Iran-Backed Shi’a Militias in Iraq Commit Severe War Crimes Against Population of Tikrit

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released a sixty-page report documenting the purposeful destruction of the Sunni city of Tikrit following its recapture from ISIS.  The destruction was carried out for no military purpose, and is documented by satellite imagery.  Hundreds of civilians were seized, and most remain missing.

IranTruth has reported on the development of Shi’a militias in Iraq by Iranian forces.  Iranian-developed militias can be discerned by their ideological commitment to the principle of Velayat-e Faqih, in which Iranian-approved Shi’ite clerics have guardianship over all political forms.  This is the form of government established by the Iranian revolution, which Iran is attempting to export throughout the region according to Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani.  The two militias singled out by the report, the Hezbollah Brigades and the League of the Righteous, both swear allegiance to this principle.  They were developed by Iran specifically to carry out the exporting of its Shi’a Islamic revolution to Iraq.

The report states that these acts are war crimes under customary international law.

The Iraqi government is responsible for forces acting under its effective control. It has indicated that Shia militias are legitimate forces recognized by law. On April 7, 2015, the Iraqi cabinet included the Popular Mobilization Forces among the state forces under command of Prime Minister Abadi as commander-in-chief.[146] …

The laws of war for non-international armed conflicts include article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, which provides for the humane treatment of civilians and captured combatants. Murder, torture and cruel treatment are prohibited.[148] Also prohibited are arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances.[149]

Human Rights Watch found that the large-scale destruction of property by pro-government militias in the cases detailed in this report were in apparent violation of the prohibition against destruction of civilian objects. There was no evidence that the destruction met the requirements for military necessity. Instead, it appeared that militias destroyed property after fighting had concluded in the area and when ISIS had fled, and renewed fighting was not imminent.

Serious violations of the laws of war committed with criminal intent are war crimes. War crimes include “[d]estroying or seizing the property of an adversary unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of the conflict,”[158] and collective punishment, defined as the imposition of sanctions or harassment of any sort on the basis of collective rather than individual responsibility.[159] Forced displacement can also be a war crime and, if carried out as a state or organizational policy in a widespread or systematic manner, a crime against humanity.[160]

Emphasis added.  The destruction of several hundred civilian buildings followed the recapture of the city from ISIS, and appears to have been punitive in nature.  HRW provided links to videos of the destructions of homes that include what they state are curses by Shi’a militias against the civilian population of the town as well as ISIS.

One of the reasons homes were targeted according to the report was in revenge for the 1980-1988 war between Iran and Iraq.  Homes belonging to former officers of Saddam’s army dating to that period were especially targeted for demolition.  The punishment of Iran-Iraq war veterans is further reason to believe Iran was behind the demolitions.

In addition to the destruction of civilian homes and property,the Hezbollah Brigades and the League of the Righteous abducted hundreds of Sunni civilians.  Of these, at least 160 remained missing at the time of the report’s publication.

The report notes that Iran is specifically barred by UN embargo from shipping weapons and war materiel.  Nevertheless, the report notes:

Iran has provided military assistance to Iraq in the form of materiel, as well as training and advice; in February 2015 the Guardian newspaper, citing an Iranian military official, reported that Iran had provided Iraq with $16 billion worth of arms transfers since June 2014.[134] In February 2014, Reuters reported that it had seen contracts for Iranian weapons sales to Iraq worth $195 million.[135] According to reports on and Jane’s Defence Weekly, Iran appears to have provided the Iraqi army, Shia militias, and Kurdish Peshmerga forces Russian-made but Iranian-modified T72 tanks, Iranian Safir jeeps and Sayyad sniper rifles, among other equipment.[136]

The HRW report calls upon the United Nations as well as the United States and Iran to condemn this action, and on the Iraqi government to prosecute.  It remains to be seen whether any such actions will follow from Iran or Iraq, given these militias’ prominence in Iran’s strategy to dominate its neighbor.