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The daily security threats that plague the lives of Iraqi civilians must not open the door to more human rights violations, Amnesty International warned today at the end of a six-day trip to Baghdad and Erbil headed by the organization’s Secretary General, Salil Shetty.

Both the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Regional Government promised to investigate a string of abuses by their respective militias and security forces.

“The atrocities committed by the Islamic State armed group do not give a free pass to Shi’a militias and Kurdish Peshmerga to go on the rampage in blatant violation of international humanitarian law,” said Shetty.

“The Iraqi authorities and their international backers should ensure human rights are not sacrificed in the fight against IS. Even during conflict there are rules that must be observed – the protection of civilians is paramount.”

In Baghdad Amnesty International met with Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi and urged him to rein in security forces and the multitude of militias that have committed egregious abuses with impunity for years, including extrajudicial executions and other unlawful killings.

The prime minister committed to investigate such abuses as well as promising to look into cases of hundreds of detainees being held without charge in horrendous conditions in makeshift detention centers in Anbar exposed by Amnesty International earlier this week.  

The organization also met with senior Shi’a clerics in Najaf, known to command the respect of government-backed militias, and urged them to call on such groups to respect international humanitarian law.

In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, President Masoud Barzani, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and other senior government officials promised to investigate abuses by Peshmerga forces documented by Amnesty International including the destruction of thousands of homes in Arab villages and the forced displacement of residents. The organization urged the authorities to ensure the investigations into these abuses are impartial and independent.

“Neither militias backed by the Iraqi government nor Peshmerga forces are above the law. The promise of investigations is a positive sign, but the true test will be how robust and effective these prove to be. There can be no whitewash – perpetrators of such abuses must be held to account and mechanisms to ensure justice must be put in place,” said Shetty. “Without justice and accountability, the cycle of violations is bound to continue.”

Amnesty International also urged the Iraqi and Kurdish authorities to ensure that people displaced by the conflict are not subjected to arbitrary and discriminatory restrictions on their movements.