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Amnesty International Reports Violence Against Sunni Men In Iraq


A new report by Amnesty International paints a disturbing picture of what happened during previous operations to drive ISIS out of Iraqi cities. The report alleges that Arab Sunni men and boys fleeing ISIS-held areas have been victims of torture, mass abductions and killings at the hand of predominantly Shia militias and possibly government forces.

Joining us now via Skype to talk about this is Diana Eltahawy. She is the Iraq researcher for Amnesty International and the lead author of the report. Welcome to the program.


SIEGEL: And your report details a number of specific incidents of what you allege are war crimes. What would you say are the most important findings?

ELTAHAWY: Amnesty International's findings really show a consistent pattern of abuse committed by predominantly Shia militias but also by members of the government forces. I can give you one example from the recent operations to retake Fallujah and surrounding areas.

SIEGEL: Fallujah, a city that had been taken by ISIS and then was retaken by the Iraqi government...

ELTAHAWY: Yes, yes. The prime minister, just like now in the operations for Mosul, has called for the protection of civilians. What happened in reality was very different. We spoke to a number of survivors from an area just north of Fallujah who told us that they were intercepted by a large force of men in different uniforms. And then the men were separated from the women and marched off to be shot dead. And this is 14 men and four boys. And this is just one incident.

SIEGEL: Does the government regard, say, Sunni Arab men who remain in cities that have been taken by ISIS rather than fleeing them - do they regard them with suspicion as collaborators as opposed to captives of the Islamic State?

ELTAHAWY: Amnesty International spoke to many civilians, and they tell us that once they come out, they frequently get questioned by security forces as to why they have remained under ISIS control for such a long time.

SIEGEL: Typically why have they remained?

ELTAHAWY: There are a variety of reasons. Paramount among them is that escape routes were not so easy and so safe. And we have documented cases where the Islamic State has executed people who tried to flee.

SIEGEL: I guess, though, if there are a million people still in Mosul - and I believe there at one time were 2 million - I mean some of them must support the Islamic State, no?

ELTAHAWY: Certainly Amnesty International acknowledges that the Iraqi and the Kurdish authorities have every right to protect the life and physical security of all civilians in their territory. If there are suspicions against anyone for having committed crimes, these people should be brought to trials but to fair trials.

What we see today is that people are being rounded up arbitrarily and kept in detention sometime for months, if not years, without even seeing a judge.

SIEGEL: Has the Iraqi government responded to the Amnesty International report?

ELTAHAWY: Well, even before the report, Amnesty International has sent a very detailed memorandum addressed to the prime minister. We didn't receive a reply to this memorandum, but at previous meetings, the prime minister acknowledge that there have been abuses and again saying that there have been efforts to investigate.

The main concern is that whenever officials acknowledge that abuses have been committed, they insist that they're individual acts. What needs to happen is an acknowledgment of the scale and gravity of violations and people actually being punished and being removed from duty when they commit such atrocities.

SIEGEL: Diana Eltahawy, thank you very much for talking with us.

ELTAHAWY: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Diana Eltahawy of Amnesty International is that group's Iraq researcher and a lead author of a report on the treatment of Sunni Arab men and boys who have fled ISIS-controlled areas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.