Amnesty International has reported that “scores” of Sunni detainees have been killed by Iraqi government and Shi’a militia forces.

Extrajudicial executions were carried out by government forces as they withdrew from the Iraqi cities of Tal ‘Afar and Mosul, both now under control of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham -ISIS.

Testimonies from survivors and relatives of the victims gave horrifying accounts of what happened, one survivor describing:

“At 11.30pm they opened the door and threw a hand grenade into the cell and closed the door and turned off the light”.

Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Adviser currently in northern Iraq, said the following:

“Reports of multiple incidents where Sunni detainees have been killed in cold blood while in the custody of Iraqi forces are deeply alarming. The killings suggest a worrying pattern of reprisal attacks against Sunnis in retaliation for ISIS gains”.

“Killing prisoners is a war crime. The government must immediately order an impartial and independent investigation into the killings, and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice”.

“Those among the warring parties in Iraq who are committing war crimes should know that the impunity they currently enjoy won’t last forever and that they may one day be held accountable for their crimes.”

In Ba’quba, 21-year-old Yassir al’Ali, nephew of the city’s Mayor Abdallah al-Hayali, was one of up to 50 people executed by members of a Shi’a militia in al-Wahda police station, in the presence of the head of the station.

According to his uncle, Yassir was arrested and tortured, his nails removed and given electric shocks whilst in custody.

He was shot in the head; many of those executed with him were also shot in the head and chest. It was reported that Sunni policemen who witnessed the event fled their posts for fear of reprisal.

Whilst visiting Ba’quba Teaching Hospital, Amer al-Mujama’I Governor of Diyala told Amnesty that he spoke to the only known survivor of the incident Ahmed Khalas Zaydan al-Haribi who said:

“We were having a quiet night when we heard the shooting, then armed men in the presence of the head of the police station entered and started shooting at us”.

Al-Haribi was wounded in the leg and shoulder and taken to hospital; two hours later he was abducted and murdered by members of the militia, dumping his body behind the hospital.

The Chief of Police in Diyala governorate told media that the detainees died because of a mortar strike and reckless shootings by ISIS in an attempt to break into the prison.

Similar to Ba’quba, survivors and relatives of the victims claim around 50 Sunni detainees were executed by soldiers in the Anti-Terrorism Agency in Tal ‘Afar.

A survivor of the attack described what happened when soldiers entered the room in which he was held:

“It was about 1.45 at night when four soldiers opened the door and called out a few names; it seems they were trying to check that they had the right room. They started to shoot continuous automatic fire, which went on for a long time. There were at least three others that I could see behind them; maybe more but I could not see them”.

“I was towards the back of the room and took cover by the toilet and then I was covered by the bodies of detainees who fell on top of me. I was saved by those who died. In the room where I was 46 were killed and I heard that some others were killed next door”.

Umm Mohammed described the horrific state of the body of her cousin’s son, Kamal Fathi Hamza:

“He had been shot several times in the head and chest; the body was covered in blood. He had not been convicted of anything; he had just been arrested. He had only just got married less than a month before he was killed”.

Relatives of the executed detainees said they had been arrested and held in pretrial detention shortly before the killings began. None had been tried.

More damning to the Iraqi authorities, further killings took place in another Anti-Terrorism Agency building in the Hal al-Danadan district of Mosul.

A survivor described how at about 10pm soldiers took away 13 of the 82 detainees, hearing gunshots he said:

“The soldiers took some of us out and beat us with cables and said we were terrorists, and then took us back to our cell. At 11.30pm they opened the door and threw a hand grenade into the cell and closed the door and turned off the light”.

The next morning armed men took the injured to hospital, it was there the survivors learned that the Iraqi army and security forces had left Mosul.

At the time of writing Amnesty is investigating reports that ISIS has also killed large numbers of convicted prisoners held in Badoush prison, Mosul.

Understandably the main coverage has focused on the brutal atrocities reportedly committed by ISIS, but it must be acknowledged that if proven, the summary execution of prisoners and indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations by the Iraqi authorities constitute a war crime under international law.

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