Iraqi security forces allegedly continued a disturbing pattern of unlawful killings and other actions that could be considered war crimes, just weeks after an ABC News investigation exposed a litany of purported atrocities committed by Iraqi forces – crimes that the Iraqi government promised would be investigated fully and would not be tolerated.
A United Nations report released today, and covering a time period from May to October 2015, said UN officials had “received a number of serious allegations of unlawful killings committed by ISF [Iraqi security forces] and associated forces... includ[ing] alleged attacks and reprisals against persons believed or perceived to support or to be associated with [ISIS].”
“For example, on 9 June, a video was posted in social media showing a group of men, wearing what appeared to be Iraqi Federal Police uniforms, burning a cadaver and shouting sectarian chants,” the UN report says. UN sources claimed the body was found in Tikrit, during operations to liberate the city in February.
“In a similar incident, a video was posted online purporting to show members of the Shi’a Imam Ali Brigades burning the body of a man hanging by his feet in the town of Garma, northeast of Fallujah in Anbar,” the report says. According to the report, in the video the “perpetrators” accuse the man of being a member of ISIS. Though a UN “local source” corroborated that claim, the UN said it could not independently verify the incident or the authenticity of the video.
The majority of the UN report focuses on the atrocities committed by the terror group ISIS, but its section on abuses purportedly committed by Iraqi security forces and Shi’a militias, which are fighting together against ISIS, echoed allegations of horrific violence by U.S.-trained Iraqi forces and militias revealed in an ABC News investigation in March 2015, less than two months before the start period of the UN report.
Like the UN report, many examples of what officials called “credible” human rights violations were discovered by ABC News floating around, unhidden, on social media belonging to groups that some in U.S. military and Iraqi circles referred to as Iraq’s pro-government “dirty brigades.”
Officials from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International who reviewed the library of horrors assembled in the ABC News investigation said it was rare to see so much visual evidence of human right abuses.
“Usually when forces commit such crimes, they try to hide them. What we are seeing here is a brazen, proud display of these terrible crimes,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East Executive Director at Human Rights Watch said in the ABC News report.
ABC News came upon the first such images in September 2014, when a reporter following personal Instagram accounts of Iraqi counter-terrorism troops spotted a video of a handcuffed prisoner shot in the head by a man in camouflage -- which more than 600 users "liked." The English and Arabic captions by a self-identified member of the Iraqi Security Forces said, “We have arrested this terrorist yesterday and we killed him after completion of interrogation."
A separate photo posted in September showed the severed head of a long-haired and bearded alleged ISIS fighter lashed to the grill of a U.S.-donated Humvee bearing an Iraqi Army license plate. A second related photo eventually surfaced of what appeared to be an Iraqi Army soldier holding up the same severed head next to the gun truck. Desecration of war dead, like the burning of bodies as described in the UN report, and extrajudicial killings are violations of the Geneva Conventions.
When ABC News approached the Iraqi government with the evidence of potential war crimes, a spokesperson for the government said it was possible the photos were fabricated by ISIS to discredit the military, but also promised they would be investigated.
“Yes of course we will investigate these pictures,” the spokesperson, Gen. Saad Maan, said after reviewing some of the photos and videos. “We don’t have anything to hide… We don’t have anything to be in, let’s say, in a black corner.”
[A bound and blindfolded detainee appears to be dropped – or possibly hung from the neck according to one analyst -- from what looks like an Iraqi military base guard tower. The image was posted on Instagram.]
At the time of the ABC News report, a U.S. official said in a statement, “As the ISF [Iraqi security forces] and militias reclaim territory, their behavior must be above reproach or they risk being painted with the same brush as ISIL [ISIS] fighters… If these allegations are confirmed, those found responsible must be held accountable.”
Nearly a year after the Iraqi government promised to launch an investigation in light of the ABC News report, Iraqi officials have only said that the investigation is ongoing.