Iraq is awash with daily atrocities, with the Islamic State (ISIL) reportedly burying people alive, drowning people in submerged cages, detonating explosives around victims’ necks, and shooting its own members trying to defect. The group has murdered thousands, including up to 1,700 Shia military cadets in Tikrit in June 2014.
The response of Iraq, and much of the world, has been to fight ISIL on the battlefield, at huge cost — not only in combat deaths of the largely volunteer fighters, but also to local populations that these fighters abuse after freeing them from ISIL.
ISIL has shown its disregard for the laws of armed conflict that are meant to protect civilians, but Iraq’s anti-ISIL forces are no more accountable to international standards. It is high time for Iraq to establish better mechanisms to hold its own forces to account, not only to protect the civilian population, but also to ensure that new abuses do not breed resentment feeding a resurgence of ISIL-like groups.
As the Iraqi military moves to retake Fallujah from ISIL with support from volunteer militias and ahead of the offensive to dislodge ISIL from Mosul, the Iraqi government and the US-led anti-ISIL coalition should also press for accountability for Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) — the name for the largely Shia volunteer forces.
Iraq has built up increased command structures for these forces, but is lagging in ensuring effective control over them, including by prosecuting those members who execute, torture, kidnap, loot, and pillage populations in recaptured areas.
To start, Iraq should make war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide offenses under domestic law. Iraq should also join the International Criminal Court, which has a mandate over these crimes. International oversight can help in establishing a credible system than could independently and impartially investigate these grave abuses. Most of all, the state needs to prosecute abusive fighters and their leaders. Continue Reading »