The conflict with Da’esh led to a significant deterioration in the human rights situation during the year. Armed clashes continued and further escalated in May when Da’esh took control of Ramadi in Anbar Governorate. By year’s end the number of displaced Iraqis surpassed 3.2 million, according to UN figures. Human rights abuses included mass executions, abductions, and repression of ethnic and religious minorities. Government security forces also made gains, liberating Tikrit in April, Sinjar in November, and Ramadi at year’s end. More than 150,000 IDPs returned to Tikrit.
Killings: The UN reported that the minimum number of civilian fatalities between December 2014 and October 31, 2015, was 7,200. In attempts to drive out Da’esh from northern and western areas, the government targeted Da’esh bases, many of which were located in populated civilian areas. Throughout the year the government escalated its use of bombing and shelling, and the collateral damage reportedly killed civilians, including children, in attacks on suspected Da’esh locations and infrastructure in civilian neighborhoods, particularly in Anbar Governorate. UNAMI reported that some military operations directly targeted civilian infrastructure, and authorities carried out other operations without taking all appropriate precautions to protect the civilian population.
Throughout the year ISF attacks on Da’esh locations in civilian areas increased. According to a report of the UN secretary-general on children and armed conflict in Iraq, on January 2, airstrikes targeting villages of al-Farhaniya and al-Subaihat in Salah ad Din Governorate reportedly killed 12 civilians. On March 5, airstrikes targeting Bartilla subdistrict east of Mosul in Ninewa Governorate allegedly killed 11 civilians, including three children. On June 26, international media reported that six civilians were killed and 12 others injured by ISF air strikes on residential neighborhoods in Fallujah in Anbar Governorate. Medical sources told media that airstrikes hit a central city market as well as areas near Fallujah Hospital.
Human rights groups and the media reported high levels of sectarian violence. Much of the violence was due to Shia militias--some of which participated as part of the PMF, nominally under government control--killing and abusing Sunni civilians. Successful airstrikes and ISF ground operations to liberate Da’esh-controlled areas created civilian security vacuums into which these units moved. The situation worsened during the year, and Sunni civilians faced revenge attacks for Da’esh crimes as well as forced displacement from their homes.
In instances when Sunni tribes turned against Da’esh and fought with the ISF, Da’esh conducted mass executions of tribesmen. According to UNAMI, in December 2014 in Madain, southern Baghdad, a Da’esh suicide bomber killed a group of at least 21 Sunni tribesmen collecting their salaries at a military base. The attack injured at least 48 others.
According to the UN and international human rights organizations, some Shia PMF operating outside government control committed abuses against civilians, including killings, abductions, and destruction of property. AI reported that members of Shia PMF--with participation or noninterference from the military and police--allegedly carried out extrajudicial killings of at least 56 and possibly more than 70 civilians from Barwana, Diyala Governorate, on January 26 (see section 1.a.). On January 23, after reclaiming Diyala from Da’esh control, Shia PMF allegedly looted and destroyed eight houses in Saadian and destroyed four mosques in Muqdadiya, Diyala Governorate. A February 15 HRW report, Iraq: Militias Escalate Abuses, Possibly War Crimes, claimed that since June 2014, at least 3,000 persons had fled their homes in Muqdadiya and that some were kidnapped and summarily executed. According to HRW the attacks appeared to be part of a campaign involving the Badr Brigade to displace residents from Sunni and mixed-sect areas and prevent them from returning.
There were cases of killings of Sunni clerics in Basrah. On January 1, unknown assailants killed four Sunni clerics in a drive-by shooting in Basrah’s Zubayr District. Religious leaders on both sides called for restraint, and the prime minister ordered an investigation that produced no results by year’s end.
According to AI on January 25, Yezidi fighters looted and burned homes in two Sunni Arab villages, Jiri and Sibaya, in Sinjar. They reportedly executed 21 civilians, including elderly men and women and children, and they injured several others, including three children. They also allegedly abducted 40 residents; at year’s end the whereabouts of 17 were unknown. Residents told AI that Peshmerga and Asayish security forces present during the attack did not act to stop it.
International media and the IHCHR reported that Da’esh increasingly used civilians as human shields in combat. In March the Institute for the Study of War reported that Da’esh fighters held an unspecified number of civilians as human shields in Tikrit. In Fallujah an Anbar provincial council member told media in July that Da’esh militants were using civilians as human shields to prevent ISF’s advance into the city.
The UN, international human rights groups, and the media reported that Da’esh 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, on June 22, Da’esh released a video showing its execution of 16 men by drowning them in a cage. In April local media displayed photographs alleging Da’esh executed 300 persons in Shriqat, northeast of Tikrit.
Da’esh also reportedly killed and abducted religious leaders who failed to support the terrorist group. According to UNAMI, on September 13, Da’esh executed three imams in Hammam Ali District of Mosul because they reportedly did not praise Da’esh in their sermons. On June 22, Da’esh abducted six Sunni clerics in Mosul for failing to follow Da’esh instructions forbidding evening Ramadan prayers; the whereabouts of the clerics remained unknown at year’s end.
Da’esh’s attacks against civilians had decreasing effect because the terrorist organization was forced on the defensive during the year, and because many potential victims had been killed, abducted, or fled since Da’esh’s onslaught began in 2014.
Throughout the year Da’esh detonated VBIEDs and suicide bombs in public markets, security checkpoints, and predominantly Shia neighborhoods. Armed Da’esh fighters also deployed in or near populated areas and used civilians as human shields.
Abductions: Militias, illegal armed groups, and other unknown actors kidnapped many persons. In some cases individuals were kidnapped due to their ethnic or sectarian identity; in other cases individuals to destabilize the political process or for financial motives. A June UN General Assembly report on the protection of the rights of children reported that at least 1,297 children (685 girls and 612 boys) were abducted in 322 incidents between January and December of 2014 and that Da’esh perpetrated almost all the incidents against the Yezidi community in Sinjar. Da’esh reportedly detained children in schools, prisons, and airports and separated girls above the age of 12 from their families to sell them in Da’esh-controlled areas for sexual slavery. Da’esh also punished minors in areas under its control. According to UNAMI, on September 2, Da’esh cut off the hand of a 13-year-old boy in Bab al-Tob market in Mosul after accusing him of theft.
UNAMI reported that by year’s end Da’esh held approximately 3,500 persons in slavery, predominantly women and children from the Yezidi community, as well as other ethnic and religious minorities from the Sinjar District of Ninewa Governorate. On June 25, according to UNAMI, Da’esh moved 42 Yezidi women to Mayadeen, Deir ez Zor Governorate in eastern Syria, and sold them to Da’esh fighters for amounts ranging from 553,180 dinars to 2.2 million dinars ($500 to $2,000) each.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Reports from international human rights groups alleged that government forces and Shia PMF abused prisoners and detainees, particularly Sunnis (see section 1.a.).
Da’esh reportedly used brutal tactics to abuse and punish 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 UN reported numerous cases of rape and sexual assault carried out by Da’esh and its affiliates. In August according to international media, Da’esh executed 19 women in Mosul for refusing sex with Da’esh members.
Child Soldiers: There were no reports that ISF conscripted or recruited children to serve in the security services. According to the report of the UN secretary-general on children and armed conflict in Iraq, released in November, while there was no instruction for children to join fighting, children continued to be associated with PMF and militias in all conflict areas. UN observers reported children wearing military uniforms and carrying weapons, as well as parading alongside adult members of armed groups. The report stated that on June 7, the Ministry of Youth and Sports sent a letter to its directorates in all governorates encouraging the use of youth clubs for military training of youth.
On July 28, the Associated Press reported its staff witnessed dozens of camps around the country with hundreds of students training to join the PMF and fight Da’esh. A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office responded that there were isolated incidents of underage fighters joining combat on their own but that the government did not condone children going to war. Observers noted there was no official encouragement for children to join militias, which occurred infrequently and generally due to family or peer encouragement.
According to UNAMI, Da’esh forcibly recruited children to serve as informants, checkpoint staff, and suicide bombers. According to the UN report on children and armed conflict, from August 2014 to June 2015, Da’esh forcibly recruited hundreds of boys as young as eight years old from Ninewa Governorate, including Yezidis and Turkmen, and sent them to centers to train on weapons and learn combat. On January 14, a video widely circulated on social media showed a Da’esh training camp for children in Tall Afar District in Ninewa Governorate. The video, titled “Farouq Institute for Cubs,” showed children under the age of 15 training to use weapons. On February 6, Da’esh imposed compulsory recruitment of children in Rutba, Anbar Governorate. The Ministry of Human Rights and local media reported that on June 21, Da’esh abducted more than 800 children and held them at al-Salamiya Camp in Mosul. Children ages five to 10 were placed in religious education camps, and children ages 10 to 15 were forced to attend military training. According to UNAMI, Da’esh allegedly stopped allowing families to pay 500,000 dinars ($455) in lieu of service.
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 Governorates. Roadblocks established by the government, PMF, and Da’esh impeded the flow of humanitarian assistance to communities in need.
According to AI, Peshmerga and Yezidi armed groups razed villages and towns under their control, with no military necessity to do so. AI reported widespread burning of homes and property in villages and towns in Ninewa, Kirkuk and Diyala governorates that Peshmerga forces captured from Da’esh fighters between September 2014 and March 2015 and that remained under KRG administration. The report stated that in one nearly destroyed village, members of the Peshmerga told AI they had blown up houses so that the residents would never return. In another village a member of the Peshmerga told AI that an area had been bulldozed following its recapture in order to create an empty area. Erbil-based NGOs and human rights activists corroborated some of AI’s claims.
According to local media, in August residents of the Assyrian town Telsqof in Ninewa Governorate said they witnessed members of the Peshmerga entering homes in search of valuables. Residents described the looting as “systematic,” with Peshmerga units going house to house and emerging with products such as appliances, gas cylinders, oil drums, and furniture.
Reports of Da’esh’s targeted destruction of civilian infrastructure were common, including attacks on roads, religious sites, and hospitals. Da’esh laid siege to Haditha District in Anbar Governorate and cut off supply routes to prevent humanitarian aid access. By March the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated that thousands of families in Haditha faced critical shortages of food, medicine, fuel, and basic supplies. On March 18, local media reported that at least 10 persons, including women and children, had died from hunger in Haditha because no aid could reach the district.
Da’esh attacked cultural and religious heritage sites in areas under its control. According to Hammurabi Human Rights Organization, on March 2, Da’esh using bulldozers destroyed an Assyrian Christian cemetery in the town of Tall Kayf. On March 19, Da’esh destroyed three Shabak holy sites in Hamdaniya, south of Mosul and one in Bashbita village. On March 19, Da’esh destroyed an ancient monastery and archeological site of Al-Jib, in Nimrud District. Over a six-month period, Da’esh destroyed several Yezidi pilgrimage sites, including Nasir Din and Al-Saeed shrines in Bashiqa in February. UNAMI stated in an April report that Da’esh violations against Christians, Faili (Shia) Kurds, Kaka’i, Sabean-Mandeans, Shabak, Shia Arabs, Turkmen, Yezidi and others appeared to be part of a policy to suppress, permanently expel, or destroy these communities in areas under Da’esh control.