By John Lee.
The Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, has angrily rejected a report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) alleging abuses by militias in Tikrit.
In a statement, Abadi claims that "HRW has relied on unverified video recordings and telephone calls reporting acts of robbery, looting and destruction, and recorded them as local eyewitness testimony, and questioned without justification the numbers of victims of the Speicher massacre, which Daesh admitted that it had committed."
"The truth omitted from the report deliberately, is that the Daesh terrorist organisation was still booby-trapping houses before withdrawing from them to inflict casualties among the ranks of the Iraqi forces seeking to liberate cities, and Iraqi forces gave dozens of casualties as it entered booby-trapped houses or during its dismantling of explosives placed around and inside the homes of citizens.
"What is regrettable is that the report focused, and without any reservation, on the sectarian dimension, although the operation to liberate Tikrit was successful and with the participation of the sons of the city of Tikrit and its clans who volunteered alongside fellow fighters from the rest of the components of the Iraqi people.
"It is worth mentioning that the city of Tikrit was abandoned by its inhabitants after being captured Daesh, and when it was liberated and entered by the Iraqi forces, there were no civilians at all, who only returned to it after its liberation.
"The measures taken by the Iraqi government to protect civilians led to the return of 80% of Tikrit residents as well as residents of other areas in Salahudin, including al-Dawr which most of its population had returned, and Al-Alam whose population returned gradually, which means that the citizens in these liberated areas trust the security forces there, and feel more secure there than they are in the areas that they were displaced to.
"What is surprising is that the organization admits it did not visit the city of Tikrit and the alleged witnesses who they relied on had left the city to the northern areas of Iraq when Daesh entered it, meaning they did not see the alleged destruction of houses, and despite all this the organization relied on their testimony and built its report on these testimonies that should not be relied upon given the fact that the persons mentioned were far from locations of the events in the liberated areas of Tikrit. The Iraqi government had permitted for all international media to enter Tikrit, and the organization or its representatives could have sent people to see the facts and events on the to come out with a fair and accurate report fair.
"With our appreciation for the intentions of the organization and its efforts in the defence of human rights, we look forward to its reporting being more accurate and based on real evidence, and we call on them to cooperate with the official Iraqi authorities to provide them with the verified evidence and information and statistics they hold.
"Iraq is locked in a fierce war with terrorist gangs who do not respect the sanctity of a child or an elderly person or a woman or a non-combatant, and kill innocent citizens in a wholesale manner, and certainly there are acts of revenge and reactions by some victims, however the government and security forces, in spite of the battle and the devastating war conditions, are committed to respect of human rights and the protection of civilians and to hold the negligent accountable.
"We reiterate the position of the Iraqi government strongly rejecting any violation of human rights, and its seriousness in holding offenders to account and bring them to justice, and that the government is committed to achieving justice and protecting the lives and property of citizens, and to prosecute offenders who kill innocent people and destroy property regardless of their affiliation and faith."
(Source: Office of the Prime Minister)