Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the Iraqi Government-backed militias of causing widespread destruction to homes and shops around the city of Tikrit in March and April this year during the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
In a 60-page report, ‘Ruinous Aftermath: Militia Abuses Following Iraq’s Recapture of Tikrit’, the watchdog presented satellite imagery to verify accounts of witnesses that the damage to homes and shops in Tikrit, and the towns of al-Bu ‘Ajil, al-Alam, and al-Dur covered entire neighbourhoods.
Hizbollah Battalions and League of Righteous forces allegedly kidnapped more than 200 Sunni residents, including children, near al-Dur, after ISIS militants fled Tikrit, and at least 160 of them remain unaccounted for.
HRW deputy Middle East director Joe Stork said: "Revenge and collective punishment shouldn’t be seen as any part of the strategy for defeating ISIS.
"Iraqi authorities need to discipline and hold accountable the out-of-control militias laying waste to Sunni homes and shops after driving ISIS out.
"Abusive militias and their commanders acting with impunity undermine the campaign against ISIS and put all civilians at greater risk."
The imagery highlights that destruction of buildings occurred primarily after pro-government forces defeated ISIS during battle for Tikrit, which lasted from early March until 1 April, and the Iraqi army left the area to militia control.
According to HRW, the damage from the Iraqi government and US-led coalition airstrikes and artillery or by ISIS during the latter’s nine-month rule prior to March was limited.
The militias are part of the Popular Mobilization Forces comprising several dozen Shia fighters, who receive government salaries and weaponry but act in loose coordination with one another and with the Iraqi Army and other security forces.
Created by the government to halt the rapid ISIS advance across Nineveh and Salah al-Din provinces in June 2014, Popular Mobilization Forces members are also suspected of engaging in significant looting and carrying out extrajudicial killings in Tikrit.
The watchdog has urged the US and Iran to speak out against militia abuses and also called on all countries providing military assistance to Iraq to strengthen end-use monitoring of equipment and human rights vetting of recipients.
Image: An Iraqi pro-government fighter walking in a rubble-strewn street in Tikrit, following its recapture from ISIS. Photo: © 2015 Reuters / Thaier Al-Sudani.