File photo shows a Kurdish family taking refuge in a desert area displaced from Tuz Khurmatu following the Iraqi takeover of the diverse town on October 16. File Photo: Rudaw TV
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Turkmen units of the Iraqi Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi have looted, bombed or otherwise damaged houses and premises of mainly Kurdish residents in the diverse town of Tuz Khurmatu since its fall to Iraqi forces and Shiite militiamen on October 16, the UN Human Rights Office stated.
It warned that “violence could escalate and spread,” in Khurmatu.
The revelations come after a UN investigative team made field visits to the town on December 7 and 14.
The UN also stated in a press release on Friday that they are concerned about mortar attacks carried out against the urban areas of Khurmatu this month, adding that “Iraqi forces are still working to discover the exact locations from which the shelling has come and the identity of those responsible.”
The UN report stated that clashes had taken place in recent weeks between the Turkmen forces of the Hashd and the “Kurdish Security Forces – also known as the Peshmerga.”
The Peshmerga forces did not engage in any clashes with the Iraqi forces or the Hashd al-Shaabi in or around Khurmatu since the fall of the town two months ago. However, the Hashd and a Kurdish militia that calls itself “Liberation Army” exchange fire that has caused casualties on at least one occasion. The group includes some Peshmerga defectors and armed civilians who have been displaced from Khurmatu.
The UN team spoke to displaced Kurds from Khurmatu who sought shelter elsewhere, including Erbil.
The UN team visiting Khurmatu “saw for themselves in Tuz Khurmatu some 150 premises that had been burned or otherwise damaged. This follows reports that, on 16 and 17 October, a similar number of houses were looted and burned by Turkmen PMUs and civilians, and that up to 11 houses reportedly belonging to Kurdish families and officials were destroyed by explosives in the city,” the spokesperson for the Rights Office, Liz Throssell said using another name for the Turkmen Hashd.
She added that many of the people who fled Khurmatu to the Kurdistan Region have not returned home “apparently fearing repercussions.”
She said that the Iraqi forces, supported by the Hashd al-Shaabi, are in control of the diverse town.
“[There] is a serious risk that given the ethnic and religious fault lines in the area, that violence could escalate and spread,” the spokesperson warned.
“We urge the end of all acts that threaten the fundamental rights of the Tuz Khurmatu population. We also call on the Iraqi authorities to ensure that civilians there are protected and those responsible for human rights abuses brought to justice,” she concluded.
The UN investigation team stated on Tuesday that it had discussed the situation in Khurmatu with both Iraqi and Kurdish officials, including representatives of the Khurmatu displaced who staged a protest in front of its headquarters in Erbil earlier this month. It added that they would focus on areas where Kurdish officials and the displaced claimed the violations took place.
The Kurdistan Region parliament on December 7 labeled acts of violence in Khurmatu by Iraqi forces and the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi as "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing" in a special session where the Kurdish MPs and Khurmatu officials presented evidence, discussing for about two hours the plight of tens of thousands of Kurds who fled the city since October 16.
Speaking to Rudaw on October 21, five days after the fall of Tuz Khurmatu, Iraq’s minister for the displaced, Darbaz Mohammed, said the city was "out of control" and it was "unsafe" for Kurds to go back. He asserted revenge killings had occurred.
Rights organizations, including Amnesty International, also recorded acts of killing and looting in the city.
A Rudaw field investigation on November 26 found that thousands of houses in Kurdish neighborhoods had been looted, burned and bombed, or appear to have been appropriated by the Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi.
The Office of the Iraqi Prime Minister earlier this month assigned the Ministry of the Displaced to work with the Iraqi federal police and the Hashd forces to return the displaced, but a UN report in early December stated that only 2 percent have done so.
Khurmatu, about 60 km south of Kirkuk, is within the administration of Salahaddin Province in northern Iraq.
Ahmad al-Jabouri, Salahaddin Governor, who visited Khurmatu this week stated that the security situation in Khurmatu is normal and safe while advising the displaced to return home.
Media access to the town is restricted to a few Iraqi media outlets close to the Iraqi government or Shiite parties. All Kurdish parties have withdrawn their offices from the town, and an attempt to form a committee by the Iraqi parliament to investigate the allegations bore no fruit.