As the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, it appears that the al-Qaida linked Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is not the only group committing atrocities in the conflict between government troops and Sunni Muslim radicals.
Human Rights Watch released a report Friday that accused forces associated with the Iraqi government of illegally executing at least 255 Sunni Muslim prisoners of war since June 9. The brutal acts are believed to be in retaliation for ISIS executing several thousand Shiite Muslims when they conquered Mosul and other cities in Iraq.
According to the report, all the alleged cases (except for one) occurred when government troops were fleeing the onslaught of ISIS attacks.
HRW documented five alleged massacres committed by militias and troops during the month of June. One of the reasons for the executions, besides retribution, was to prevent the prisoners from joining ISIS if they were freed. ISIS released many Sunni prisoners from imprisonment, with many taking up the jihadi black and fighting against the government.
In one case, the prisoners were burned alive and in two cases, government troops threw grenades in the cells of the Sunni militants.
The report also cited a Reuters story that claimed a sixth instance of mass executions. In that case, 69 prisoners were shot to death in their cells in the central Babil province.
The majority of the executed prisoners were rounded up under anti-terrorism laws and were being held without any charges.
“Gunning down prisoners is an outrageous violation of international law,” Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, stated in the report. “While the world rightly denounces the atrocious acts of ISIS, it should not turn a blind eye to sectarian killing sprees by government and pro-government forces.”
“In each case that Human Rights Watch investigated, the accounts we heard point directly to Iraqi security forces and pro-government militia slaughtering captive men in large numbers as ISIS and allied fighters were poised to seize the area,” he continued. “This isn’t one rogue commander on the loose – this seems to be a widespread campaign of killing Sunni prisoners in cold blood.”
In related news, both Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the UK have recently come together to condemn the actions of ISIS and warned their respective sect members to steer away from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq.