Amnesty probes reports of Iraqi forces’ abuses in Tikrit
BAGHDAD // Amnesty International has launched investigations into serious human rights violations committed by Iraqi government and allied forces in the operation to retake the city of Tikrit.
“We are very concerned by reports of widespread human rights abuses committed in the course of the military operation in the area around Tikrit,” the rights watchdog’s Donatella Rovera said on Thursday.
Security forces backed by paramilitary groups and supported by US-led airstrikes retook Tikrit from the ISIL group over the past few days.
Outlying areas in Salaheddin province, which had also been under ISIL control since last year, were retaken gradually over the course of the past month.
The operation – Baghdad’s largest yet against the extremists – was seen as a test of the Shiite-dominated forces’ ability to retake a Sunni area while reining in reprisals against the local population.
“We are investigating reports that scores of residents have been seized early last month and not heard of since, and that residents’ homes and businesses have been blown up or burned down after having been looted by militias,” said Ms Rovera, senior crisis response adviser at Amnesty.
“There have also been reports of summary executions of men who may or may not have been involved in combat but who were killed after having been captured” when not in combat, she said.
The government and its coalition partners, the United Nations and rights groups have repeatedly stressed that any military victory against ISIL that comes with sectarian-driven abuses would only sow the seeds of future violence.
Pro-government militiamen could be seen looting shops in central Tikrit on Wednesday as Iraqi forces sought to consolidate control over the city.
Reports of homes being torched by anti-ISIL fighters have been frequent in the course of the month-long offensive.
Such allegations are usually denied by commanders on the ground who say the fires were set off by fleeing militants or used by their men as a way of detonating ISIL booby traps.
It has only been two days since ISIL lost Tikrit and is still early to assess the Iraqi forces’ discipline in reconquered areas.
Yet analysts argue the government camp appears to have at least partially succeeded in containing a widespread desire for revenge among Shiite fighters.
“The government and the religious authorities in Najaf took this issue very seriously,” said Zaid Al Ali, author of The Struggle For Iraq’s Future.
“They issued a number of warnings and also dispatched hundreds of preachers to the front to remind fighters not to engage in looting, collective punishment or other forms of criminal activity,” he said.
The US-led coalition, whose aircraft played a key role in breaking the back of ISIL resistance in Tikrit, said calls for restraint and respect of the civilian population paid off.
“It’s been reinforced again and again down the chain of command, and our information is that that has been a success,” a senior coalition military official said.* Agence France-Presse
Updated: April 2, 2015 04:00 AM