Iraqi peshmergas reject claims they committed war crime in Iraq

KRG denies HRW claims of a systematic policy to destroy Arab homes, but said peshmerga carry out demolitions for security reasons such as clearing booby-trapped homes.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Members of peshmerga forces walk in the town of Bashiqa, after it was recaptured from Daesh, east of Mosul, Iraq November 10, 2016.

Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters battling Daesh in northern Iraq have rejected allegations by the US-based rights group Human Rights Watch that they destroyed Arab homes in scores of towns and villages.

The rights watchdog had said on Sunday that actions of the peshmerga forces amounted to war crimes.

The Kurdish peshmerga and Iraqi armed forces have faced a common enemy in Daesh since the terrorist group took over large parts of Iraq in 2014.

Iraqi troops and Kurdish fighters make up the 100,000-strong, international 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.

Human Rights Watch said in its report that violations between September 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 the peshmerga had carried out demolitions for security reasons such as clearing booby-trapped homes.

Smoke and dust billow following an air strike in Bashiqa on November 8, 2016, as the Iraqi Kurdish forces push deeper into the town during street battles against Daesh. (AFP)


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 that 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 the cause and responsibility in those instances.

Kurdish officials have stated their intention to absorb land recovered from Daesh into their autonomous region and prevent Arab residents from returning to areas "Arabised" decades ago by Saddam Hussein.

The site of a roadside bomb is cordoned off in the town of Bashiqa on November 9, 2016, during an operation by Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga fighters against Daesh. (AFP)


Dindar Zebari, the head of a KRG's committee tasked with responding to international reports, said authorities had carried out a thorough investigation, examining cases in individual villages.

"There was a strategic intention for the destruction of houses on a number of these villages," Zebari told reporters in Erbil.

"(The) large presence of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) placed in these areas, especially in civilian properties, has been a huge cause of the destruction following the liberation process," said Zebari.

"Sometimes we have no choice ... before entering a village you destroy as much as you can to make sure everything is safe."

Zebari attributed much of the rest of the damage to US-led coalition air strikes on Daesh positions or to exchanges of artillery fire during fighting.

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 members of the international coalition backing Iraqi forces in the fight against Daesh to pressure the Kurdish authorities to end the demolitions.

TRTWorld and agencies