THE CITIZEN BUREAU | 4 SEPTEMBER, 2014
Islamic State Unleash Horrific Atrocities in Iraq:Report
Islamic State Advertises its Gruesome Executions
NEW DELHI: International watchdog, Amnesty International (AI), has said that it has evidence that Islamic State (IS) militants are carrying out a “wave of ethnic cleansing” of minorities in Iraq’s northern areas.
AI’s new briefing, titled Ethnic cleansing on historic scale: the Islamic State’s systematic targeting of minorities in northern Iraq, describes accounts from survivors of massacres who describe how dozens of men and boys in the Sinjar region of northern Iraq were rounded up by Islamic State fighters, bundled into pick-up trucks and taken to village outskirts to be massacred in groups or shot individually. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of women and children, along with scores of men, from the Yezidi minority have also been abducted since the Islamic State took control of the area.
"The massacres and abductions being carried out by the Islamic State provide harrowing new evidence that a wave of ethnic cleansing against minorities is sweeping across northern Iraq,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser currently in northern in Iraq. “The Islamic State is carrying out despicable crimes and has transformed rural areas of Sinjar into blood-soaked killing fields in its brutal campaign to obliterate all trace of non- Arabs and non-Sunni Muslims.”
AI’s report coincides with the United Nation’s decision to send a fact finding team to northern Iraq to investigate possible war crimes by IS militants. Of the UN Human Rights Council’s 47 members, only South Africa withheld support, on the grounds that the resolution was ambiguous and lacked balance.
The UNHRC fact finding mission is limited to violations by IS militants, and any human rights violations by Iraqi security forces remain within the purview of the Iraqi government.
It is in this position -- of a different standard for the militants and a different standard for Iraqi government brutality -- that any solution to the crisis in Iraq will be obfuscated.
The reason for IS’ rise in the country’s north is directly linked to the Iraqi government’s divisive measures, which includes police brutality. At the time of the fall of Falluja, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report that "Fallujah residents held no brief for ISIL, but their hatred of the Iraqi army -- seen as the instrument of a Shiite, sectarian regime, directed from Tehran, that discriminates against Sunnis in general and Anbar in particular -- ran even deeper.”
Further, whilst the divisive policies of the Shia-dominated Iraqi state -- that have certainly played a role in alienating Sunnis in Iraq -- are being used as a scapegoat, with international pressure blaming now former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.
Whilst it is true that Maliki and his Shia dominated administration in Baghdad have pursued discriminatory policies, the US has played an instrumental role in Maliki’s rise to power in the first place, in addition to consistently supporting Iraq’s divisive politics. This includes siding with the Iraqi government’s military crackdown on Anbar last December and the decision to clamp down on protests in Falluja using the rouse of “anti-terrorism.” Falluja was the first city to fall to IS militants at the beginning of this year.
More importantly, whilst sectarianism is certainly a factor in the rise of IS -- through which the discontent in Iraq has channeled itself -- it is a factor that was not all that important in Iraq prior to the US invasion of 2003. When the US invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, a need emerged to replace the security vacuum with a new political elite. The main opposition to Hussein at the time were ethno-sectarian parties, and the US brought these factions to power cementing identity politics in the region.
Fanar Haddad, of the Middle East Institute in Singapore, points out that the politicians who came to power post 2003, were not politicians who happened to be Shia, but rather, Shia politicians with a fundamentally Shia-centric ideology and political outlook.
Further, post 2003 institutions came to be organised along sectarian lines. For instance, the Iraq Governance Council, which served as the provisional government of Iraq from July 13, 2003 to June 1, 2004 was formed along ethnic lines -- comprising of 13 Shias, five Sunnis, five Kurds, one Turkmen and one Assyrian.
In today’s Iraq, the Prime Minister is a Shia, the speaker of Parliament a Sunni, and the President a Kurd.
This creation of identity-based politics, paved the way for sectarian identity to become a key political factor. Prior to 2003, although a limited notion of a Shia identity and a Kurdish identity did exist in Iraq, there was no concept of a homogenous Sunni identity. The divisive policies of the Iraqi state -- facilitated by the US -- have paved the way for the emergence of a Sunni identity.
It is this emergence of a Sunni identity rooted in the notion of victimhood, that made the emergence of IS in Iraq possible.
As the group expanded from Iraq into Syria -- establishing a stronghold in Ar-Raqqah province -- it renamed itself the "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” The advance of anti-government forces in Syria, was made possible in turn, by the United States and allies assistance to Sunni rebels, who share with the US the objective to topple Alawite leader Assad. The US greenlighted Turkish and Saudi aid to anti-Assad rebels, supplied these groups with material and financial assistance, and used the CIA to train rebels at a secret base in Jordan.
This not to suggest that the rebels in Syria present a homogenous group, as there is considerable infighting, with the IS militants facing setbacks at the hands of the Islamic Front and the Free Syrian Army, for instance. However, affiliations change rapidly, and the IS group -- when it was known as Al Qaeda in Iraq -- had expressed solidarity with the rebels in Syria, following which the US immediately increased aid to anti-Assad forces. The aid began as non-lethal aid, but following a June 2013 White House statement that said there was reason to believe that Assad had been using chemical weapons against rebels, the US decided to extend lethal aid to anti-Assad militias. The total aid given by the US to rebels in Syria, according to USAID figures, amounts to over $1 billion.
In the same vein, the international community’s response to IS militants -- of which excusing Iraqi forces from international investigation which applies to atrocities in the country’s north is a prime example -- are set to further the crisis and exacerbate divisions in Iraq.