Iraqi forces committed human rights violations during the battle to retake the city of Mosul from the Islamic State group, the country’s prime minister acknowledged, but insisted that these were “individual acts” for which the perpetrators would be punished.
The remarks by Haider al-Abadi, at a late night press conference on Tuesday, came after shocking videos emerged on social media following the victory in Mosul and showing troops throwing captured IS suspects off a high wall, then shooting their bodies below.
The U.S.-backed nearly nine-month-old campaign for Mosul is mired in violations committed by government forces and paramilitaries that international human rights groups have decried as war crimes, ranging from extrajudicial killings for IS suspects to forced displacement and detention to civilians.
The most recent evidence are the videos that emerged even after al-Abadi last week declared “total victory” in Mosul. Another video showed a soldier gunning down an unarmed man kneeling in front of a car.
Al-Abadi speculated that soldiers who committed such violations were either “ignorant” of the consequences or had struck a deal with Daesh “to defame us and the security forces.”
The prime minister did not cite or detail any single incident. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for IS.
“Any violation against the law or any violation against a person’s dignity is not acceptable and we will chase them [perpetrators] down,” he added. “These are individual acts and not widespread and we will not tolerate such acts.”
Iraqi security forces are also accused by Human Rights Watch of forcibly moving dozens of women and children with alleged links to IS to a tent camp near Mosul that authorities describe as a “rehabilitation camp.”
The New York-based watchdog said the camp in Bartella, around 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of Mosul, had been opened recently, following a government directive to have IS family members undergo “psychological and ideological rehabilitation.” It houses at least 170 families, mostly women and children from areas of western Mosul, where the last battles against IS took place.
“Iraqi authorities shouldn’t punish entire families because of their relatives’ actions,” said Lama Fakih, the Mideast deputy chief at HRW.
“We are against collective punishment,” al-Abadi said. “If their (IS militants) families cooperated with them in their crimes against civilians, then they will face legal consequences, but those who didn’t take part … will not face anything.”
Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul after the city was held for around three years by the Islamic State group.
IS militants were notorious for atrocities, both against civilians and Iraqi security forces, often hunting down anyone connected with the police or military after they overran territory. The assault to retake Mosul also involved grinding urban warfare in which the security forces suffered heavy casualties.