Iraqi Kurds de­stroy Arab vil­lages: HRW

Forces re­cap­ture Nim­rud

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

ER­BIL, Iraq: Iraqi Kur­dish fight­ers bat­tling Is­lamic State in north­ern Iraq un­law­fully de­stroyed Arab homes in scores of towns and vil­lages in what may amount to a war crime, US-based rights group Hu­man Rights Watch said yes­ter­day. The Kur­dish pesh­merga and Iraqi armed forces have faced a com­mon en­emy in Is­lamic State since the mil­i­tants took over large parts of Iraq in 2014. Iraqi troops and Kur­dish fight­ers make up the 100,000-strong, US-backed al­liance cur­rently bat­tling to re­take Mo­sul.

But an­i­mos­ity per­sists, go­ing back to decades of mis­treat­ment of Kurds by rul­ing Arabs in Bagh­dad, es­pe­cially un­der Sad­dam Hus­sein. Reuters found last month that Kurds are us­ing the bat­tle against Is­lamic State to set­tle old dis­putes and grab land in eth­ni­cally mixed ter­ri­tory sep­a­rat­ing the Kur­dish re­gion in the north from the ma­jor­ity Arab south.

Hu­man Rights Watch said in its report that vi­o­la­tions be­tween Sept 2014 and May 2016 in 21 towns and vil­lages within dis­puted ar­eas of Kirkuk and Nin­eveh prov­inces had fol­lowed “a pat­tern of ap­par­ently un­law­ful de­mo­li­tions”.

The ar­eas are nom­i­nally un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of Bagh­dad but are con­trolled by the Kur­dis­tan Re­gional Gov­ern­ment (KRG). The Kur­dish re­gion has taken in more than 1 mil­lion peo­ple from else­where in Iraq, who have been dis­placed by the con­flict, most of them Sunni Arabs.

The KRG has de­nied any sys­tem­atic pol­icy of de­struc­tion of Arab homes, but said pesh­merga had car­ried out de­mo­li­tions for se­cu­rity rea­sons such as clearing booby-trapped homes. The HRW report is based on more than a dozen field vis­its and in­ter­views with over 120 wit­nesses and of­fi­cials. Anal­y­sis of satel­lite im­ages sug­gests prop­erty de­struc­tion tar­geted Arab res­i­dents long af­ter any mil­i­tary ne­ces­sity for such ac­tions had ended.

“In vil­lage af­ter vil­lage in Kirkuk and Nin­eveh, KRG se­cu­rity forces de­stroyed Arab homes - but not those be­long­ing to Kurds - for no le­git­i­mate mil­i­tary pur­pose,” said Joe Stork, deputy Mid­dle East di­rec­tor at HRW. The satel­lite im­agery pro­vides ev­i­dence of de­struc­tion in 62 other vil­lages fol­low­ing their cap­ture by Kur­dish se­cu­rity forces, but HRW said a lack of wit­ness ac­counts made it dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine cause and re­spon­si­bil­ity in those in­stances.

He said mili­ti­a­men al­lied to the pesh­merga had de­mol­ished some homes in ap­par­ent re­venge, but de­nied pesh­merga par­tic­i­pa­tion in those cases. HRW called on the United States and other mem­bers of an in­ter­na­tional coali­tion back­ing Iraqi forces in the fight against Is­lamic State to pres­sure the Kur­dish au­thor­i­ties to end the de­mo­li­tions.

Mean­while, Iraqi forces yes­ter­day said they had re­cap­tured the site of an an­cient Assyr­ian city blown up by the Is­lamic State group, as they bat­tled the mil­i­tants south of Mo­sul. The troops pushed to­wards Nim­rud last week as they pressed an of­fen­sive be­gun on Oct 17 to re­cap­ture Iraq’s sec­ond city, which the ji­hadists seized along with swathes of Iraq and Syria in mid-2014. — Agen­cies

IDRIS KHUBBAZ, Iraq: In this hand­out im­age pro­vided by Hu­man Rights Watch, de­stroyed houses are seen in this Iraqi vil­lage. — AP

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