The conflict between ISIL and the ISF led to a significant deterioration in the human rights situation during the year. The conflict, which intensified in January following armed clashes between the ISF and ISIL in Anbar Province, further escalated in June when ISIL launched an offensive and took control of Mosul, Tikrit, and other areas in the north. By November continued violence had displaced more than two million persons, according to UN figures. Human rights abuses included mass execution, indiscriminate use of force, abductions, and repression of ethnic and religious minority communities. The United Nations reported that the minimum number of civilian casualties between January and the end of October was 8,571 killed and 13,787 injured.
Killings: In attempts to drive out ISIL from northern and western areas, the government targeted ISIL bases, many of which were located in populated civilian areas. Throughout the year the government escalated its use of force, leading to the deaths of a number of civilians, including children. ISF helicopters and airplanes conducted shelling and aerial bombardment of suspected ISIL locations and infrastructure in civilian neighborhoods, particularly in Anbar Province. The medical directorate for Anbar recorded 2,095 persons killed from January to October, some of whom were women and children, due to repeated shelling of residential neighborhoods in Fallujah and Ramadi. Unverified reports from Anbar residents, medical professionals, and aid workers acknowledged that casualty figures were likely to be much higher because many individuals could not reach hospitals due to the fighting.
Following ISIL’s advances in June, ISF attacks on ISIL locations in civilian areas increased. HRW alleged that security forces killed at least 75 civilians and injured others in June and July during air strikes on Fallujah, Bayji, Mosul, Tikrit, and al Sherqat. In one reported case, an ISF aerial bombardment on July 20 of residential areas in Sulayman Bek, east of Tikrit, killed or injured 29 persons, including women and children. HRW reported that the ISF used barrel bombs, which caused 17 deaths in the attack.
The Human Rights Ministry denied reports that security forces committed violations against civilians, stating the government warned civilians to evacuate prior to ISF attacks. During the year the military also took steps to adjust its tactical operations to prevent undue loss of civilian life. For example, in August the air force distributed flyers to civilians in areas near Mosul to warn them to evacuate from the area to avoid injury in the event of an ISF attack. Prime Minister al-Abadi announced on September 13 that he had ordered the air force to stop air strikes against targets in civilian areas.
There were reports by human rights groups and the media of increased sectarian violence, including targeted killing of Sunni civilians suspected of having a connection to ISIL because they were Sunnis living in ISIL-controlled territory. Successful airstrikes and ISF ground operations to liberate ISIL-controlled areas created civilian security vacuums into which Shia militias moved. According to HRW the situation worsened during the year, and Sunni civilians, in the face of Shia militia violence and absent effective government security, either aligned with ISIL or faced displacement from their homes. As Sunni tribes turned against the terrorist group and fought with the ISF, ISIL conducted mass executions of tribesmen.
According to the United Nations and international human rights organizations, Shia militias--with participation or noninterference from the military and police--allegedly carried out extrajudicial killings of more than 200 Sunni detainees in June (see section 1.a.). For example, HRW documented the killing of 61 Sunni men between June 1 and July 9, as well as the killing of at least 48 Sunni men in March and April in towns around Baghdad. Witnesses, as well as medical and government sources, told HRW researchers that militias were responsible in each case. On July 30, police reported that militia forces executed 15 Sunnis and hung them by electricity poles in a public square in the town of Baqubah. UNAMI warned of increased violence toward Sunnis, particularly in the south, noting that since June at least 19 Sunni civilian men had been killed and 19 others injured in a spate of killings and abductions. Sunnis also received anonymous threats to leave Basrah or face death, according to UNAMI sources. It was unclear whether these allegations were investigated.
The United Nations, international human rights groups, and the media reported that ISIL executed hundreds of noncombatants, primarily captured soldiers or those who surrendered, military conscripts, police, and others associated with the government. The majority of those killed were Shia. For example, ISIL conducted mass executions in Tikrit and at a military base, the former Camp Speicher, in June after seizing control of the city. According to UN statements, ISIL killed as many as 1,700 men in mass execution sites after the June 11-12 takeover of Camp Speicher. ISIL claimed responsibility for the killing, posting photographs and videos on social media sites. The photographs showed ISIL militants apparently firing their weapons at young men packed closely together in large groups with hands bound behind their backs. In another instance the Human Rights Ministry announced that ISIL executed 175 Iraqi Air Force recruits in Tikrit on June 22. The government recovered the bodies of 11 victims from the Tigris River and reported that others were buried in a mass grave.
ISIL forces also targeted minorities. During an early August assault on Sinjar in the northern part of the country, ISIL killed at least 500 Yezidis, including women and children, and buried some victims alive, as the Human Rights Ministry documented in its report on ISIL atrocities. According to international media, ISIL seized the Yezidi village of Kocho on August 15, gathered boys and men older than 10 years of age, executed 84 of them, and kidnapped as many as 300 women.
According to media reports and the United Nations, ISIL increasingly targeted and killed members of Sunni tribes who refused to affiliate with the terrorist group. In late October and early November, a series of mass graves were found, and the government estimated that ISIL massacred nearly 800 members of the Albu Nimr tribe--including children and elderly men--in Anbar Province because of their resistance to ISIL. Numerous reports of ISIL abductions, public executions, and massacres of Sunni tribes emerged as members of these Sunni tribes increasingly turned against the terrorist group.
Throughout the year ISIL also targeted civilians, detonating VBIEDs and suicide bombs in public markets, security checkpoints, and predominantly Shia neighborhoods. Armed ISIL fighters also deployed in or near populated areas and failed to take precautions to avoid civilian casualties.
Abductions: There were reports of abductions by militias, illegal armed groups, and other unknown actors. In some cases individuals were kidnapped due to their ethnic or sectarian identity; in other cases individuals were abducted to destabilize the political process. For example, HRW alleged that militias kidnapped Sunni civilians in Baghdad, Diyala, and Babil provinces. In another instance unknown assailants abducted Riyadh Al-Adhadh, chair of the Baghdad Provincial Council, from his home during a sensitive period in the government formation process but released him several hours later. No update on the status of an investigation into his abduction was available at year’s end.
According to unverified media reports, security and police officials alleged that Shia militias compiled “hit lists” of suspected Sunni insurgents to kidnap or execute. While the militias claimed to be securing the country from terrorist activity, the lack of oversight and accountability raised concerns of extrajudicial activity and impunity, and risked exacerbating sectarian conflict.
An October 31 press statement by the UN secretary-general to the Security Council documented ISIL’s abduction of members of the Yezidi, Christian, and Turkmen Shia communities since its advance in the north. ISIL targeted religious and ethnic minorities, as well as women and children, some of whom the terrorist group held for ransom before releasing while sexually assaulting, torturing, and killing others (see also section 1.b.). International human rights groups, including HRW, detailed ISIL’s abduction of 200 Turkmen, Shabaks, and Yezidis from Mosul in June. According to the UN secretary-general’s report, UNAMI confirmed reports that ISIL abducted as many as 2,500 women and children during the year.
According to Yezidi groups, in August ISIL kidnapped at least several hundred Yezidi women and girls from the Sinjar District of Ninewa and used some of them as sex slaves (see section 6, Other Societal Violence). Some Yezidi sources claimed that ISIL may have abducted as many as 4,000 women and children, but lack of security in the area prevented an independent assessment of the numbers.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Reports from international human rights groups alleged that government forces and Shia militias abused prisoners and detainees, particularly Sunnis (see section 1.a.).
ISIL reportedly used brutal tactics to abuse, punish, and torture individuals connected to the security services and government, as well as those they considered apostates, such as Yezidis, according to international human rights organizations. The Human Rights Ministry and the United Nations reported multiple cases of rape and sexual assault carried out by ISIL and its affiliates; in one case four girls committed suicide after ISIL militants sexually assaulted them in Mosul.
Child Soldiers: There were no reports that ISF conscripted or recruited children to serve in the security services. According to UNAMI, militia groups and ISIL recruited children to serve as informants, checkpoint staff, and suicide bombers. Recruitments took place in areas of active conflict, as well as in Baghdad. Witnesses, including UN staff, observed children wearing uniforms, carrying weapons, and serving at checkpoints. UNAMI reported that children between ages 13 and 18 also voluntarily joined ISIL and militia groups, particularly in Mosul, Fallujah, Ramadi, Tikrit, Samarra, and Baghdad. There were some reports of abductions of boys between ages 13 and 18 by unidentified armed groups. These reports were difficult to verify. See also the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at 2009-2017.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Other Conflict-related Abuses: Active areas of conflict continued to disrupt the lives of hundreds of thousands of persons throughout the country, particularly in Baghdad and the IKR, but also in Anbar, Ninewa, Salah ad Din, and Diyala provinces. Roads, bridges, and critical infrastructure sustained damage due to fighting, and roadblocks established by the government, militias, and ISIL impeded the flow of humanitarian assistance to communities in need.
Fighting between the ISF and ISIL caused damage to civilian institutions, including hospitals as well as water and energy infrastructure. For example, in June and July ISF repeatedly shelled areas of Fallujah in efforts to push out ISIL forces, resulting in accidental damage to Fallujah Hospital. Reports from international aid organizations also confirmed that shelling in Tikrit on June 13 damaged the main hospital as well as a clinic of the NGO Doctors Without Borders. The ICRC reported that hospitals in conflict areas were operating at reduced capacity or stopped functioning altogether.
Reports of ISIL’s targeting and destruction of civilian infrastructure were common, including attacks on roads, religious sites, and hospitals. On July 29, according to local and international media reports, ISIL forces used multiple improvised explosive devices to destroy a strategic bridge on the Tigris River near Samarra located on the main highway connecting Mosul and Tikrit to Baghdad. ISIL also surrounded the largely Shia Turkmen community of Amerli in Salah ad Din for more than a month, preventing access to humanitarian aid and causing food, water, and fuel shortages for the community of 15,000 Turkmen.
ISIL systematically attacked religious and minority communities and their cultural and religious heritage to suppress minority ethnic and religious groups in areas under its control. ISIL repeatedly destroyed religious and cultural sites, including mosques, churches, and shrines. Between July 23 and August 3, ISIL destroyed the Shia shrines of Sayida Zainab and Saiyed Zakariya in Sinjar, the Sunni shrine of Imam Yahya Abu al-Qasim in al-Shafa, and the tomb and mosque of the Prophet Jonah. On July 27, ISIL destroyed the centuries-old tombs of two Sufi sheikhs in Mosul. Between August 28 and 31, in Hamdaniya in Ninewa Province, ISIL bombed four ancient shrines of the Kakai, a largely Kurdish religious minority oriented toward mysticism.
The Human Rights Ministry alleged that ISIL used civilians, including women and children, to shield combatants during fighting with the ISF, including in Fallujah.