Iraqi government-backed militias carried out widespread destruction of homes and shops around the city of Tikrit in March and April 2015 in violation of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released on Sunday.
Militiamen deliberately destroyed several hundred civilian buildings with no apparent military reason after the withdrawal of the extremist armed group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, from the area.
The 60-page report, “Ruinous Aftermath: Militia Abuses Following Iraq’s Recapture of Tikrit,” uses satellite imagery to corroborate accounts of witnesses that the damage to homes and shops in Tikrit, and the towns of al-Bu ‘Ajil, al-Alam, and al-Dur covered entire neighborhoods.
After ISIS fled, Hizbollah Battalions and League of Righteous forces, two of the largely Shia pro-government militias, abducted more than 200 Sunni residents, including children, near al-Dur, south of Tikrit. At least 160 of those abducted remain unaccounted for.
“Iraqi authorities need to discipline and hold accountable the out-of-control militias laying waste to Sunni homes and shops after driving ISIS out,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “Abusive militias and their commanders acting with impunity undermine the campaign against ISIS and put all civilians at greater risk.”
Ahead of the campaign, Shia militia leaders had promised revenge for the June 2014 massacre by ISIS of at least 770 Shia military cadets from the Camp Speicher facility, near Tikrit. In videos of home demolitions, Shia militiamen curse Sunni residents and invoke Shia slogans.
The militias are part of the Popular Mobilization Forces, consisting of several dozen Shia militias, which the government created in response to the rapid ISIS advance across Nineveh and Salah al-Din provinces in June 2014.