Amnesty: Iraq’s Shiite Militias Using U.S. Weapons to Commit War Crimes

Fighters from the Badr Brigades Shiite militia clash with Islamic State militant group at
AP Photo/Hadi Mizban

The predominantly Shiite Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) has been using weapons provided by the United States, Europe, Russia, and Iran to commit war crimes in Iraq, according to the human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

The list of war crimes includes abductions, torture, and killings, committed by the PMU and other militias fighting alongside the Iraqi military against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).

Patrick Wilcken, researcher on arms control and human rights at Amnesty International, declared:

The [U.S.-backed] Iraqi authorities have helped to arm and equip the PMU militias and pay their salaries – they must stop turning a blind eye to this systematic pattern of serious human rights violations and war crimes.

Any militiamen fighting shoulder to shoulder with the Iraqi military must be thoroughly and rigorously vetted. Those suspected of committing serious violations must be removed from their ranks, pending judicial investigations and prosecutions. Unaccountable and unruly militias must be either truly brought into the fold and discipline of the armed forces, or disarmed and demobilized completely.

Reuters reports that Ahmed al-Assadi, a PMU spokesman, has dismissed the Amnesty International allegations as “lies.”

“These lies falsify truths and contribute directly or indirectly to the continuation of struggles that the Iraqi people and the people of neighboring countries suffer from,” he told a news conference aired by Iraqi state-controlled television.

“This is very clear in this report when it is purposefully slandering an official government institution,” he added, urging the Iraqi government to investigate Amnesty’s sources.

The Amnesty International report came after American Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the top commander of the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, praised the Iran-allied PMU as a professional force and “remarkably disciplined” allies in an interview with the Daily Beast.

A U.S. defense official told Breitbart News on condition of anonymity that the U.S. military only trains and assists militiamen it has vetted for links to Iran and terrorist groups, as mandated by law, but suggested that certain fighters who fail the vetting process are still allowed to participate in the ongoing offensive to liberate Mosul from ISIS.

“Some Iraqi units have been restricted from receiving assistance because their commander didn’t pass vetting,” revealed the official, adding that “the results of that vetting are reported to congress on a quarterly basis,” as mandated by law.

Although the majority of the PMU, also known as Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and Hashid Shaabi, is Shiite, the force also includes Sunni tribesmen and even Christians, according to the Daily Beast.

Citing nearly two and a half years of its own field research, including interviews with dozens of former detainees, witnesses, survivors, and family members of those killed, detained, or missing, Amnesty International reports:

Paramilitary militias nominally operating as part of the Iraqi armed forces in the fight against the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) are using arms from Iraqi military stockpiles, provided by the USA, Europe, Russia and Iran, to commit war crimes, revenge attacks and other atrocities.


The predominantly Shi’a militias have used those arms to facilitate the enforced disappearance and abduction of thousands of mainly Sunni men and boys, torture and extrajudicial executions as well as wanton destruction of property.

In total, the militias, including some Shiite groups backed by Iran, reportedly have access to weapons from at least 16 countries, including tanks, artillery, and a wide range of small arms.

“Recent arms transfers have fueled enforced disappearances, abductions, torture, summary killings, and deliberate destruction of civilian property,” notes Amnesty International.

The U.S. has categorically denied collaborating and supporting the PMU forces participating in the ongoing offensive to liberate Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the last major ISIS stronghold in the country.

Nevertheless, various media outlets, including Reuters and the New Yorker, have reported that American forces who are taking part in the ongoing Mosul operation are fighting alongside Iran-allied Shiite militias, including some with American blood on their hands who have been designated terrorist groups such as Hezbollah.

The Iraqi Parliament has enacted a law to make Shiite militias legal and place them under the control of the Iraqi armed forces, though answering directly to Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi.

However, the PMU has been receiving Iraqi government support since long before the new law.

Soon after the start of the Mosul offensive on October 17, Army Maj. Gen. Gary J. Volesky, commander of the U.S.-led coalition’s land component, said the U.S. is only backing militias under the control of PM Abadi, claiming that only the Sunni component of the PMU is receiving U.S. support.

The Amnesty International report focuses on four Iraqi militias that have committed serious human rights violations: Munathamat Badr (Badr Brigades or Badr Organization), Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (League of the Righteous), Kata’ib Hezbollah (Hezbollah Brigades), and the Saraya al-Salam (Peace Brigades).

Iran provides support to most of those militias.

Last year, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haqa threatened American forces in Iraq and has been linked to deadly attacks against the U.S. military.


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