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Government forces not responsible for Diyala village massacre: official - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Iraqi Sunnis displaced by ISIS in Diyala province, demonstrate against Shi'ite fighters in front of the US consulate in Erbil, north of Baghdad, on February 4, 2015. (REUTERS/Azad Lashkari)

Iraqi Sunnis displaced by ISIS in Diyala province, demonstrate against Shi’ite fighters in front of the US consulate in Erbil, north of Baghdad, on February 4, 2015. (REUTERS/Azad Lashkari)

Diyala, Asharq Al-Awsat—The head of an Iraqi parliamentary committee charged with investigating an alleged massacre of Sunni villagers in Diyala province last month denied on Thursday that any official Iraqi forces were involved in the killings.

Local sources reported that at least 70 people were killed on January 28 in the village of Barwana in Diyala province, just days after it was liberated from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi ordered an immediate investigation into the alleged attack, although Iraqi military officials dismissed the reports of a massacre in the small village, saying that they had been fabricated.

Some Iraqi MPs have alleged that members of Shi’ite militias fighting alongside government forces were responsible for the killings, pointing to a number of other large-scale killings blamed on such groups.

In comments to Asharq Al-Awsat, Iraqi MP Hakim Al-Zamali, head of the parliamentary Security and Defense Committee, acknowledged that a number of killings had taken place in Barwana following ISIS’s retreat, but said it was unclear as to whether the victims were noncombatants.

“At this point we do not know whether those killed were armed fighters or innocents and we will need time to investigate fully,” he said.

“But only 4 of those killed were Barwana villagers, the rest were from outside the village,” he added.

Zamali confirmed that Iraq’s Ministry of Health is conducting DNA tests to identify those killed, but warned that this could take time.

He acknowledged that the situation in Diyala, where the conflict against ISIS continues to rage, is chaotic and confusing, but denied that any force affiliated to the Iraqi government, including police forces, army or local “national mobilization” forces could be responsible for the massacre.

The latter are volunteers, largely from Shi’ite militias, serving alongside official government forces.

“There may be individual breaches by policemen or soldiers or ‘national mobilization’ fighters, but they will be held accountable. Our utmost concern is ensuring good treatment of Iraqi citizens, particularly in liberated areas,” he added.

Asharq Al-Awsat visited Barwana village one week after the massacre to speak to some of the residents there about what happened.

One eyewitness, Umm Fatima, aged 50, spoke of how her family’s joy at returning to their homes following ISIS’s expulsion had turned to grief following last Monday’s events.

“We took the decision to return to Barwana after it was completely liberated from armed gunmen. But just hours after we returned, a convoy of jeeps carrying armed men swept into the village and abducted 90 of our youth,” she said.

“This force left the village hours later and the families of those taken, including myself, started to look for our family members in the orchards where they had been taken to, where we were shocked to uncover 73 bodies,” she added.

“My brother and five of my cousins were among them,” she told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Umm Fatima confirmed that the majority of those taken were Barwana villagers and that it was clear that they had been shot in the head, corroborating other local reports.

Local sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat that 37 of those killed were youth aged between 14 and 26 from the local village. “This was genocide,” she said simply.

However questions remain over the fate of some 17 other villagers who were abducted by the unidentified gunmen but not among those killed.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat about the chaotic situation in liberated areas of Iraq, Diyala MP Nahida Al-Daini, warned that “organized gangs” are seeking to incite “fitna,” an Arabic term meaning “sedition” or “civil strife” that is often associated with particular religious connotations or conflicts between different religious groups or sects.

“They are seeking to confuse the situation and incite further violence,” she said.