Iraqi Leader Confirms Investigation Into Human Rights Abuses, Offers No Specifics

ABC News uncovered numerous apparent atrocities shared on social media.

ByABC News
April 16, 2015, 5:52 PM

WASHINGTON— -- Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said today perpetrators of human rights abuses among his security forces and Shi'a militia allies will be “held accountable,” but he offered no evidence that any of Baghdad's fighters guilty of ISIS-like atrocities have yet been brought to justice.

"We must continue to crack down on the abuses and excesses of a small minority of fighters that stand in dire opposition to the government's clear policies. We are investigating all of these allegations of criminal conduct," Abadi said in a speech before an audience that included many from Washington's national security braintrust.

Appearing at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Iraqi leader -- himself a Shi'a Muslim -- insisted that he will strive to end sectarian fighting between Shi'as and Sunnis, in part by arresting those accused of war crimes, but he offered no examples.

"Once corroborated, people involved are held accountable and prosecuted with the fullest weight of the law. Let me be clear. Let me be as clear as I can on this. Our government's priority on this is reducing ethnic, secretariat tensions and divisions in Iraq," Abadi said.

[A man wearing a uniform with a patch that appears to be from the Emergency Response Brigade steps on two severed heads in a photo posted on Instagram.]

Brig. Gen. Saad Maan, spokesman for the Iraqi military, said in February that Baghdad would investigate dozens of photos and videos found on social media sites by ABC News in a six-month investigation. The horrifying imagery depicted men who appeared to be from the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Forces, Special Forces and Interior Ministry counter-terrorism units committing what many experts called war crimes, such as beheadings, torturing detainees and summarily executing prisoners -- including, in one case, a young boy gunned down in cold blood.

In response to requests by ABC News about the results or status of the Iraqi investigation, Gen. Maan this week again promised an "update" without offering any details or timelines.

Asked on Thursday if he'd be willing to refer any war crimes cases involving militias to the International Criminal Court at The Hague, Abadi replied, "Well, I think we have a good Iraqi justice system and I'm already referring some of these to the Iraqi justice system."

The Iraqi leader also appeared dismissive of the exit from Baghdad of Reuters bureau chief Ned Parker, a veteran of 12 years of Iraq war coverage who left after Shi'a paramilitaries threatened to kill correspondents from the news agency who reported this month witnessing the mob execution of an ISIS prisoner by national police in Tikrit.

"Now I'm not sure if Mr. Parker -- why he has left, to be honest with you," Abadi said. "I cannot see why he left. Was he really threatened? Or, he felt he was threatened?"

Among those in the audience was Parker's wife, Erin Evers, who has been the lead war crimes investigator inside Iraq for Human Rights Watch.

Abadi is in Washington to request further military support from President Obama and Congress in the fight against ISIS.

The issue of increased military aid to Iraq has been thorny because the Pentagon disclosed to ABC News in March that "certain units" of the Iraqi Security Forces had been barred since last summer from receiving aid such as weapons and training because a federal law, known as the Leahy Law, prevented it on the grounds of "credible information" of gross human rights violations "in the past."

Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told reporters today that the U.S. is “continuing to watch” reports of abuse, specifically emerging from Tikrit, but said so far, “there is no evidence of widespread activity.”

Speaking of the Leahy Law, Dempsey said that should the Iraqi investigations “reveal that a particular part of either the Iraqi security forces or the popular mobilization force [militias] did not behave appro[priately], we would not support it.”