Iraqi forces and militias deployed to fight the Islamic State group from Mosul, ISIS last stronghold in Iraq, have abused civilians according to The New Arab news website.
In a team of seven foreign reporters accompanying Iraqi forces to report on the liberated areas of Mosul and conduct interviews with soldiers and locals, The New Arab correspondent was the only one who spoke Arabic, which gave him access to exclusive and sensitive information.
Unaware that the foreign reporters’ team included an Arab, Colonel Abdel Karim al-Mohamadawi and the army officers accompanying them spoke freely in Arabic, revealing incidents of abuse by Iraqi forces against civilians during the military campaign to oust Islamic State militants from Mosul.
“Lieutenant Hazem told the commander that I assaulted women in Mosul,” one of the officers told another in Arabic as they got into the car. “I see he’s acting all honourable now.”
“So why did he load his car with all the things he looted from people’s homes?” his colleague replied.
“We could have reported him,” he said, “but we are better than that.”
The officers were interrupted by Colonel Mohamadawi, who laughed and said, “Let us reconcile and end this whole story over dinner.”
Backed by air support from a US-led international coalition fighting IS, Iraqi forces launched the massive operation to retake Mosul from the extremist group nearly seven months ago, fighting their way to the militant-held city, retaking its eastern side and then attacking the west.
Earlier this month, a military spokesperson said that nearly 90 percent of the city had been been recaptured by Iraqi forces, adding that IS militants in the city were on the “brink of total defeat”.
However, civilians continue to pay a hefty price in the battle for Mosul, which has resulted in the displacement of nearly half a million Iraqis, and some 250,000 civilians are estimated to still be trapped inside the city’s west.
Adding to their suffering, the army officers’ conversation overheard by our correspondent revealed the involvement of Iraqi forces and Popular Mobilisation militias in a series of assaults, rape, torture, looting, and blackmail of civilians in the city.
At a military checkpoint in Mosul, starving civilians wait in line to receive food aid, wearing clothes that seemed a few sizes too big.
“The clothes are ours,” one of them told The New Arab as he waited in line, “but they have become too big because of the months-long hunger.”
Pointing at the army Captain handing out food aid, he said, “this officer tries to blackmail the women here, but thankfully, a free woman would rather starve than submit to him.”
“Damn IS who brought us to this point,” he said, despite officers preventing civilians from speaking to the press.
“I am ill now, but I refused to stay at home and let my wife pick up the aid.”
Starving civilians wait in line to receive food aid [The New Arab]
An Iraqi police officer and resident of Mosul said their mission was to protect citizens from 23 security and military units in Mosul.
“We are here only to defend the people of Mosul,” he told The New Arab.
“There are crimes and violation I am too ashamed to mention. Bodies of young men who had been detained can be found in the streets at night, and sadistic torture is carried out inside houses by army forces and militias. Homes and shops are also looted.”
Claims about the Iraqi forces abusing civilians were confirmed after German newsmagazine Der Spiegel published a report last week that included images of apparent torture taken by a freelance photographer embedded with the Interior Ministry’s elite Emergency Response Division (ERD).
Photographs showed detainees accused of affiliation with IS hanging from the ceiling with their arms bent behind them, and the journalist wrote of prisoners being tortured to death, raped and stabbed with knives.
Iraq’s interior ministry responded on Wednesday by ordering a probe into the allegations.
“The Interior Minister ordered investigators to conduct a clear and fair inquiry…(and) to take legal measures against those who are negligent if the investigation proves so,” a ministry statement said.
The ERD is one of the several government security forces backed by the US-led coalition.
“Individuals or units failing to uphold that standard (of human rights) do a disservice to their sacrifice and must be investigated & held accountable,” Brett McGurk, Washington’s envoy to the US-led coalition, said on Twitter.
In a statement, the ERD accused Der Spiegel of publishing a report based on “fabricated and unreal images”.