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Iraqi Shiite militia may have kidnapped 900 civilians and executed at least 49

The missing men and boys were taken from the village of Saqlawiyah near Fallujah at the beginning of June by members of Ketaeb Hizbollah, locals say.
Iraqi soldiers patrol the streets of Saqlawiya village, which lies north-west of Fallujah, on June 8, 2016. Members of Shiite milita Ketaeb Hizbollah are alleged to have abducted the village's men on June 1. Ahmad Al Rubaye/AFP
Iraqi soldiers patrol the streets of Saqlawiya village, which lies north-west of Fallujah, on June 8, 2016. Members of Shiite milita Ketaeb Hizbollah are alleged to have abducted the village's men on June 1. Ahmad Al Rubaye/AFP

Geneva // A Shiite militia that fought ISIL alongside Iraqi forces may have kidnapped 900 civilians and executed at least 49, the UN said on Tuesday, as Iraq’s interior minister announced his resignation following one of Baghdad’s deadliest bombings in 13 years.

The initial phase of Iraq’s vast offensive to retake the city of Fallujah from ISIL was supported by several Shiite militia, which raised fears of reprisals against the area’s Sunni population.

UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Tuesday there was strong evidence that an Iranian-backed Shiite militia, Ketaeb Hizbollah, perpetrated atrocities after telling civilians that they were there to help.

“This appears to be the worst – but far from the first – such incident involving unofficial militias fighting alongside government forces,” Mr Al Hussein said.

He warned that with Iraq preparing another offensive against ISIL in their northern bastion Mosul, more Sunni civilians could face horrific violence as retribution for the crimes of the Sunni extremists ISIL.

Ketaeb Hizbollah fighters approached the village of Saqlawiyah near Fallujah – which lies only 50 kilometres west of Baghdad – on June 1, said the UN citing witness testimony.

Some 8,000 civilians spotted the fighters as they were leaving Saqlawiyah amid the assault on ISIL.

The militia members “hailed them with loudspeakers, saying the villagers had nothing to fear from them”, according to the rights office.

Women and children were sent to a displaced persons camp while men and teenage boys were taken to a series of locations.

According to witnesses, those who asked for water “were dragged outside and shot, strangled, or severely beaten”, the UN said.

The abducted males were separated on June 5, with 605 men and boys taken to the displaced persons camp.

The whereabouts of a second group, with an estimated 900 people, is unknown, according to Mr Al Hussein who said locals listed 643 missing men and boys and 49 others “believed to have been summarily executed or tortured to death while in the initial custody of Ketaeb Hizbollah”. Tribal leaders believe another 200 abductees are unaccounted for.

Women in the displaced persons camp at Amriyat Al-Fallujah said last month that their sons, husbands and nephews were missing.

Also on Tuesday, interior minister Mohammed Ghabban announced he had submitted his resignation to prime minister Haider Al Abadi days after an ISIL-claimed suicide bomber in Baghdad killed at least 213.

The attack on Sunday has sparked widespread anger among Iraqis, who accuse the government of not doing enough to protect them.

Mr Ghabban said that checkpoints littered throughout the capital, a pillar of government efforts to secure the city, “are absolutely useless”.

Apparently seeking to shore up its image, Baghdad on Monday announced the execution of five convicts and the arrest of 40 extremists, while Mr Ghabban’s resignation announcement also seems aimed at assuaging angry Iraqis.

Meanwhile, the government said on Tuesday that Iraqi forces have retaken a cluster of northern villages from ISIL, pushing closer to an air base that could serve as a springboard for an offensive to retake Mosul, the biggest city held by ISIL.

Backed by air strikes from a US-led coalition, government troops launched their thrust up the eastern side of the Tigris river from the Makhmour military base in March, but tough ISIL resistance and rough terrain have slowed their advance.

Government forces have now seized all villages in the Haj Ali area and reached the eastern bank of the Tigris, around 60 km south of Mosul, the defence ministry said.

* Agence France-Presse and Reuters

Updated: July 5, 2016 04:00 AM

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