One of the major worries when the offensive to retake Fallujah began in the middle of May 2016 was how the Shiite elements of the Hashd al-Shaabi would act. In previous campaigns in Salahaddin and Diyala they had been accused of abusing and killing civilians, destroying property, clearing out populations and not allowing them to return, and carrying out revenge attacks after bombings. Quickly after the attack started stories began to emerge of bad behavior including destroying property, beatings, torture, and killings. Eventually the stories grew in number that the Anbar government issued a report claiming murders, disappearances, and looting at the hands of the Hashd. Given the history of some of the groups involved this was likely inevitable. The question now is whether Baghdad will hold anyone accountable for these actions.
In the middle of June 2016 the Anbar government released its initial findings on the actions of the Hashd. It found that 49 people that were detained by the Hashd while trying to flee the Islamic State were killed, and that number was likely to increase. The Hashd took another 643 displaced people and their fate was unknown. People that were detained by the Hashd and then released reported beatings, torture, and all their belongings including cars, money and jewelry being taken. Some displaced claimed there were foreigners with the Hashd likely meaning Iranians who have deployed with the Hashd in previous operations and act as advisers. Finally, it noted that the Federal Police were able to intervene and save some civilians from the Hashd. These events all took place from June 3-5. This report came about because of the increasing stories coming from civilians, the press and human rights groups.
The Fallujah operation began with clearing the surrounding towns, and that was where the first issues emerged about the Hashd. One of those towns was Garma to the northeast of Fallujah. At the start of June stories began emerging of civilians disappearing, property being destroyed along with robbing and looting, beatings, and kidnappings. Sotaliraq published one piece stating that the bodies of 40 displaced from Garma and Fallujah were found in Amiriya Fallujah killed by the Hashd. That led the Anbar council to announce that it would form a committee to look into these events. That investigation was what probably led to the governor’s press release.
As the campaign progressed there was more press reports about the conduct of the Hashd. The Telegraph for example said that 600 displaced had been picked up by the Hashd and taken to the Mazraa army base. When they were released they showed signs of torture. Four dead bodies were also handed over to the authorities out of that group. That same day a member of the Anbar council called on Prime Minister Hadiar Abadi to hold the Hashd responsible citing stories of abuse coming out of Saqlawiya another town surrounding Fallujah. The head of the council added that he wanted the prime minister to withdraw the Hashd from the Fallujah area because of their misconduct. The BBC added to the story by saying it viewed a video of a person claiming that the Hashd had beat him and accused him of being part of the Islamic State. The Daily Beast also ran a piece of people from Saqlawiya and Garma being tortured and killed by the Hashd. It quoted the mayor of Fallujah who said that the Hashd had suffered heavy losses in the fighting and were taking out their frustration on civilians. An Islamic Party member from Fallujah also accused Badr elements within the Federal Police of working with the Hashd in these crimes. Members of the main Sunni coalition in parliament blamed Kataib Hezbollah for the disappearance of another 600 odd people. These types of articles continue to come out as the campaign went on.
Finally, the United Nations and human rights organizations confirmed these stories. The U.N. issued a release on June 7 telling Baghdad it had to protect people fleeing from IS in Fallujah citing the abuse and execution of civilians. Amnesty International talked with some of the 600 people who had been picked up the Hashd and released, many of which said that the Hashd had beaten and mistreated them. It also received stories that 17 people from Garma were killed. Human Rights Watch interviewed those same civilians and found similar accounts. For instance, an Anbar official provided the names of the 17 executed. Some of the 600 displaced who were detained and then released blamed Badr and Kataib Hezbollah for their mistreatment. It also found stories of the Federal Police, Badr and Kataib Hezbollah shooting civilians trying to flee to government areas in Sjar north of Fallujah, and more cases of people being picked up whose fate was not known. Together these groups found that several Hashd groups working with the Federal Police were committing human rights violations.
The federal government responded by saying that it would look into these matters and even announced some arrests, but also tried to play down the occurrences. Abadi was the first to make a comment saying that Baghdad would create a committee to look into what was happening. Defense Minister Khalid Obeidi then said that 4 ISF members had been arrested after they were shown in a video abusing some of the displaced. At the same time President Fuad Masum and Foreign Minister Ibrahim Jaafari claimed that any violations going on were done by individuals and did not represent the Hashd, something that leaders of the movement such as Badr’s Hadi Ameri and Asaib Ahl Al-Haq’s Qais Khazali repeated.
Given the record of some elements of the Hashd since the war against the Islamic State began it should have been no surprise that they were carrying out similar human rights violations in the Fallujah campaign. The question now is whether they will finally be held accountable. Given Iraq’s political situation that is very unlikely. Government officials go largely unpunished for any crimes, and the Hashd groups accused of these abuses, while nominally under the prime minister’s command have not only been openly critical of Abadi, but defied him as well. While one or two elements might be sacrificial lambs to placate the public outcry, it is highly unlikely that anything else will be done. Add to that the fact that the government lacks the forces to launch these large operations on its own without the Hashd, and that they tend to follow their own lead means these types of incidents will only continue as the Islamic State is expelled from Iraq.
Adel, Loaa, “Karhut calls Abadi to withdraw al-Hashd al-Sha’abi militia from Fallujah,” Iraqi News, 6/7/16
Amnesty International, “Iraq: Authorities must rein in forces amid allegations of torture and deaths in custody,” 6/8/16
BBC, “IS conflict: Falluja detainees ‘tortured by Shia militias,’” 6/6/16
Face Iraq, “Ameri Khazali: allegations of abuses by the Popular Crowd in Fallujah are individual and limited cases,” 6/7/16
- “News site publishes pictures of sabotage that affected the Garma area at the hands of the Popular Crowd,” 6/4/16
Hawez, Abdulla, “Iraq’s Shia Militias Accused of War Crimes in Fight Against ISIS,” Daily Beast, 6/8/16
Human Rights Watch, “Iraq: Fallujah Abuses Test Control of Militias,” 6/9/16
Iraq Times, “Coalition forces accused Kataib Hezbollah of treachery and betrayal and blame them for the disappearance of 610 people from the Mahamdh tribe in Fallujah,” 6/9/16
Loveluck, Louisa, “Hundreds feared tortured in advance on Fallujah,” Telegraph, 6/6/16
Al Mada, “Anbar will check violations attributed to the crowd .. And coalition forces warn of negative reactions,” 6/5/16
Mojon, Jean-Marc and Majeed, Safa, “Despair grows in Iraq camps over hundreds of missing men,” Agence France Presse, 6/14/16
Naylor, Hugh, “Iraqis in Fallujah caught in perils between Islamic State and militia fighters,” Washington Post, 6/7/16
NINA, “Masum Acknowledges The Existence Of Individual Violations In Fallujah Operations,” 6/14/16
- “Saleem al-Jubouri: security agencies check the disappearance of 73 people from the population of Garma,” 6/1/16
- “The violations of the battle of Fallujah does not represent the popular crowd and Soleimani is an Adviser and not part of the Iraqi regime,” 6/10/16
Office of the Governor Sohaib Al-Rawi, “Findings of the investigative committee formed by the Government of Anbar province to investigate violation in Saqlawiyyah,” Anbar Governorate, 6/12/16
Reuters, “Iraq Makes Arrests Over Reports of Sunnis Executed in Falluja,” 6/13/16
Sotaliraq, “Anbar provincial council demanding accountability by Abadi of popular crowd members involved in violations against the people of Fallujah,” 6/6/16
- “Found the bodies of 40 displaced people from Fallujah killed at the hands of the popular crowd,” 6/6/16
UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, “Civilians fleeing Fallujah ‘facing double jeopardy’ – UN rights chief,” 6/7/16