Killings: During the year UNAMI recorded a total of 19,266 civilian casualties: 6,878 killed and 12,388 wounded, although how many civilians were intentionally targeted was not indicated.
According to the United Nations and international human rights organizations, some Iran-backed Shia militias, nominally under government control, committed human rights violations. The groups participated in operations against Da’esh as part of the PMF and were implicated in several attacks on Sunni civilians, reportedly avenging Da’esh crimes against the Shia. A few Sunni tribal forces that had rallied to the government, especially in Anbar Governorate, were also implicated in revenge killing of Sunni civilians, some of whom may have simply coexisted with Da’esh during Da’esh’s rule in the area. UNAMI and HRW reported that members of Shia militias allegedly had abducted and killed scores of Sunni residents in Muqdadiya, in Diyala Governorate, and demolished Sunni homes, stores, and seven mosques following January 11 bombings claimed by Da’esh. In early January armed groups targeted Sunni mosques in Babil Governorate. None of those responsible were brought to justice by year-end.
Da’esh was the major human rights violator in the country, responsible for deaths of many innocent civilians. The United Nations, international human rights groups, and media reported that Da’esh executed hundreds of noncombatants. These included not only civilians who did not flee their homes in advance of Da’esh advances but also those who attempted to flee Da’esh held territory, captured or surrendered soldiers, police officers, and others associated or who had been associated with the government. For example, ISF discovered in November several mass graves containing the bodies of at least 400 former local police officers near the village of Hammam al-Alil, 19 miles southeast of Mosul. They appeared to have been killed at the end of October while in Da’esh’s custody.
Media widely reported instances when, after Sunni tribes turned against Da’esh and allied themselves with the ISF, Da’esh conducted mass executions of tribesmen. For example, HRW reported they interviewed 20 residents in May from villages in Makhmur District who had fled to an IDP camp. The villagers said that before government forces retook the area in March, Da’esh executed government security personnel, civilians attempting to flee, and suspected government informants, while many others went missing.
Da’esh also reportedly killed and abducted religious leaders who failed to support the terrorist group. In September, Da’esh reportedly shot and killed two imams in eastern Mosul for not complying with instructions to encourage young men to join Da’esh and fight against the ISF.
Throughout the year Da’esh detonated VBIEDs and suicide bombs in public markets, security checkpoints, and predominantly Shia neighborhoods. For example, on November 24, a suicide truck bomber killed at least 77 persons, largely Iranian Shia pilgrims, in the southern city of Hilla.
On April 26, Yezidi religious leaders in Lalish published an open letter to diplomats and human rights organizations reporting 410 Yezidi men had been missing for a year after Da’esh transported the men to a mosque in the Da’esh-controlled city of Tal Afar.
Abductions: Militias, illegal armed groups, Da’esh, and other unknown actors kidnapped many persons during the year. While in some cases individuals were kidnapped due to their ethnic or sectarian identity, other individuals were taken for financial motives. Da’esh reportedly detained children in schools, prisons, and airports, and separated girls from their families to sell them in Da’esh-controlled areas for sexual slavery. Da’esh also punished minors in areas under its control.
UNAMI reported that 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 in the Deir ez-Zor Governorate in eastern Syria and sold them to Da’esh fighters for amounts ranging from approximately 500,000 dinars to 2.2 million dinars ($450 to $2,000) each.
Kidnappings also continued to be a common tactic in tribal conflicts. In January members of the al-Halaf tribe abducted a man from the Garamsha tribe after the establishment of a truce between the two tribes failed. A photo of the man, bound and beaten, went viral on social media; the photo caption described him as a “captive of the war between the two tribes.”
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 torture and other 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. According to a January-June UNAMI report, thousands of women, particularly those from ethnic and religious communities that Da’esh considered takfiri, or not conforming to their doctrine of Islam, had been subjected to rape, sexual enslavement, murder, and other forms of physical and sexual violence.
Da’esh forces killed civilians who cooperated with the government and anyone who refused to recognize Da’esh and its caliphate, or tried to escape Da’esh-controlled territory. During the first week of January, Da’esh abducted five male teachers near Mosul for refusing to propagate Da’esh doctrines. In March media widely reported that Da’esh electrocuted 15 civilians charged with spying for the government in Baghdad.
Da’esh attempted to attack both ISF units and civilian-populated areas with chemical substances, including chlorine and sulfur mustard gas. They developed a small number of crude chemical weapons that had a negligible effect on the battlefield. On March 16 and May 2, respectively, Da’esh fired chemical weapons into the Salah al-Din villages of Taza and Basheer, injuring more than 400 civilians, primarily Turkmen Shia.
Child Soldiers: There were no reports that regular ISF units conscripted or recruited children to serve in the security services. Some NGOs and an IDP camp manager reported that, while there was no instruction for children to join fighting, children continued to be associated with the PMF and militias in conflict areas. In August, NGOs reported Sunni tribal militias recruiting teenagers aged 15-17 from the Debaga IDP camp. KRG and independent sources alleged the Yezidi Resistance Forces and Yezidi Women’s Protection Units militias employed Yezidi minors in paramilitary roles in Sinjar. For example, an HRW December 22 report documented 29 cases in which two armed groups affiliated with the PKK recruited Kurdish and Yezidi children, and abducted or seriously abused children who tried to leave their forces.
Additionally, armed Shia groups, under the banner of the PMF, continued to give weapons training and military-style physical fitness conditioning to children under the age of 18 at summer training camps. The government and the statements of Shia religious leaders expressly forbid children under the age of 18 from serving in combat; there was evidence on social media, however, of children serving in combat positions. For example, the official “Ideological Guidance” page of the PMF website lauded a 14-year-old volunteer from Basrah for fighting alongside his father in Fallujah. The head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Basrah office said, “children from poor neighborhoods in Basrah are leaving school to volunteer” with PMF groups. The head of a Basrah NGO visited PMF units in Salah al-Din, where she encountered teenage volunteers serving on the front lines. On April 20, the United Nations verified 12 reported cases of recruitment of children by militias affiliated with the PMF, all of whom had been killed in combat. According to the IHCHR, during the year authorities detained 857 juveniles, including 804 on charges of terrorism, murder, theft, and kidnapping. An international organization reported that an estimated 30 percent of juveniles in pretrial or post-trial detention were held on security-related charges.
According to UNAMI, Da’esh forcibly recruited children to serve as informants, checkpoint staff, and suicide bombers. In January international media cited KRG sources who said Da’esh abducted up to 400 Yezidi children and trained them for combat or as suicide bombers. In March, Da’esh moved approximately 25 children from an orphanage in Mosul to a training camp in Tal Afar. The boys, some as young as eight years, included Yezidis and Turkmen, and were reportedly trained on weapons use and other combat skills. On September 20, Da’esh released a video that showed children executing prisoners in Mosul.
According to UNICEF, Da’esh violations against children included killing and maiming, recruitment and use as soldiers or suicide bombers, sexual violence, attacks against schools or hospitals, denial of humanitarian access for children, and abduction. For example, on August 21, police in Kirkuk cut a suicide vest off a 15-year-old boy wearing it under a Lionel Messi football shirt before he could carry out a Da’esh plan to detonate the vest inside a Shia mosque.
See also the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: 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 al-Din, and Diyala Governorates.
On October 25, UNAMI warned that expulsions of relatives of suspected Da’esh members were becoming widespread without due process, and that “collective punishment” endangered civilian lives and undermined efforts at reconciliation. For example, media reported in August that police forced relatives of suspected Da’esh members to leave 52 houses in Dhuluiya, in Salah al-Din Governorate. On September 9, international media reported that authorities expelled the families of more than 200 suspected Da’esh members from their homes in Hit, northwest of Ramadi.
The government, the PMF, and Da’esh all established roadblocks that impeded the flow of humanitarian assistance to communities in need. The KRG--specifically KDP-run checkpoints--also restricted the transport of food, medicines and medical supplies, and other goods into Sinjar and Rabia Districts. NGO and diplomatic contacts stated the measures appeared to be aimed at limiting the influence of the PKK and their local affiliates, but they claimed unpredictability and the extent of the restrictions limited IDP returns to these areas.
Reports of Da’esh’s targeted destruction of civilian infrastructure were common, including attacks on roads, religious sites, and hospitals.
Da’esh continued to attack cultural and religious heritage sites in areas under its control. On January 21, UNESCO reported Da’esh had destroyed the Monastery of Saint Elijah, which was more than 1,400 years old and the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq. On April 25, Da’esh destroyed Mosul’s Clock Tower Church.
UNAMI stated in an October report that Da’esh violations against Christians, Faili (Shia) Kurds, Kaka’i, Sabaean-Mandean, Shabaks, Shia Arabs, Turkmen, Yezidis and others appeared to be part of a policy to suppress, permanently expel, or destroy these communities.
Da’esh increasingly used civilians as human shields in combat and targeted civilian areas with mortars. In May police chief Lieutenant Colonel Aref al-Janabi told local media that Da’esh took civilians, mostly women, children and the elderly, hostage in Albu Hawi and Hasi villages. He added that Da’esh terrorists used scores of civilians as human shields when tribal fighters, together with security forces, launched an operation to retake the two besieged villages. In October UN human rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani reported Da’esh had forced “tens of thousands of people from their homes in sub-districts around Mosul, and had forcibly relocated civilians inside the city itself” to “use them as human shields.”