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Report Cites Abuses By Iraqi Militias


In Iraq, evidence is mounting of abuse directed towards Sunnis and other ethnic minorities. A report released today by Human Rights Watch finds that after Shiite militias helped clear areas of the self-proclaimed Islamic State last fall, the militias then destroyed Sunni villages. Tirana Hassan is with Human Rights Watch and the lead researcher on the report. She joined us from Geneva. Welcome the program.

TIRANA HASSAN: Thank you for having me.

MONTAGNE: Now, your report focuses on what happened in a particular town, Amirli, in northern Iraq about six months ago. ISIS fighters had occupied the town. But with the help of Western airstrikes, they were driven out. Then what happened?

HASSAN: So immediately after the U.S. airstrikes, ground operations began. And when the Shia militias took over Amirli and started moving through these villages, what we found was that they have basically this sort of collective punishment where they've assumed that all Sunni villages in the area must've been ISIS sympathizers.

And what that meant was they had gone on this frenzy of revenge attacks and violence. We've noted burning, looting and destruction. And in some of the villages - I mean, one of them in particular - Habbash - our satellite imagery shows that whilst the village was under militia control, it was razed to the ground.

MONTAGNE: And beyond satellite imagery, how did you gather evidence of this abuse and these attacks?

HASSAN: We've actually been on the ground, so we've actually seen these militias operating inside these villages. And we've seen the destruction that they've caused in at least four of these villages. And it's these groups who essentially are not under the command and control of the Iraqi government and are operating as marauding gangs throughout Iraq. And what we've seen throughout the current operation in Amirli is that they are acting with complete impunity.

MONTAGNE: Now, these militias, the Shia militias, are backed to a great extent by Iran. But does money that comes from Western sources and the U.S. in particular - does any sort of support funding flow from the U.S. to these militias?

HASSAN: One of the things that we saw when we were on the ground is that these militias operating with heavy machinery, weapons and vehicles which were clearly designated for the Iraqi security forces. Now, the Iraqi security forces, of course, is being heavily supported by the international community, including the U.S. government, who has been contributing millions of dollars of military aid. What we're seeing is that this hands-off approach by the U.S. and by the coalition has created a space for the militias to just run rampant.

MONTAGNE: Hands-off because the U.S. wants to support the government forces but does not want to support these militias because they're linked to Iran, even though money might flow to them through the government?

HASSAN: What we know is that without any sort of proper regulation and proper monitoring of where military aid is going, the military aid that has gone to the Iraqi security forces is also going to the militias. So it's very clear that the U.S. and any other government that is supporting the Iraqi security forces needs to be aware that their resources are also going to these militias and therefore those resources are actually being used for war crimes.

MONTAGNE: Tirana Hassan is a researcher with Human Rights Watch, speaking to us from Geneva. Thanks very much.

HASSAN: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.