts of genocide against religious minorities in Iraq.”

ISIS’s genocidal activities were aimed primarily at the Yezidis, whose religion predates both Islam and Christianity. In 2014, after ISIS was formed in Syria and burst across the border into Iraq, it killed some 5,000 Yezidis.

ISIS’ War Crimes: Sexual Violence, Chemical Biological Weapons

Among ISIS’s documented war crimes is sexual violence. That was directed against Yezidi women, as well as Christians, Kaka’i, Shabak, and even Sunnis, as UNITAD reported in Dec. 2023.

The year before, in June 2022, UNITAD, along with the U.N. missions of Iraq and India, hosted a special event at U.N. headquarters in New York, focused on another ISIS war crime. The event was titled, “ISIL’s Use of Chemical Weapons: Global Threat,” although an Iraqi diplomat also added biological weapons. 

“Holding ISIL accountable, particularly for crimes against minority communities, is crucial for fostering reconciliation and lasting peace in Iraq,” an Indian representative affirmed. “India provided financial support to UNITAD’s key investigations and has bolstered this objective,” he said, as a UNITAD statement reported.

Iraq’s Chargé d’Affaires at the U.N., Sarhad Fatah, noted that “one of the main and Important milestones” of the UNITAD report “is the completion of the initial case assessment” on the “development and use of chemical and biological weapons by the terrorist organization ISIS in Iraq.”

The judge of the Taza Investigation Court in Kirkuk governorate also addressed the event through a recorded video message. He recalled the events of March 8, 2016, when ISIS shelled Taza Khurmatu, a predominantly Shi’ite Turkmen town, with nearly 40 rockets loaded with mustard gas. 

As the highly-regarded German news magazine, Der Spiegel, has reported, the core of ISIS is the former Iraqi regime. 

That is also the KRG view. The late Najmaldin Karim, long-time governor of Kirkuk, said as much to Kurdistan24 in 2018. 

Karim was careful to limit his remarks to what he knew well: Kirkuk, but, in line with the Der Spiegel report, Karim’s observations, almost certainly, apply to ISIS more broadly.

As Karim stated, “99 percent [of ISIS in Kirkuk] are local people from Kirkuk.”

Read More: Najmaldin Karim: Islamic State is resurgent, dominated by locals

“They’re all local people,” Karim stressed, and local authorities had proof. “Peshmerga fought [ISIS] bravely, and hundreds of them were killed,” he explained. “We have their pictures, their DNA. They’re all from the area.”

U.S. Encourages Continued Prosecutions of ISIS Members

“UNITAD’s evidence-sharing with other countries in support of ISIS members abroad is an essential element of its work,” Miller said on Thursday, “and we encourage UNITAD to work with the Iraqi Government on continuing protection measures for witnesses and victims who have bravely provided testimony and evidence.”

In addition, Miller continued, “We are working to ensure that Iraq and other U.N. member states can continue to access and benefit from the evidence that UNITAD has collected and that the evidence is properly archived and preserved for future use.”