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Iraq

Peshmerga accused of razing Arab villages in Iraq

A leading human rights group has accused Kurdish forces of razing entire Arab villages in Iraq's north. The Kurdistan Regional Government says it's investigating the allegations.

Security forces from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) destroyed Arab homes and villages in northern Iraq over the past two years in what may amount to a war crime, Human Rights Watch said Sunday. 

"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 of the rights group. "KRG leaders' political goals don't justify demolishing homes illegally."

The New York-based group said in a 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."

HRW called on Washington and other members of the international anti-IS coalition to pressure the Kurdish authorities to end the demolitions.

Kurdish peshmerga fighters are part of a 100,000-strong Iraqi alliance, backed by a US-led air campaign and supplied with German arms, that is battling to retake Mosul from the self-styled "Islamic State."

 

Promised investigation

Satellite imagery provided evidence of destruction in another 62 villages after Kurdish forces recaptured them, but researchers said the lack of available witness testimony precluded "definitive conclusions" in those cases.

Officials in the Kurdish region have stated their intention to absorb land recovered from "Islamic State" into their autonomous region and prevent Arab residents from returning to areas "Arabized" decades ago by Saddam Hussein. That's leading to inevitable conflict between Kurdish leaders and the Iraqi federal government, who are both part of the anti-IS coalition but whose historical disputes complicate the fractious alliance.

The rights group said it had presented its findings to the Kurdistan Regional Government, which announced an investigation and responded to some, but not all allegations. Kurdish authorities further claimed that much of the destruction was caused by US-led airstrikes as well as artillery fire and structures booby-trapped with explosives by retreating Islamist militants.

Some of the conclusions in the Human Rights Watch report are corroborated by a separate investigation by the Reuters news agency, which alleged that Iraq's ethnic Kurds were using the battle against "Islamic State" to settle old disputes and grab land in the ethnically mixed territory that divides the Kurdish autonomous region from the Arab-majority south.

jar/tj (Reuters, AFP)

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