Volunteer fighters clean their weapons following a call to arms by Shiite authorities. Photo: AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Kurdish taxi drivers shuttling between the Kurdistan Region and Baghdad report abuse and beatings by Shiite militias and the Iraqi military because of their ethnicity, amid turmoil in Iraq as Sunni Islamic militants nearing Baghdad vow to topple the government.
Taxi drivers reported being abused and threatened by Shiite militants of the Iranian-backed Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (League of the Righteous), and by Iraqi Army soldiers.
"I returned from Baghdad two days ago, they (Asa’ib) put a gun to my head, asking if we were Kurds,” recounted a driver from Erbil. “They told us, ‘if you ever come back, we will kill you,’ and then he started cursing us and our leaders.”
In a televised speech about the security situation in Iraq, the leader of the Asa’ib, Qais al-Khazali, blamed the current turmoil on an alleged plot hatched by the Kurds, militants of the Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and loyalists of Saddam Hussein’s ousted regime.
"The Kurdish leaders seized the headquarters of the army and the weapons and equipment, and took control of the disputed areas after the withdrawal of the army," the Shiite leader charged.
Other drivers told similar accounts of abuse, saying that Kurds were being abused and beaten at Iraqi Army checkpoints as well.
“Even a (Iraqi army) captain did the same to us,” said one driver. “I saw them take two drivers who were ahead of me. They started hitting them with their Ak-47s. He cursed us (Kurds) one thousand times," he added. “I went through the checkpoints, but they took the other drivers.”
Drivers reported better treatment at checkpoints of the ISIS, whose fighters together with other rebels captured Mosul last week and are now near Baghdad.
“When one goes through ISIS checkpoints, they never say anything. But the Shiites insult you very much," recounted one driver.
Shiite leaders have issued a fatwa, or religious decree, calling on followers to take up arms against the ISIS threat. In response, thousands of Shiites from Iraq’s central and southern provinces have mobilized and joined their militias.
Iraq’s Sunni leaders have denounced the Fatwa, fearing it could open the gates to a war between Iraq’s majority Shiites and very large Sunni minority.
Meanwhile al-Iraqiya TV, which is close to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malliki’s government, has seeming embarked on an anti-Kurdish campaign, accusing Kurdish leaders of cooperating with ISIS against the government in Baghdad.