Iraqi forces find mass grave near Fal­lu­jah

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL -

BAGH­DAD—Iraqi forces dis­cov­ered a mass grave on Sun­day af­ter re­tak­ing an area from the mil­i­tant Is­lamic State (IS) group near Fal­lu­jah, where the mil­i­tants are us­ing thou­sands of civil­ians as hu­man shields.

Grow­ing num­bers of fam­i­lies reach­ing camps south of Fal­lu­jah told hor­rific ac­counts of how IS shot at them as they fled, but there was still no es­cape for the tens of thou­sands be­lieved trapped in the city cen­tre.

In Saqlawiya, north­west of Fal­lu­jah, Iraqi forces found a burial site thought to con­tain the bod­ies of around 400 peo­ple, most of them sol­diers ex­e­cuted by IS in 2014 and 2015.

“The se­cu­rity forces of the fed­eral po­lice, the army and the Hashed al-Shaabi found a mass grave in the Shuhada neigh­bour­hood dur­ing a mine clear­ing op­er­a­tion,” a po­lice colonel said.

He said most of the vic­tims, whose re­mains were be­ing trans­ferred for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, ap­peared to have been shot in the head.

“The mass grave also in­cludes civil­ians ex­e­cuted by Daesh (IS) on var­i­ous charges such as spy­ing or break­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s rules,” said Ra­jeh Barakat, a mem­ber of the pro­vin­cial coun­cil of An­bar, where Fal­lu­jah is lo­cated.

Iraqi forces launched a vast op­er­a­tion on May 22-23 to re­take Fal­lu­jah, which lies only 50 kilo­me­tres west of Bagh­dad and is one of the mil­i­tants’ most em­blem­atic bas­tions.

The first phase of the op­er­a­tion was aimed at seal­ing the siege on the city by cut­ting the mil­i­tant group’s sup­ply lines in out­ly­ing ar­eas, in­clud­ing in Saqlawiya. Rights com­mit­tee A week ago, elite troops launched a sec­ond phase aimed at break­ing through into Fal­lu­jah it­self, a dense city where US sol­diers in 2004 suf­fered some of their worst losses since the Viet­nam War.

But the Iraqi forces have been mov­ing slowly, only mak­ing some for­ays into some south­ern neigh­bour­hoods.

The Bagh­dad govern­ment said con­cern for the fate of an es­ti­mated 50,000 civil­ians still in­side the city was slow­ing the op­er­a­tion.

“The op­er­a­tion to lib­er­ate Fal­lu­jah could have been com­pleted in days but we put the safety of civil­ians first,” Prime Min­is­ter Haider al-Abadi’s spokesman Saad al-Ha­dithi said.

Out of the ap­prox­i­mately 18,000 peo­ple who have reached dis­place­ment camps south of Fal­lu­jah since the of­fen­sive be­gan two weeks ago, only a hand­ful lived in the city.

The Nor­we­gian Refugee Coun­cil (NRC) said on Sun­day that those who ar­rived at its camps in Am­riyat al-Fal­lu­jah, to the south, told of how IS would open fire on them to pun­ish them for flee­ing. “An uniden­ti­fied num­ber of civil­ians have been shot and killed try­ing to cross the river,” it said in a state­ment.

“This is the worst that we feared would hap­pen to in­no­cent men, women and chil­dren who have had to leave ev­ery­thing be­hind in or­der to save their lives,” the state­ment quoted NRC coun­try di­rec­tor Nasr Mu­flahi as say­ing.

The premier’s spokesman said that the govern­ment would also in­ves­ti­gate claims of abuses com­mit­ted against the civil­ian pop­u­la­tion by Iraqi forces in the course of the op­er­a­tion.

He said Abadi had or­dered the cre­ation of a hu­man rights com­mit­tee to ex­am­ine “any vi­o­la­tion to the in­struc­tions on the pro­tec­tion of civil­ians”. Mili­tia warn­ing Grand Ay­a­tol­lah Ali al-Sis­tani, the most revered Shi­ite cleric in Iraq, has is­sued guide­lines in­tended as a form of code of con­duct for forces fight­ing IS and aimed at curb­ing abuses.

Of­fi­cials in­clud­ing Par­lia­ment Speaker Salim al-Juburi have ex­pressed con­cern over re­ports of abuses com­mit­ted by the forces in­volved in the op­er­a­tion to re­cap­ture Fal­lu­jah.

Juburi spoke on Thurs­day of “in­for­ma­tion in­di­cat­ing that some vi­o­la­tions were car­ried out by some mem­bers of the fed­eral po­lice and some vol­un­teers against civil­ians”.

The Hashed al-Shaabi tak­ing part in the Fal­lu­jah op­er­a­tion is an um­brella or­gan­i­sa­tion that in­cludes Sunni tribal fight­ers but is dom­i­nated by pow­er­ful Tehran-backed Shia mili­tias.—AFP

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