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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Iraq parliament forms committee to investigate war crimes in Tuz Khurmatu

The multi-ethnic town was among the contested areas recaptured by Iraqi troops and pro-government mainly Shiite militias in October last year

Members of Kirkuk's Arab population greet Hashed Al Shaabi fighters as they advance into central Kirkuk on October 16, 2017. The mainly Shiite paramilitary forces have been accused of human rights violations. Murtaja Lateef / EPA
Members of Kirkuk's Arab population greet Hashed Al Shaabi fighters as they advance into central Kirkuk on October 16, 2017. The mainly Shiite paramilitary forces have been accused of human rights violations. Murtaja Lateef / EPA

The Iraqi parliament has voted to set up a committee to investigate possible war crimes in the multi-ethnic town of Tuz Khurmatu following its recapture by Iraqi forces from Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.

Tuz Khumatu, located 90 kilometres south of the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk, has been at the forefront of deep sectarian tensions for the past few years. The multi-ethnic town is home to Turkmen, Arabs and Kurds and was among the contested areas recaptured by Iraqi troops and pro-government mainly Shiite militias in October last year in the wake of the Kurdish independence referendum.

Before its recapture on October 16, clashes had repeatedly broken out in Tuz Khumatu between Peshmerga fighters and the mainly Shiite militias collectively known as the Hashed Al Shaabi (Popular Mobilisation Units or Forces).

Kurdish politicians have accused Iraqi forces, most notably the Hashed Al Shaabi, of carrying out possible violations against civilians in the town.

In December, the United Nations mission in Iraq reported that its team "has observed signs of possible violations in Tuz Khurmatu, indiscriminate targeting of civilians, forced evacuations and destruction of properties prior to but notably after 16 October 2017".

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Thousands of residents have been internally displaced to Kirkuk — which was also recaptured by Iraqi forces from Peshmerga fighters — and the cities of Sulaymanyia and Erbil, which lie in Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region.

The parliamentary committee to investigate possible war crimes in Tuz Khurmatu will be comprised of multi-ethnic representatives from Arab, Turkmen and Kurdish backgrounds, the Iraqi parliament said in a statement on Monday.

It will start work next week to ensure that "displaced families are able to return to their homes as soon as possible … reveal the violations and hold violators accountable”, it added.

"The representatives will investigate human rights, media, immigration and displacement, legal, and security violations", said Farhad Qadir, a member of the Iraqi parliament for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) party.

"The findings of the committee will become the official position and decision of the Iraqi parliament.”

Speaking to The National on Tuesday, Arhsed Al Salehi, another member of the Iraqi parliament and the head of the Turkmen Front party, called for the committee to be "comprised of neutral and independent members of Sunni and Shiite backgrounds and not to include any Turkmen or Kurdish representatives".

"We need this committee to uncover the truth about what actually happened in the town," he added.

Mr Al Salehi noted that more than 3,000 Turkmen have been targeted in Tuz Khurmatu since 2003, according to statistics from the Iraqi parliament.

In November, the UN secretary general's special representative for Iraq, Jan Kubis, said "at least 150 houses belonging to Turkmen and Kurds were reportedly set ablaze and [that] there were other reports of acts of violence".

Mr Kubis called for an immediate end to acts that threaten the security and the safety of Kurdish and Turkmen communities and their civilian residents.

Separately on Tuesday, Iraq prime minister Haider Al Abadi said Iraqi troops were still fighting remaining ISIL fighters but promised that "the country will achieve prosperity like it defeated terrorism".

“We are still following the remnants of the defeated terrorists in the desert and Al Jazira. We will conquer them," Mr Al Abadi said as Iraq's police forces celebrated their 96th anniversary.

"I congratulate the champions of the interior ministry on their day, which comes at times of great victories against ISIL," he added.

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