Peshmerga forces from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Kurdish militias in northern Iraq have bulldozed, blown up and burned down thousands of homes in an apparent effort to uproot Arab communities in revenge for their perceived support for the so-called Islamic State (IS), said Amnesty International in a new report published today.
The report, Banished and Dispossessed: Forced Displacement and Deliberate Destruction in Northern Iraq, is based on field investigation in 13 villages and towns and testimony gathered from more than 100 eyewitnesses and victims of forced displacement. It is corroborated by satellite imagery revealing evidence of widespread destruction carried out by Peshmerga forces, or in some cases Yezidi militias and Kurdish armed groups from Syria and Turkey operating in coordination with the Peshmerga.
“KRG forces appear to be spearheading a concerted campaign to forcibly displace Arab communities by destroying entire villages in areas they have recaptured from IS in northern Iraq. The forced displacement of civilians and the deliberate destruction of homes and property without military justification, may amount to war crimes,” said Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Advisor, who carried out the field research in northern Iraq.
Arab residents who fled their homes are also barred by KRG forces from returning to recaptured areas.
“Tens of thousands of Arab civilians who were forced to flee their homes because of fighting are now struggling to survive in makeshift camps in desperate conditions. Many have lost their livelihoods and all their possessions and with their homes destroyed, they have nothing to return to. By barring the displaced from returning to their villages and destroying their homes KRG forces are further exacerbating their suffering,” said Rovera.
The report reveals evidence of forced displacement and large-scale destruction of homes in villages and towns in Ninewa, Kirkuk and Diyala governorates – which Peshmerga forces recaptured from IS between September 2014 and March 2015.
Though KRG officials have justified the displacement of Arab communities on grounds of security, it appears to be used to punish them for their perceived sympathies with IS, and to consolidate territorial gains in “disputed areas” which the KRG authorities have long claimed as rightfully theirs. This is part of a drive to reverse past abuses by the Saddam Hussein regime, which forcibly displaced Kurds and settled Arabs in these regions.
“KRG forces have a duty to bring to justice in fair trials individuals who are suspected of having aided and abetted IS crimes. But they must not punish entire communities for crimes perpetrated by some of their members or based on vague, discriminatory and unsubstantiated suspicions that they support IS,” said Rovera.
Satellite imagery corroborates evidence of mass destruction
Thousands of residents of Arab villages near Jalawla, in the east of Diyala governorate, fled after IS fighters attacked the area in June 2014. More than a year after the area was recaptured by Peshmerga forces, residents are unable to return and the villages have been largely destroyed.
Maher Nubul, a father of 11 who left his village, Tabaj Hamid, in August 2014 said the whole village was “flattened” after it was recaptured by the Peshmerga four months later.
“All I know is that when the Peshmerga retook the village the houses were standing. We could not go back but could see it clearly from the distance. And later they bulldozed the village, I don’t know why. There is nothing left. They destroyed everything for no reason,” he said.
Amnesty International researchers who visited the area in November 2015 found that the village of Tabaj Hamid had been razed to the ground. Satellite images obtained by the organization also show that not a single structure is left standing.
In Jumeili, researchers found the main part of the village had been reduced to rubble. These findings are also supported by satellite imagery evidence showing 95 percent of all walls and low lying structures have been destroyed. Of the structures that remain the majority of rooftops and windows have been damaged or destroyed.