Iran-backed Shi’ite militias “detained, tortured and abused far more Sunni civilians” during the Iraqi government’s effort to recapture of the city of Fallujah than American officials have previously been willing to acknowledge, Reuters reported on Tuesday.
Based on interviews with a combination of twenty survivors, tribal leaders, Iraqi politicians, and Western diplomats, Reuters concluded that at least 66 Sunni men were killed at the hands of the Shi’ite militias while they fled the fighting in Fallujah between Islamic State terrorists and Iraqi troops, which were supported by a U.S.-led coalition. More than 1,500 Sunni civilians were also abused by the Shi’ite groups, otherwise known as the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).
According to the interviews, which were corroborated by an investigation carried out by Iraqi authorities, as well as video testimony and photographs taken by survivors, the Iran-backed militias shot, beat, and in a number of cases beheaded their Sunni victims.
The PMFs have emerged as a major concern for the Obama administration, despite American efforts to rein them in. Sunni leaders in Iraq and Western envoys now fear that a future offensive against ISIS in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, will give the PMFs cover to once again commit atrocities against Sunnis, possibly on a larger scale.
One senior Obama administration official told Reuters that “virtually every conversation that we have had internally with respect to planning for Mosul – and virtually every conversation that we’ve had with the Iraqis – has this as a central topic.”
Initially, American officials played down the atrocities committed by the PMFs during the Fallujah offensive. Brett McGurk, the Obama administration’s coordinator in the fight against ISIS, dismissed the claims on June 10 as “some isolated atrocities committed by some of the popular mobilization forces.” In reality, the Iran-backed militias engaged in “systematic abuse” that first began on May 27, despite American pressure, Reuters reported.
That day, PMFs captured between 73 and 95 Sunni males over the age of 15 who were fleeing from the nearby farming region of Sejar. According to a Western diplomat familiar with the incident, the women and children who were traveling with the men were let go, but they still “don’t know where the men are.” Two days later, Shi’ite forces stationed west of Sejar detained twenty Sunni men fleeing from the violence and “started killing them,” according to the diplomat. Three survived the slaughter.
In another instance, some 5,000 Sunnis fleeing from the town of Saqwaliya headed toward what they thought were government troops with Iraqi flags. When they arrived, they discovered that the position was manned by the PMFs. The militiamen separated out some 1,500 Sunni males aged 15 and older and forced them into crowded rooms in the stifling heat without food and water. The militiamen, who beat the captives with sticks, pipes, and hoses, claimed that they did it in revenge for a 2014 ISIS massacre of some 1,500 Shi’ite cadets at Camp Speicher near Tikrit.
One survivor said that he saw the militiamen beat the captives, including his 17-year-old son, and remove the corpses of over a dozen men who appeared to have been pummeled to death. The man, one of 605 survivors who were released in early June, said that he hasn’t seen his son since. There are still 643 men from Saqwaliya who remain unaccounted for.
“We want to know the destiny of our sons,” he told Reuters. “We consider the Americans responsible for everything that has happened.”
The close ties between Iran and the PMFs, which the Associated Press called “just as brutal” as ISIS in 2014, have been extensively documented. The militias are headed by Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis, who U.S. officials have accused of bombing the American and French embassies in Kuwait in 1983. Al-Mohandis is a deputy of Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force, in Iraq. Suleimani is a U.S. State Department-designated terrorist and the Quds Force is a designated terrorist organization. Al-Mohandis himself was designated by the U.S. Treasury Department in 2009, along with Kata’ib Hezbollah, one of the main PMF militias, for targeting American and coalition forces in Iraq.
The United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, declared last month that there was strong evidence that the PMFs committed atrocities in the battle for Fallujah.
In On this Battlefield, the U.S. and Iran work Hand in Hand, which was published in the April 2015 issue of The Tower Magazine, Michael Pregent observed that Iran-backed Shi’ite militias were targeting Sunnis, undermining American efforts to encourage them to fight against ISIS.
At the moment, the U.S. is urging the Iraqi government to make tangible concessions to both Iraqi Sunnis and Kurds, but the U.S. is finding its recommendations subordinated to those of the Iranian regime. Tehran wields more influence over the Shia-led government of Iraq than the United States does, and this close alignment between Baghdad and Tehran is a political dynamic that ISIS and other militant groups continue to exploit for popular support. At the same time, Iran’s political influence in Baghdad is resulting in further disenfranchisement of the country’s Sunni and Kurdish populations.
Moreover, the Sunni population is perplexed by our constrained role in arming them, while we partner with Shia militias that killed Americans and Iraqis during the Iraq War, and that make no distinction between all Sunnis of military age and ISIS.
[Photo: wochit news / YouTube ]