Iraqi forces advance toward the center of Kirkuk, October 16, 2017. File photo: Ahmad Al-Rubaye / AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Iraqi government’s takeover of the disputed areas including Kirkuk in October 2017 resulted in “abuse and atrocities” by the federal authorities, including Iran-backed Shiite paramilitias, according to a new report from the US State Department.
The department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor published its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2018 on Thursday.
“The government’s reassertion of federal authority in disputed areas bordering the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR), after the Kurdistan Region’s September 2017 independence referendum, resulted in reports of abuses and atrocities by the security forces, including those affiliated with the PMF,” the report said, referring to the Popular Mobilization Forces, another name for Hashd al-Shaabi.
Backed by the Hashd, the Iraqi government managed to reassert control of the disputed areas including Kirkuk, Khanaqin, Makhmour, Shingal, and many others just three weeks after the Kurdistan Region voted for independence from Baghdad with a 93 percent majority in favor.
The US report lashed out at the Hashd accusing it of a range of human rights violations in areas where it had a presence.
These include “reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by some members of the Iraq Security Forces (ISF), particularly Iran-aligned elements of the PMF.”
They also include “forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary detention; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention center conditions; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including censorship, site blocking, and criminal libel; legal restrictions on freedom of movement of women; widespread official corruption; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by Iran-aligned elements of the PMF that operate outside government control; trafficking in persons; criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status or conduct; violence targeting LGBTI persons; threats of violence against internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnee populations perceived to have been affiliated with ISIS; and restrictions on worker rights, including restrictions on formation of independent unions and reports of child labor.”
The State Department criticized the Iraqi government and the office of the prime minister in particular for failing to make “results of the investigations public or punished those responsible for human rights abuses.”
The report also accused the Kurdish Asayesh or security forces and the Hashd of “arbitrary or unlawful killings” equating them with the crimes of ISIS.
The State Department also criticized the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)’s handling of allegations of abuse.
The KRG’s High Committee to Evaluate and Respond to International Reports usually responds to reports of alleged human rights violations. The US frequently questions the reliability of its responses.
“The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) High Committee to Evaluate and Respond to International Reports reviewed charges of Peshmerga abuses, largely against IDPs, and exculpated them in public reports and commentaries, but human rights organizations questioned the credibility of those investigations. Impunity effectively existed for government officials and security force personnel, including the ISF, Federal Police, PMF, Peshmerga, and KRG Asayish internal security services,” the report said.
Despite the Iraqi government’s declaration it had defeated ISIS in the country in December 2017, the group maintains a foothold in places, leaving security in certain areas unstable.
“During the year the security situation remained unstable in some areas, due to: regular raids and attacks by ISIS and their affiliated cells, particularly in remote areas; sporadic fighting between the ISF and ISIS holdouts in remote areas; the presence of militias not fully under the control of the government, including certain PMF units,” the report added.
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