Iraq’s security forces, mainly Baghdad-sanctioned militias allied with Iran, have “forcibly disappeared” 78 Sunni Arab males, including children as young as nine, over the course of Baghdad’s military campaign against the Sunni Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), Human Rights Watch (HRW) estimated in a report released on Thursday.
Members of the Popular Mobilization Units/Forces (PMU/F), a network of Iran-affiliated Shiite militias sanctioned by Baghdad as part of the Iraqi armed forces, carried out the majority (36) of enforced disappearances, HRW reported, citing the Hezbollah Brigade as the top PMU perpetrator.
According to HRW, “Enforced disappearance is defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or by agents of the state or by people or groups acting with the state’s authorization, support, or acquiescence, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the arrest or to reveal the person’s status or whereabouts.”
Under international law, “the prohibition also entails a duty to investigate cases of alleged enforced disappearance and prosecute those responsible,” the human rights group added.
In the statement, HRW noted:
Human Rights Watch documented 78 cases of men and boys forcibly disappeared in in Iraq since April 2014 and October 2017 … The International Commission on Missing Persons, which has been working in partnership with the Iraqi government to help recover and identify the missing, estimates that the number of missing people in Iraq could range from 250,000 to one million people, with the International Committee of the Red Cross stating that Iraq has the highest number of missing people in the world.
In November 2016, Iraqi lawmakers adopted a law that officially made the Iran-allied predominantly Shiite militias — the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU/F) also known as al-Hashid Shaabi — part of the Iraqi armed forces, placing them under the command of the prime minister.
The enforced disappearances documented were carried out by a range of military and security entities, but the highest number, 36, were by groups within the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), units under the prime minister’s command, at checkpoints across Iraq. Witnesses said at least 28 of these were carried out by the Hezbollah Brigades.
The Hezbollah Brigades is a component of the Iran-backed PMU. Lama Fakih, the deputy Middle East director at HRW, declared:
Families across Iraq whose fathers, husbands, and sons disappeared after Iraqi forces detained them are desperate to find their loved ones. Despite years of searching, and requests to Iraqi authorities, the government has provided no answers about where they are or if they are even still alive.
The US-led coalition and other countries have spent billions of dollars on Iraq’s military and security entities. These countries have a responsibility to insist that the Iraqi government should call a halt to disappearances and provide support to victims’ families.
Iraqi troops arrested 34 of the disappeared men and boys at checkpoints as ISIS terrorism screening efforts and another 37 at their homes.
“The majority of the 78 people whose cases Human Rights Watch documented were detained in 2014, with the most recent in October 2017. But Human Rights Watch has continued to receive reports of additional disappearances across Iraq,” noted HRW. “In three more cases, men who were detained and disappeared in 2014 and 2015 had been released. They indicated that they had been detained by the PMF or the National Security Service in unofficial detention sites, and all said they had been beaten throughout their time in detention.”