New claims from Human Rights Watch: “The government-backed militians are committing war crimes against the Sunni villages they re-took from Daesh”. Destroyed houses, abductions and arbitrary executions; Iraq gets dragged into the abyss of sectarianism.
di Giovanni Pagani
Rome, February 9th, 2016, Nena News – According to various human rights organisations, Shiite paramilitary militias deployed by Baghdad to fight the ‘caliphate’ were allegedly responsible for new actions of sectarian violence last month. The most recent episode occurred in Diyala region – northeast of Baghdad – after that two separate explosions in a café of Muqdadiya, on January 11th, triggered violent reprisals from Shiite armed groups. “I know the militiamen and others who roamour streets. They are from the area – explains a local source to Human Rights Watch (HRW) – ISIS may have been behind the café bombing, but the attacks on Sunni houses, mosques, and people in our area was the League of the Righteous”.
Together with the Badr Brigades, the League of the Righteous currently represents the main Shiite militia in Iraq. They both have parliamentary representation and act within the framework of the Popular Mobilization Front (PMF); while being trained, funded and controlled directly by the Iranian Revolutionary Corps. The Badr Brigade – according to many the most influential military and political actor in Iraq – were established in 1980 by Hadi al-Amiri, it was extensively supported by Tehran and it harshly fought Saddam Hussein as Iranian proxy between 1980 and 1988. The League of the Righteous, born instead as a splinter of the broader Mahdi Army, was established by Qais al-Khazali in 2006; and got largely employed by premier al-Maliki to both replace police forces and thwart political dissidents within the Shiite community. Both the paramilitary organizations fought against US and British troops until 2011; when the occupation forces’ withdrawaleventually paved the way for their political integration.
Within this framework, if the Badr Brigade and the League of the Righteous’ closeness to al-Maliki government – and the latter’s ties with Tehran – favoured al-Amiri and al-Khazali’s political legitimation; the threat posed by the ‘caliphate’ eventually provided their militias with greater military legitimacy, also due to a crumbling Iraqi Army, as a result of its dissolution in 2003 by US experts. Moreover, when the collapse of Mosul made regular forces’ lack of preparation irremediably evident, ayatollah al-Sistani issued a fatwa against Daesh; inviting Iraqi Shi’as to join the PMF and to move jihad on the ‘caliphate’.
Almost 7,000 volunteers promptly answered the call, further widening the disproportion between regular and paramilitary troops. It is indeed commonly believed that while the former counts no more than 50,000 men, the latter can at least rely on 120,000 militiamen. To this last extent, when the government in Baghdad moved siege to Tikrit – Saddam Hussein’s hometown – in march 2015, official sources reported that among the 23,000 soldiers on the field, only 3,000 belonged to the regular forces; while the remaining 20,000 were directly accountable to the Iranian Gen. Qassem Suleimani. The latter, was also seen directing military operations along with al-Amiri, leader of the Badr Brigades and a close friend of him.
The first warnings concerning war abuses were launched by HRW and other human rights organisations in February 2015. Few months after the beginning of a ‘liberation’ campaign with American support. HRW noticed that the first signs of sectarian violence were already evident after the re-take of Amerli, in summer 2014, when numerous Shiite militias, fighting alongside regular forces, had set on fire various Sunni houses and commercial activities in Saleh el-Din and Kirkuk. Moreover, a report drafted by the same organisation last September highlighted how similar episodes had also occurred after Tikrit’s ‘liberation’, when at least 1,400 houses were looted and 160 men abducted. Finally, arbitrary executions of Sunni tribesmen have been also denounced by some reports of the UNAMI –United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq – the most recent being released on January 19. According to these documents, sectarian violence has become indeedpraxis in the liberation’s aftermath.
Shiite militias’ atrocities against Daesh-controlled areas deeply ground their roots in the last some thirty years of Iraqi history. From the war against Iran (1980-88) to the US-led invasion in 2003; and from the repression of the Shiite majority by Saddam to al-Maliki’s rise to power in 2006. “The League of the Righteous considers to be Saddamis all Sunni Iraqis – explained a local source to Amnesty International last January – many got dragged onto the street and arbitrarily killed”. Moreover, since the caliphate’s territorial extension is limited to northern Iraq’s Sunni areas, Baghdad’s large use of sectarian militias makes the risk of ethnic cleansing even more concrete. “We burn and destroy al-Dur (Tirkit province) because all its inhabitants support Daesh or the Baath”, declared for instance a PMF militiaman to Human Rights Watch last year.
In other words, the Badr Brigades and League of the Righteous’ aversion to the Sunni regions is as motivated by Tehran’s confessional interests as justified by Saddam Hussein’s former atrocities. And if the power structures built by Saddam largely privileged the Sunni minority, and few tribes from Tikrit, eight years of al-Maliki government reproduced analogous clientelistic logics within the Shiite community. Moreover, while the close collaboration among al-Maliki, Tehran and the militias stoked up vengeance against the Sunnis, the threat posed by Daesh allowed hiding paramilitary forces’ misdeeds behind the ‘liberation’ campaign. Hence to obtain a political legitimacy that only Washington’s renewed support and US-Tehran rapprochement could actually guarantee.
Within this framework, despite the current premier Haider al-Abadi officially tried to bring the PMF under the regular forces’ umbrella – thus taking responsibility for their conduct on the field- the abovementioned episodes show that sectarian logics and Iranian encroachment represent major hindrances to Baghdad’s control over its territory and itsarmed forces. Not only does this risk perpetuating and worsening sectarian hatred in the country, but it more seriously feeds Sunni tribes’ distrust towards Baghdad; hence their reluctance to fight the ‘caliphate’ in the name of Iraq. Nena News
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