Kurds Prevent Displaced Iraqis from Returning to Recaptured Areas: HRW

Al-Akhbar is currently going through a transitional phase whereby the English website is available for Archival purposes only. All new content will be published in Arabic on the main website (www.al-akhbar.com).

Al-Akhbar Management

Published Thursday, February 26, 2015

Kurdish forces have prevented displaced Arabs from returning to disputed areas of Iraq that Kurdish leaders want to incorporate in their autonomous region over Baghdad's objections, a report said Thursday.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned the Kurdistan regional government against meting out "collective punishment of entire Arab communities" for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jihadist group's attacks.

"Cordoning off Arab residents and refusing to let them return home appears to go well beyond a reasonable security response," said Letta Tayler, senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at the New York-based rights group.

The HRW report said Kurdish forces have for months barred Arabs displaced by last year's ISIS offensive from returning to their homes in disputed areas.

Kurds however had been able to return to the same areas and even in some cases allowed to move into the homes of displaced Arabs, the group said.

When jihadists launched a devastating military blitz across Iraq's heartland in June last year, Kurdish forces moved into the vacuum left by fleeing federal security forces.

The move expanded their territory by around 40 percent and gave them control over areas that Kurdish leaders have long sought to add to their three-province autonomous region in the north.

Human Rights watch said it had documented "apparently discriminatory acts" in districts of Erbil province within the autonomous region as well as of Nineveh province outside it.

It said some Kurdish officials defended the measures by arguing that Arab residents in the area had supported the jihadist advance and were still collaborating with ISIS.

The watchdog said some restrictions against Arabs had been eased in January but stressed the Kurdish authorities needed to do more.

Large swathes of land in Iraq have become ISIS strongholds as the extremist group, which declared a "caliphate" in the territory it seized in Iraq and Syria, drove Iraq's army — the recipient of $25 billion in US training and funding since the 2003 invasion — to collapse.

Since then, Iraqi soldiers and police, Kurdish forces, and militias have succeeded in regaining some ground from ISIS.

But large parts of the country, including three major cities, remain outside of Baghdad's control.

The US-led anti-ISIS coalition has been bombing Iraq since August and has so far billed Iraq more than $260 million, despite failure to stop the advance of militants.

Many critics opposed to US-led coalition involvement in the conflict with ISIS have pointed out that Washington in partnership with its Western and Gulf allies, including Saudi Arabia, played a role in the formation and expansion of extremist groups like ISIS by arming, financing and politically empowering armed opposition groups in Syria.

Moreover, neighboring countries, namely Jordan and Turkey, have been accused of turning a blind eye on jihadists’ free movement on its borders with Iraq and Syria.

The expansion of terrorist groups in Iraq raises questions about the effectiveness of the US anti-terrorism campaign since 2001.

The United States decided to invade Iraq in 2003 using the pretexts of “weapons of mass destruction” and “fighting terrorism.”

The war aimed to eliminate al-Qaeda in Iraq, but the jihadist group didn't exist in the country until after the invasion. The US invasion served as a recruitment tool for terrorist groups, as figures show that terrorism rose precipitously in Iraq since 2003.

The war aimed to “free Iraqis” but instead killed at least half a million Iraqis and left the country in total turmoil.

US deserter must “prove” war crimes

Meanwhile, a US soldier who deserted because he thought the Iraq war was illegal could have grounds for seeking asylum in Germany but only if he can show he would have been involved in war crimes, Europe's highest court said on Thursday.

The European Court of Justice added that even if Andre Shepherd could prove war crimes were very likely to have been committed, he would still have to show he had no alternative to desertion, such as becoming a conscientious objector.

The Luxembourg-based court was asked for guidance by a German court after Shepherd took legal action when German authorities rejected his asylum application.

The final decision will be taken by the German court in accordance with the European court's ruling.

Shepherd, who served in Iraq between September 2004 and February 2005 as an Apache helicopter mechanic in the 412th Aviation Support Battalion, deserted in 2007 after being ordered to return to Iraq. He applied for asylum in Germany, where he was based. He remains in Germany.

"When I read and heard about people being ripped to shreds from machine guns or being blown to bits by the Hellfire missiles I began to feel ashamed about what I was doing," Shepherd told a news conference in Frankfurt in 2008.

"I could not in good conscience continue to serve," the army specialist from Cleveland, Ohio, said. Shepherd believed he should no longer participate in a war he considered unlawful and in war crimes he believed were committed in Iraq. He said he risked criminal prosecution in the United States because of his desertion.

The court said the European law on refugees did cover people who feared prosecution for refusing to perform military service in a conflict where they were "highly likely" to be involved in war crimes.

However, to qualify as a refugee under the EU law, Shepherd would have to present evidence showing it was credible that war crimes would have been committed during his service in Iraq.

Shepherd would also have to show that desertion was the only way he could have avoided participating in war crimes and that he could not have applied to be a conscientious objector, the European court said.

Failing that, the court said Shepherd was unlikely to qualify as a refugee. The prison term Shepherd might receive in the United States for desertion did not seem to amount to the persecution that would make him eligible for refugee status.

“Jihadi John” identified

"Jihadi John," the masked ISIS militant apparently responsible for the beheading of Western hostages, was on Thursday named as London man Mohammed Emwazi by the Washington Post and the BBC.

Britain's Metropolitan Police would not confirm the report, which identified the suspect as Kuwaiti-born Emwazi, who grew up in west London.

"We are not going to confirm the identity of anyone at this stage or give an update on the progress of this live counterterrorism investigation," said Richard Walton from the Met's Counter Terrorism Command.

Contacted by AFP, the interior ministry could not immediately comment on the reports.

The Guardian and the BBC both reported the identity, without citing their sources.

British media had previously suggested "Jihadi John" could be a different British jihadist.

Emwazi, in his mid-20s, was identified to the Washington Post by friends and others familiar with the case, with one close acquaintance telling the paper: "I have no doubt that Mohammed is Jihadi John."

The suspect is from a middle class family and earned a degree in computer programing before travelling to Syria around 2012, according to the report.

He apparently became radicalized after being detained by authorities following a flight to Tanzania and being accused by British intelligence officers of trying to make his way to Somalia.

"Jihadi John" is believed to be responsible for the murders of US journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, British aid workers David Haines and Allan Henning and American aid worker Abdul-Rahman Kassig.

He also appeared in a video with the Japanese hostages Haruna Yukawa and Kenji Goto, shortly before they were executed.

In the videos posted online, he appears dressed all in black with only his eyes exposed, and wields a knife while launching tirades against the West.

Following the appearance of the report online, UK-based terror expert Shiraz Maher tweeted "Well, that's it. The name is out. Jihadi John has been identified as Mohammed Emwazi."

British intelligence officers estimate that there are around 500 homegrown militants fighting for ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

According to the latest estimate from the National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC), foreign fighters are flocking to join ISIS or other jihadist groups at an "unprecedented" rate, with more than 20,000 volunteers from 90 countries, including at least 3,400 from Western states and more than 150 Americans.

However, estimates regarding the number of people affiliated with ISIS in Iraq and Syria vary widely, as reliable data is hard to obtain on the ground.

(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd><img><h1><h2><h3><h4><h5><h6><blockquote><span><aside>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

More information about formatting options

^ Back to Top