After regaining Mosul, Iraq continues steadfast prosecution of ISIS

By:Justin D. Santabarbara
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

Iraqi Security Forces Detain a suspected ISIS fighter (Photo Courtesy of Human Rights Watch). 

Since the Iraqi government regained control of Mosul and much of its northern provinces from the Islamic State in recent weeks, much emphasis has been placed on rebuilding the punitive institutions of government. In rebuilding its criminal justice capacity, Iraq has sought the counsel of the United Nations Human Rights reports, which began implicating the Islamic State human rights abuses in 2015. Together, with independent militia groups, Iraq’s Executive Office, under Haider Al-Abadi and the United Nations, launched an investigatory campaign in 2016. In August 2017, the Iraqi government charged a number of ISIS fighters in absentia with crimes against humanity. Al-Abadi is expected to formally address the United Nations Security Council in the coming weeks. He will likely request that the Security Council adopt a formal resolution to aid in the charging and capture of ISIS fighters.

The Iraqi government and the United Nations have focused the majority of its attention on balancing the sectarian divisions that continued to exist throughout the country. Since the Islamic State divided much of Iraq, the Shia-backed Iraqi military was forced to alienate many of its previous Sunni allies in pursuit of repelling ISIS. Additionally, Yazidis and Kurds have been historically persecuted by both Sunni and Shia. Until Al-Abadi gained the aid of western military forces in recovering Mosul, much of the Northern provinces were neglected, which left Yazidis and Kurds with little support. Al-Abadi’s most arduous challenge will continue to be regaining the trust of these religious sects, while also being successful in repelling ISIS fighters from the region. Human Rights Watch has been highly critical of the Iraqi government’s response to many of these groups, citing their continued detention and torturing of minority sects as a mechanism for screening their loyalties to ISIS.

The Iraqi investigation has faced much criticism from Human Rights Watch. It reports that ISIS fighters continue to be tried arbitrarily and with prejudice. While the imperative for national security remains a central priority for the government, Human Rights Watch has nearly 2,000 trials that have universally resulted in convictions and stringent sentences. Moreover, Human Rights Watch reports that Iraqi security forces have begun prosecuting lawyers, both domestic and international, that are representing the alleged ISIS fighters. Additionally, Iraqi courts do not issue different sentences for minor involvement or otherwise. The sentences have near universally been undisclosed, or death. Iraq continues its roundup by seeking additional avenues of criminal conduct. Among them include the possibility of charging doctors and other officials working under the Islamic State, but not directly toward their combative interests.

For more information, please see:

CBC News – Sectarian divisions exploited by ISIS still endure in Iraq – 5 September 2017

Human Rights First – Iraq Finally Holds ISIS Responsible for Crimes Against Humanity – 1 September 2017 

Human Rights Watch – The Justice Question After ISIS – 25 August 2017

Bahrain Strips Top Cleric of Citizenship

by Zachary Lucas
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

MANAMA, Bahrain — The Kingdom of Bahrain stripped top Shiite Cleric, Sheikh Isa Qassim, of citizenship on Tuesday. Iran has issued a statement saying the revocation of leadership could lead to an overthrow of the government.

Supporters Protest Sheikh Isa Qassim’s Loss of Citizenship (Photo Courtesy of CNN)

The government of Bahrain stripped Qassim of his citizenship, stating he helped to divide the country. The Bahrain News Agency said Qassim helped create “an extremist sectarian environment and worked on dividing the society.” The government also stated that Qassim formed groups that were loyal to foreign religious groups and governments, purportedly in reference to Iran.

Following Qassim’s revocation of citizenship, hundreds of Bahraini protesters have gathered outside the cleric’s home to support him. The protesters denied the allegations against the cleric. Clashes between the protesters and police have been sporadic following the sit-in outside the cleric’s house. The Bahraini government has warned that legal action will be taken against those who incite “security disturbances.”

The Iranian government warned Bahrain that these actions could lead to an overthrow of the government. Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, warned that this could set the” whole region on fire” and lead to armed resistance against the government.

This is one of a string of actions taken by the Bahraini government against the opposition groups in the country. Earlier in the week a Bahraini court suspended the main Shiite opposition party, al-Wefaq, along with freezing its assets. The government also more than doubled a prison sentence  for Al-Wefaq’s secretary-general, Sheikh Ali Salman. In response to the government crackdown on the opposition, more protests and violence have emerged including a gasoline bomb that killed a police officer.

Human rights organizations are concerned about human rights violations by the Sunni ruled Bahraini government and actions against the majority Shiite population. Brian Dooley, the director of the Washington-based group Human Rights First, said, “the targeting of the theological side of things, I think, is particularly worrying.”

In 2011, Bahrain saw mass protests during the Arab Spring as predominantly Shiite protesters argued for more political and civil liberties. During the protests, Qassim supported the protesters in their cause. The government along with help from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates crushed the protests.

For more information, please see:

BBC – Iran general warns Bahrain after Shia cleric stripped of citizenship – 20 June 2016

CNN – Iran: Bahrain’s leadership could fall over cleric’s treatment – 21 June 2016

Reuters – Bahrain summons senior Shi’ite clerics for questioning: lawyer – 23 June 2016

ABC News – Rally Outside Shiite Sheikh’s Home Reflects Bahrain Unrest – 23 June 2016

Judicial Probe Accuses Iraqi VP of Running Death Squads

By Tyler Yates
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq — An Iraqi judicial panel has found that Sunni Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi and his employess ran death squads that killed both security officials and Shi’ite pilgrims.  The findings, the first independent assessment of accusations against the vice president, are likely to increase sectarian tensions in the already politically divisive case.

Vice-President Hashimi (Photo Courtesy of Livingston Daily).

Al-Hashemi has denied the charges, and the accusations themselves have angered many Sunnis who see them as part of a campaign by the Shi’ite prime minister to push them out of Iraqi politics.

The announcement comes at the end of a two-month investigation where the nine-judge panel found at least 150 cases of either al-Hashemi, his bodyguards, or his other employees with links to violent attacks such as roadside bombs and the assassination of security agents and Shi’ite pilgrims.

A statement from Judicial Council spokesman Abdul-Sattar Bayrkdar did not offer any evidence to support the panel’s conclusions.

Decisions from the panel are not legally binding.

The Interior Ministry, which is run by Shi’ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki, issued an arrest warrant for al-Hashemi in December.

The case originates in part from television footage that aired on state-run television in December, showing supposed confessions by men said to be al-Hashemi’s bodyguards.  The men said that they killed officials working in Iraq’s health and foreign ministries, and Baghdad police officers, receiving $3,000 from al-Hashemi for each attack.

Al-Hashemi has taken refuge from arrest in the autonomous Kurdish government in Northern Iraq.  He has refused to return to Baghdad where he does not feel safe and has expressed concerns about no receiving a fair trial.  There is a belief amongst al-Hashemi and other Sunni officials that the judiciary is not independent of al-Malaki’s government.

“We are an independent body that is not linked to any executive body,” Saad al-Lami, one of the nine judges, said after the findings were announced. He said al-Maliki’s office has “nothing to do with these investigations.”

The Judiciary Council’s findings will be turned over to the Iraqi criminal courts.  This will allow the relatives of those killed to file lawsuits against al-Hashemi.

The political divisiveness of this case has tapped into underlying resentments between the Sunni and Shi’ites in the Iraqi government.  The minority Sunnis fear they are being politically sidelined by the Shi’ite majority as payback for the years of persecution under Saddam Hussein, who had favored the Sunnis.

Likewise the Shi’ites fear connections between the Sunnis and the near daily attacks by al-Qaeda and other insurgents.

Some Iraqis greet the judiciary’s findings with weariness and skepticism after years of endless government infighting.

“This is political immaturity when the government officials are ignoring the devastated country and people and direct all of their attention to settle old scores with political opponents,” said Hassan Hamid, a Shi’ite trader from eastern Baghdad.

For more information, please see:

Al Arabiya — Iraqi VP Hashimi denies any involvement in 150 terrorist operations — 17 Feb. 2012

ABC — Judicial Probe Says Iraqi VP Behind Death Squads — 16 Feb. 2012

AP — Judicial Probe Says Iraqi VP Behind Death Squads — 16 Feb. 2012

BBC — Iraqi’s Sunni Vice-President Hashemi ‘ran death squads’ — 16 Feb. 2012



Sunni Party Backs Off Threat to Boycott Iraq Election

By: Bobby Rajabi

Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

BAGHDAD, Iraq – On February 26 the National Dialogue Front, a prominent Sunni political party backed off previous threats to boycott Iraq’s coming parliamentary elections. The action took place after threats from rival parties to threaten to have the leader of the party charged with terrorism. Additionally, in a surprising move, twenty thousand former soldiers of Saddam Hussein were reinstated by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Saleh al-Mutlak, the party’s leader, claims that will no longer boycott the March 7 election because of the popular support received from their members. He said that “if Iraqiya (the coalition that the National Dialogue Front is a part of) doesn’t succeed, the whole of Iraq will be in chaos.” Mutlak explained that “(the party leadership) don’t want to be seen as the reason behind that chaos.”

Mutlak was the most prominent of hundreds of Sunni and secular candidates who were banned from running in the parliamentary elections. The individuals were banned for allegedly having ties to former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. This determination was made by a commission composed of Shi’ites who are also participating in the election.

The executive director the commission, named the Justice and Accountability Commission, said that Mutlak will face criminal charges for funding and backing an armed group of former members of the Baath Party. Ali Falial al-Lami explained that the commission was in possession of confessions and they “were documented and endorsed  by members of the Iraqi judiciary, and the suspects who gave the confessions are still in custody”

Mutlak and other members of the National Dialogue Front have long accused the al-Maliki government of harassing and unfairly targeting the party. He claims that some of his bodyguards were arrested and tortured until they made false confessions regarding the party leader.

The Iraqi Prime Minister has also come under fire his decision to reinstate twenty thousand former army officers who served under Saddam Hussein. Mayson al-Damalogi, a spokesman for Iraqiya, explained the coalition’s skepticism. He said that “this is purely a means of trying to gain more votes.” The decision to reinstate the officers was confirmed by Ministry of Defense spokesman Mohammed al-Askari.

For more information, please see:

Washington Post – Sectarian Tensions Rise Before Iraq Elections – 26 February 2010

New York Times – Iraq to Rehire 20,000 Hussein-Era Army Officers – 25 February 2010

Reuters – Prominent Iraqi Sunni Ends Party’s Poll Boycott – 25 February 2010

Voice of America – Key Iraqi Sunni Politician Decides Not to Boycott – 25 February 2010

Militant Group Blasts Pakistan Market

By Alok Bhatt
 Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

KOHAT, Pakistan – An immense suicide-blast in the northwestern town of Kohat took the lives of over 30 civilians and wounded 80 others.  The explosion ravaged an urban market area in a predominantly Shia region located approximately 40 miles south of Peshawar.  Victims and witnesses believed the attack to have been perpetrated by an extremist Sunni group.  Sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shias have historically afflicted northwestern Pakistan since al-Qaida and other extremist Muslim groups occupied its surrounding areas.  This recent attack represents only one of many indiscriminate assaults on Shia civilians.  Just one day prior, a bomb detonated in a Kohat bazaar left six wounded, but fortunately caused no fatalities.  An August 30th bombing in the Swat Valley region of northwest Pakistan killed 14 police recruits.  The repeated attacks upon northwest Pakistan demonstrate the extremist Sunni objective to eradicate the Shia Muslim minority.  The geographic proximity of northwest Pakistan to Afghanistan makes the region especially susceptible to insurgencies by Taliban forces and other militant extremist organizations.  

Beside the loss of life and severe injury to survivors, the suicide-attack caused catastrophic damage to Shia-owned kiosks, restaurants, the Hikmat Ali Hotel, and a number of vehicles along the market road.  Witnesses recalled seeing a bearded man drive into the market in a van then detonate his cargo of explosives, destroying himself and the immediate area.  The impact of the blast collapsed the roofs of surrounding buildings, trapping many victims beneath heavy dust and rubble.  Onlookers came to the aid of those pinned under the wreckage until machinery arrived on the scene to lift and clear the debris.  Media footage showed survivors emerging from the target zone covered in blood and bandages.



A lesser-known Sunni extremist group called Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Almi claimed responsibility for the Korat bomb attacks.  It declared the blast an act of vengeance for their religious leader, Maulana M. Amin, who was killed in June.  

The Pakistan military has been engaging in military offensives against extremist groups in northwest Pakistan since April.  While the strikes have been proving effective against militant groups, officials admit the frustration and difficulty of trying to eliminate suicide-bomb attacks.  However, with the aid of U.S. military strikes, Pakistan’s armed forces will continues to beat back insurgent attacks to avoid attacks in urban areas.   

 For more information, please see:

Al-Jazeera – Deadly blast in Pakistan market – 18 September 2009

BBC News – Carnage in Pakistan Market Attack – 18 September 2009

MSNBC – At least 29 die as blast hits Pakistan hotel – 18 September 2009