Is ISIS a threat at all?

Iraq: ISIS advance threatens civilians

(Baghdad) - The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has captured numerous territories in Iraq, including parts of Mosul and cities in Salah al-Din province.

Human Rights Watch has documented ISIS crimes in other parts of Iraq and Syria, including suicide attacks, car bomb attacks, arbitrary executions, torture of detainees, discrimination against women and the destruction of religious property. Some of these crimes may be crimes against humanity.

"That ISIS is repeating the atrocities the group has committed in other parts of Iraq and wielding the same intolerant and criminal rule is extremely worrying," said Nadim Houry, assistant director, Middle East, Human Rights Watch. "The Iraqi government must respond to this situation without the brutal methods for which civilians in other parts of the country have long paid a high price."

In fighting ISIS and trying to regain control of Mosul and other lost territories, the Iraqi government should take all possible measures to protect civilians. This includes not indiscriminately attacking civil areas and keeping safe escape routes open for civilians. Although many Mosul residents were able to flee, at least four respondents told Human Rights Watch that security forces prevented them from escaping.

On June 10, 2014, after ISIS captured important parts of the city, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appeared on the state television channel Irakija and called on parliament to declare martial law. He appealed to all Iraqis to "bear arms and fight ISIS" after reports that hundreds of soldiers deserted and the security forces "collapsed". On June 11, Maliki announced the formation of a “reservist army” to fight ISIS and opened centers in Basra, Najaf and other Shiite-dominated areas where volunteers can register.

On June 9, after four days of fighting with government forces, ISIS took control of the western part of Mosul, Iraq's second largest city. This is also where the airport and the governor's office are located. Since then, ISIS has also captured the city of Sharkat in Salah al-Din province and parts of Beiji, including an army barracks, a police station and a power plant that supplies Baghdad, Salah ad-Bin and Kirkuk.

Human Rights Watch has not yet been able to investigate what ISIS has been doing in the territories it captured since June 10, but media reports suggest that ISIS has kidnapped a Turkish consul and 24 of its staff in Mosul, as well as the governor of Salah al-Din. ISIS reportedly killed 15 soldiers in Kirkuk.

“I don't feel safe at all,” a Mosul resident told Human Rights Watch. “I'm afraid that ISIS will kill me for some reason: Because I worked for the government ... if they realize that I am not going to the mosque and praying as they all want them to, [or] if my beard is not long is enough. "

In May, before ISIS took control of Mosul, Human Rights Watch documented numerous human rights violations that the group had committed against residents of the city and the surrounding area over the previous six months. These include ten arbitrary executions, two kidnappings, multiple attacks on journalists and the compulsory taxation of local businesses. During ISIS-led operations in Syria, Human Rights Watch has documented systematic human rights violations such as targeted attacks or kidnappings of civilians. In the parts of Syria controlled by ISIS, Human Rights Watch has documented the implementation of strict and discriminatory rules against women and girls and the active recruitment of child soldiers through school campaigns and public events. On May 29, ISIS fighters reportedly entered the village of Al-Talilija near Ras al-`Ajn in northern Syria, where they encountered no resistance, according to statements made by first responders and Kurdish local officials. There they executed at least 15 civilians, including seven children.

Human Rights Watch has also documented numerous human rights violations committed by government forces while fighting ISIS and other anti-government armed groups in Anbar Province and other areas across Iraq.

State security forces and pro-government militias have attacked civilian objects since the fighting broke out in Anbar in January, dropped barrel bombs on residential areas and illegally detained, tortured and extrajudicially an unknown number of people.

Mosul residents told local media that security forces appeared to have carried out indiscriminate attacks in residential areas across the city on June 6th, 7th and 8th after ISIS attempted to capture the city on the morning of June 6th.

The establishment of a reservist army and the involvement of Shiite militias in the security forces by the Maliki government give rise to fears of further human rights violations. According to more than 20 residents of cities in the area known as the "Baghdad Belt", these militias - such as Asa'ib Ahl al-Hak and Kata'ib Hezbollah - have carried out indiscriminate attacks in populated areas and are responsible for numerous kidnappings and civil rights Executions of Sunnis in the cities of Buhriz, Mada'in, al-Hetawi and others responsible.

A fighter from Kata'ib Hezbollah told Human Rights Watch that militia members took part in the fighting in Mosul on June 10 and three militants were killed. Human Rights Watch has not been able to independently clarify whether militias are fighting in Mosul and - if so - who ordered them to be deployed. However, the government should not support or use armed groups responsible for widespread or systematic violations of human rights. If she does, she runs the risk of complicity in other crimes.

Human Rights Watch calls on the Iraqi authorities to protect civilians from indiscriminate attacks, arbitrary detention and civilian executions.

All parties, including ISIS, authorities and security forces in central Iraq and the Kurdistan region, should enable humanitarian aid to reach civilians in need quickly and unhindered. In addition, they should take all practicable measures to evacuate the civilian population from the vicinity of military objects.

The US, one of the Iraqi government's most important partners and arms supplier to the Iraqi army, should ensure that its military aid is not used for violations of international law or serious human rights violations. They are tasked with ensuring that their device is not used for indiscriminate or targeted attacks on civilians, or in support of pro-government militias who committed widespread crimes against civilians during the government's offensive to recapture territories in Anbar and Baghdad.

The UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) is to publish the first results of its investigation into the human rights violations in the wake of the latest offensive as soon as possible. The focus should be on identifying those responsible in order to advance criminal prosecution.

The UN Security Council should call on all parties to the conflict to abide by international law and make it clear to human rights violators on all sides that they face punishment. In addition, the Security Council should call on the Iraqi government to cease all activities that violate international law and to hold those responsible for human rights violations accountable.

"The last decade in Iraq has shown time and time again that military offensives on the backs of the civilian population are preparing the ground for ever new struggles," said Houry.

Further background information can be found at the end of our English press release.