London-U.S. forces have failed to stop the violations committed by Iran-backed Shi’ite militias in Iraq, a report published on Wednesday said.
The militias detained, tortured and abused Sunni civilians during the American-backed capture of the town of Fallujah in June, Reuters has found.
All told, militia fighters killed at least 66 Sunni males and abused at least 1,500 others fleeing the Fallujah area, according to interviews with more than 20 survivors, tribal leaders, Iraqi politicians and Western diplomats.
They said men were shot, beaten with rubber hoses and in several cases beheaded. Their accounts were supported by a Reuters review of an investigation by local Iraqi authorities and video testimony and photographs of survivors taken immediately after their release.
Washington’s inability to restrain the sectarian violence is now a central concern for Obama administration officials as they move ahead with plans to help Iraqi forces retake the much larger city of Mosul, ISIS’ Iraqi capital.
Western diplomats fear the Shi’ite militias of the Popular Mobilization Forces might commit worse excesses in Mosul, the country’s second-largest city.
ISIS seized Mosul in June 2014.
Brett McGurk, the special U.S. envoy for the American-led campaign against ISIS, expressed concern to reporters at a June 10th White House briefing for reporters about what he called “reports of isolated atrocities” against fleeing Sunnis.
Three days before the briefing, Gov. Sohaib al-Rawi of Anbar Province informed the U.S. ambassador that hundreds of people detained by Shi’ite militias had gone missing around Fallujah.
By the time of the White House briefing, Iraqi officials, human rights investigators and the United Nations had collected evidence of scores of executions, the torture of hundreds of men and teenagers, and the disappearance of more than 700 others.
Iran-backed militia leaders deny that their groups mistreated civilians. They say the missing men were ISIS militants killed in battle.
The first known instance of systematic abuse by the militias in the Fallujah offensive occurred May 27 northeast of the city, in the farming region of Sejar. Militiamen and security forces stopped a group of fleeing Sunnis, pulled aside somewhere between 73 and 95 males aged 15 and older and took them away, according to Gov. al-Rawi of Anbar Province and a Western diplomat who monitored the offensive. Women and children were freed.
The survivors described being crammed into small rooms and halls and denied food and water, straining to breathe in the stifling heat. Militiamen using sticks, pipes and hoses beat the detainees and declared that they were taking revenge for Camp Speicher – a June 2014 massacre by ISIS of 1,566 Shi’ite and other non-Sunni air force cadets.
A 32-year-old man, one of six survivors Reuters interviewed, said he was packed into a room with dozens of other captives, his hands tied behind his back.
“They started hitting us with their fists, knives and cables,” he said. “When people fainted, we yelled they were going to die, and the guards told us that’s what they wanted.”