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III. Insurgent Groups in Iraq

The word “insurgency” is used to describe the many groups that have taken up arms against foreign forces in Iraq and the new Iraqi security forces since April 2003. But these groups—it is unclear how many exist—are varied and diverse, with shifting allegiances, configurations, funding sources, strategies and aims. They share a common goal of ending the foreign military presence in Iraq. Many would like to replace the current Iraqi government, considered illegitimate because it is backed by the United States or because it is dominated by Shi`a Muslims and Kurds. Most importantly for this report, the insurgent groups appear to have different views on the conduct of hostilities and the legitimate targets of military attack.

Certain insurgent groups have repeatedly admitted, even boasted, about their role in abductions, summary executions, attacks on religious or ethnic groups, and suicide bombings in populated areas. Videos they produce of beheadings leave no doubt as to their responsibility for the most serious crimes of war. Other groups have concentrated their attacks more on military targets, though they still may be responsible for unlawful attacks against civilians. Some insurgent groups have at times condemned attacks on civilians, both Iraqi and foreign. This is not to suggest that insurgent groups can be divided neatly according to their respect for international humanitarian law. The fluid alliances, apparent sub-contracting and generally clandestine nature of the insurgency make these distinctions difficult, if not impossible, to make.

The insurgent groups covered in this report are comprised predominantly of Sunni Arabs, who make up approximately 20 percent of Iraq’s population, and their activities are focused in the country’s center, northwest and west. Different members of the community, of course, have different views of the insurgency. Some oppose the insurgency generally, or the way it is being conducted, while others have not joined the insurgency but support its aims. Sunni who criticize the insurgency or are seen as allied with the new government risk themselves becoming a target of insurgent groups.3

Those who join insurgent groups apparently do so for a variety of reasons: a desire to expel foreign forces from Iraq, fear of marginalization by a Shi`a-dominated government after decades of Sunni control and a struggle over strategic areas like Kirkuk. Some view the insurgency as part of a global Islamic fight against the United States. The members include former officials of the government and security forces who lost their jobs after the Saddam Hussein government fell in 2003, as well as Ba`th Party members. Others joined out of anger over war crimes committed by U.S. forces or the Multi-National Force’s perceived disrespect for Iraqi culture and institutions. And some appear to have joined or participated in specific attacks as a way to earn money.4 As head of Iraqi intelligence Maj. Gen. Muhammad `Abdullah al-Shahwani said in January 2005, “people are fed up with no security, no electricity, people feel they have to do something.”5

In general, the insurgent groups operating in Iraq can be divided into three basic categories, although these categories overlap. First are the groups dedicated to a pure Islamist philosophy. The three major groups in this category are a Kurdish group Ansar al-Islam (Supporters of Islam), Ansar al-Sunna (Supporters of the Sunna) and al-Qaeda in Iraq, apparently led by the Jordanian Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi, and also known as Jama`at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (Monotheism and Holy War) or al-Qaeda fi Bilad al-Rafidain (al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia). Ansar al-Islam existed before the war6 and has apparently merged with Ansar al-Sunna which, like the other extreme Islamist groups, was formed after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.7 The groups’ immediate goal is to end the foreign military presence in Iraq and to topple the U.S.-backed Iraqi government. Driven by a puritanical interpretation of Islam, they wish to establish an Islamic state governed by a literal interpretation of shari`a (Islamic law).8 They see the armed conflict in Iraq as part of a global war against imperialism and military aggression by the United States and corrupt, un-Islamic dictatorships in the Arab world. An undetermined number of foreign fighters from countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria, Jordan and Yemen have entered Iraq to join the fight, and some sources say these foreign fighters are responsible for the most deadly suicide bomb attacks.9

These groups are responsible for many of the war crimes and crimes against humanity documented in this report. All three groups mentioned above have repeatedly claimed responsibility for targeted attacks on civilians and the executions of civilians and captured security force personnel. They have broadcast videos of kidnap victims and executions. In one example from August 2004, photos and a video appeared on a website associated with Ansar al-Sunna that showed the execution of twelve Nepalese cleaners and cooks, including one beheading. The group, which had previously claimed responsibility for the abduction, executed the workers because they “came from their country to fight the Muslims and to serve the Jews and the Christians,” a statement said.10 Al-Qaeda in Iraq has also broadcast the beheadings of captured Iraqi soldiers and police, as well as foreigners.

The second general category comprises insurgent groups connected in some way to the former government under Saddam Hussein or his Ba`th Party. According to Iraqi and foreign analysts, the leaders are mostly former members of the Iraqi security or intelligence structures who have organizational and military skills, and some of them may have prepared for the insurgency before the 2003 invasion began.11 Despite coming from a secular party, some groups apparently cooperate with Islamist groups, either by providing funding or participating in joint operations.12 Some of these groups have an apparent allegiance to Saddam Hussein, like al-`Awda (The Return), Wahaj al-`Iraq (Flame of Iraq), Jaysh Mujahidi al-`Iraq (Mujahadin of Iraq Army) and Saddam’s Fedayin (Saddam’s Martyrs), but others seem to have distanced themselves from their former leader.13 Some of these groups have targeted civilians for abductions and executions.

The third category is what some analysts call nationalist, or Sunni nationalist, comprised mostly of Sunni Arabs who for a variety of reasons are fighting to expel foreign forces from Iraq, but are not as driven by religious doctrine or former government ties. The insurgents in this category are often local, regional or tribally based, who have taken up arms in a specific area to, in their view, defend the population from aggression by foreign troops. Others conduct actions in larger areas across Iraq’s center and north in order to end the presence of foreign military troops in Iraq. These include members of the former government and military who were dismissed after the fall of the government in 2003 or people who fear a Shi`a and Kurdish dominated government in Iraq. Others joined out of anger at violations by the U.S. and other coalition forces that resulted in Iraqi civilian deaths and property destruction. Some of these groups say they want an Iraq guided by Islamic principles, but they do not share the vision of the Islamist groups. Compared to the extreme Islamist groups, these groups generally appear to limit their attacks to military targets, and some have condemned attacks on civilians.

These three categories are not strictly defined, as religious and nationalist goals blend, and some groups are not easily categorized. The al-Jaysh al-Islami fi al-`Iraq (Islamic Army in Iraq), for instance, is a predominantly Sunni nationalist group with a strong Islamic bent, but not along extreme puritanical lines.14 It has apparently avoided direct attacks on civilians with car bombs and suicide bombs, but it has repeatedly claimed responsibility for abducting and executing civilians.15 Groups like Jaysh Muhammad (Muhammad’s Army) and al-Rayat al-Bayda (White Flags) apparently want an Iraq guided by Islamic law, but claim they are less willing to target Iraqi civilians to achieve that goal.16 Some Ba`th-affiliated groups, although stemming from a secular party, have cooperated with some of the extreme Islamist groups.

As noted, most insurgent groups are comprised of Sunni Arabs, who held most of the important political, economic and social positions in Iraq during and before the Saddam Hussein government. But some Shi`a Muslims have also joined these groups. Shi`a militias exist as well, most notably the al-Mahdi Army run by the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, which fought U.S. forces in Najaf in August 2004, and the Badr Organization of the SCIRI political party. Both groups have been implicated in threats and violence against civilians, particularly revenge attacks against officials from the previous Iraqi government or Ba`th Party. Because they are not currently engaged in hostilities against multinational or Iraqi forces, and are therefore not insurgent groups, they are not covered in this report.17

Accurate information on the three general insurgent categories outlined above is difficult to obtain. New insurgent groups claim responsibility for armed attacks on a regular basis, and it is impossible to verify if they are coordinated organizations or groups of neighborhood friends. Some statements turn out to be false.18

According to senior Kurdish intelligence and security officials interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the groups are often organized in small cells with one leader, known as the emir (prince), who orders operations. The groups’ over-all leaders sometimes learn only later about an attack after the fact. New groups form and dissolve with regularity, establishing new structures and alliances. And some groups change their name to give the impression that more groups exist.19 One English-language article on the insurgency and mass media concluded that the confusing names “may reveal a tactic designed to give the impression that the Islamist elements are more numerous than the other factions.”20

Similarly, it is not possible to determine accurately the number of insurgents in Iraq. On November 13, 2003, head of U.S. Central Command Gen. John Abizaid said the number of “actively armed” people operating against U.S. and coalition forces did not exceed 5,000 people.21 Eleven months later, American officials said the “hard-core resistance” numbered between 8,000 and 12,000 people, and this number grew to more than 20,000 with active sympathizers and covert accomplices.22 In January 2005, head of Iraqi intelligence Major General Muhammad `Abdullah al-Shahwani claimed “the resistance is bigger than the U.S. military in Iraq.” He put the number at 200,000, but that included sympathizers as well as active fighters.23

The number of foreign insurgents in Iraq is also impossible to obtain, with men coming and going on a regular basis through Iraq’s porous border, mostly with Syria.24 According to a May 2005 estimate by the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C., Iraq had 1,000 foreign fighters (as part of an insurgency with 16,000 members).25 In spring 2005, a coalition official in Baghdad told the press that fewer than 5 percent of the killed or captured insurgents have been non-Iraqi.26 More recently, Gen. Abizaid said the number of foreign fighters was going up: “I believe there are more foreign fighters coming into Iraq than there were six months ago,” he told the U.S. Congress on June 23, although the overall strength of the insurgency was “about the same.”27

Lastly, criminal elements play an important role. The absence of law and order, particularly in Baghdad and other cities, has created a fertile environment for criminal gangs, some of which use Islamist or political cover to mask their illegal intent. A large percentage of abductions, for example, appear to be committed by criminal gangs looking for ransom cash.28 Their targets are sometimes foreigners, but the majority of victims are wealthy Iraqis or those who work with foreign organizations or companies. According to a study by the Iraqi Ministry of Health concluded in April 2005, criminal gangs have abducted between 160 and 300 Iraqi doctors since April 2003, and killed more than twenty-five. Nearly 1,000 doctors have fled the country, with an average of thirty more following each month.29

According to some reports, insurgent groups exploit Iraq’s poverty and high unemployment rates by paying Iraqis to stage attacks.30 Detonating an improvised explosive device pays up to $200, one U.S. security expert said, and killing an American pays up to $1,000.31 In some cases, criminal groups have reportedly sold kidnap victims to insurgent groups.

Attacks on Civilians

The number of civilians killed in Iraq is unknown. The chaos of the conflict, the partial functioning of Iraqi institutions and the unwillingness of the Multi-National Force to keep statistics on civilians casualties make accurate numbers very difficult to obtain.32 In addition, not all civilian deaths resulted from a violation of international humanitarian law.

According to the U.K.-based Iraq Body Count, the media reported 24,865 civilian deaths attributed to the fighting between March 2003 and March 2005.33 In November 2004, a group of public health experts reported in the British medical journal The Lancet that the mortality rate in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion was 1.5 times higher than the rate prior to the invasion (and 2.5 times higher when they included statistics from al-Falluja, which incurred heavy fighting in April and November 2004). Based on a door-to-door survey of 988 Iraqi households, the report estimated there were 98,000 “excess deaths” after the war began (again without counting al-Falluja). From those “excess deaths,” 24 percent resulted from violence (51 percent including al-Falluja). The survey did not distinguish between military and civilian deaths, and it did not address whether the deaths resulted from violations of international humanitarian law.34

The Iraqi government has made a number of pronouncements on civilian casualties attributed to insurgent attacks, but the accuracy of their claims is impossible to confirm. In April 2005, Iraq’s Minister of Human Rights said insurgents had killed 6,000 civilians and wounded 16,000 over the previous two years.35 Two months later, Iraq’s Interior Minister said insurgents had killed 12,000 civilians in 2004 and the first half of 2005, although government officials later said this figure was an estimate.36 The Iraqi Interior Ministry later gave more precise figures, claiming that insurgents had killed 8,175 Iraqi civilians and police officers between August 2004 and May 2005. The ministry did not provide a breakdown of civilians versus police.37

The Iraqi government released updated figures in July 2005, based on information from the ministries of health, interior and defense. In the first six months of 2005, the government said, civilian deaths from bombings, assassinations and armed clashes with insurgents totaled 1,594. During this time insurgents killed 895 members of the Iraqi security forces (275 soldiers and 620 police).38 Again, not all civilian deaths reflect violations of the laws of war.

Purpose of Attacks on Civilians

Insurgent groups in Iraq claim they attack civilians to achieve various aims, including pressuring foreign governments, discouraging Iraqis from supporting the current government and avenging perceived wrongs. Based on statements attributed to the groups, as well as media reports and the views of insurgency experts in Iraq and abroad, their attacks seem intended to accomplish the following goals:39

  • Punish individuals for collaboration. Attacks on Iraqi translators, drivers, contractors and others who work with foreign governments often are aimed at punishing them for their collaboration and warning others to avoid such work. Some insurgent groups have broadcast videos of executions, sometimes by beheading, on the Internet or on CDs that are sold in markets, preceded by a “confession” and statement from the person in custody. “I am telling anybody who wants to work with Americans to not work with them,” said Saif `Adnan Kan`an, who worked as a vehicle mechanic for the U.S. military in Mosul, before being beheaded by militants from Ansar al-Sunna.40

  • Punish groups for collaboration or claims to political power. Attacks on Iraq’s religious and ethnic communities—Shi`a Muslims, Kurds and Christians—are collective punishment for perceived cooperation with foreign forces and, in the case of Shi`a Muslims and Kurds, their assertions of national power. On September 19, 2004, Ansar al-Sunna announced that it had captured and killed three members of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, and a video on the group’s website showed three men getting beheaded. “The puppet Kurdish groups... have pledged allegiance to the crusaders and continue to fight Islam and its people,” a statement said.41

  • Pressure foreign governments to leave Iraq. The abductions and killings of foreign civilians often are accompanied by a demand for the removal of a specific country’s military from Iraq. In July 2004, for example, the Islamic Army in Iraq abducted the Filipino truck driver Angelo de la Cruz, and then distributed a video of him kneeling in front of three militants, who threatened to kill him if the Philippine military did not withdraw from Iraq. The Philippine government consented on July 12, and the insurgents released de la Cruz.42

  • Undermine the Iraqi government. Attacks on Iraqi politicians and government officials send the message that Iraqis who participate in the new government risk death and the lives of their families. Before the January 30, 2005, elections, various groups warned Iraqis not to vote. Ansar al-Sunna, the Islamic Army in Iraq and al-Qaeda in Iraq warned Iraqis not to participate in the January 30, 2005, Iraqi elections. “Voters should know that even if they do not take part in the poll (but attend the voting stations) they will not escape the hands of the mujahedeen, including after the elections,” an Ansar al-Sunna statement said.43

  • Instill fear in the civilian population. Attacks also may aim to induce Iraqis who support the new government to lose faith in the ability of the government and the Multi-National Force to provide security.

  • Divert resources from military tasks. Attacks on civilians and civilian objects force the Iraqi government and Multi-National Force to divert resources to protect reconstruction projects, infrastructure facilities, humanitarian organizations and other so-called “soft targets.”

  • Impede reconstruction. Attacks on Iraqi and foreign reconstruction contractors, as well as on oil pipelines, electrical grids and water stations, impede the country’s reconstruction and send a message that the new Iraqi authorities cannot provide for the public’s needs. According to the U.S military, up to 25 percent of the $18.4 billion it allocated for reconstruction projects has gone to security.44

  • Provoke a heavy-handed response. Attacks on civilians and civilian objects may goad multinational and Iraqi forces into a heavy-handed response in which civilians are killed or civilian infrastructure is destroyed. Such attacks might alienate the population and help win insurgent groups sympathizers and recruits.

  • Gain the release of detainees. Insurgent groups have used abducted civilians to demand the release of persons from detention facilities in Iraq. On September 16, 2004, al-Tawhid wal-Jihad abducted three civil engineers in Baghdad, Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley from the U.S. and Kenneth Bigley from the U.K. Videos and statements on the Internet threatened them with execution unless the U.S. government released the Iraqi women it held in detention. Subsequent deadlines passed and the group beheaded all three men. A video posted to a website before the final execution showed Bigley pleading to British Prime Minister Tony Blair to: “Please, please release the female prisoners that are held in Iraqi prisons.”45

    Justifications for Attacks on Civilians

    Insurgent groups in Iraq that target civilians seek to justify their attacks by various arguments. Most of the arguments fall into one of two categories: First, arguments that the victims in some way were supporting the foreign military presence, and as such, were part of that military force. Second, arguments that specific aspects of the armed conflict in Iraq justified an attack on civilians.

    As discussed, international humanitarian law prohibits at all times attacks directed against civilians. The applicability of international humanitarian law is unrelated to the nature of the armed conflict; that is, whether the war is just or unjust, lawful or unlawful, international humanitarian law still applies.46

    Among the justifications insurgent groups and their supporters use to explain attacks on civilians are:

  • Employees of foreign governments or the Multi-National Force have effectively joined the enemy. Any Iraqi or foreigner who works with the U. S. or the Multi-National Force, whether as a contractor, translator, driver, or cleaner, is considered a collaborator because of the assistance he or she provides the foreign forces, and therefore loses immunity as a civilian. According to a former Iraqi general who joined the insurgency: “Every Iraqi or foreigner who works with the coalition is a target. Ministries, mercenaries, translators, businessmen, cooks or maids, it doesn’t matter the degree of collaboration. To sign a contract with the occupier is to sign your death certificate.”47

  • Officials of the Iraqi government serve as agents of the foreign occupation. The various post-Saddam Hussein governments—Iraq’s Interim Governing Council, the Iraqi Interim Government and the Iraqi Transitional Government—are considered subservient to the U.S.-led coalition. Viewed as agents of the foreign forces, they are deemed to have lost their immunity as civilians. When asked about his organization’s view of the Iraqi Governing Council, for example, the Jaysh Muhammad spokesman said: “Our position is clear—they are all spies, traitors, and agents for the Americans.”48 To the head of the pro-Saddam Hussein group Wahaj al-`Iraq, the Iraqi parliament and government are “the institutions of the aggressor.”49

  • By supporting the foreign forces occupying Iraq, Shi`a Muslims, Kurds and Christians are traitors and spies. Insurgent groups that attack Shi`a, Kurdish or Christian civilians say these groups are legitimate targets because they collaborated with the United States to overthrow Saddam Hussein and to occupy Iraq. “The American forces and their intelligence systems have found a safe haven and refuge amongst their brethren the grandchildren of monkeys and swine in Iraq,” one group said when claiming responsibility for the August 2003 attacks on five churches in Mosul and Baghdad.50 Because the Kurdish peshmerga fought alongside U.S. forces in 2003 and some Shi`a militias, like the Iran-trained Badr Brigade (now Badr Organization), are powerful in the current Iraqi security force, all Kurds and Shi`a are considered fair targets. According to groups like Ansar al-Sunna and al-Qaeda in Iraq, Kurds and the Shi`a are “helping the Crusaders and Jews.”51
  • All westerners in Iraq are part of the foreign occupation. Regardless of their role in Iraq, be it as construction contractors, journalists or humanitarian aid workers, all foreigners are considered elements or potential elements of a foreign occupation. According to a statement by a group called the Assadullah Brigades (Lion of God Brigades), for example, “the mujahid [holy fighter] is entitled to capture any infidel that enters Iraq, whether he works for a construction company or in any other job, because he could be a warrior, and the mujahid has the right to kill him or take him as a prisoner.”52 According to the group, “any foreigner working here should be killed or abducted.”53
  • The ends justify the means. Attacks against all targets, military and civilian, are necessary and permitted to achieve the ultimate end: driving foreign occupiers from Iraq. “The killing of infidels by any method including martyrdom [suicide] operations has been sanctified by many scholars even if it means killing innocent Muslims. This legality has been agreed upon ... so as not to disrupt jihad,” Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi purportedly said on an audio tape posted to the Internet. He continued: “The shedding of Muslim blood ... is allowed in order to avoid the greater evil of disrupting jihad.”54

  • A sign in al-Falluja from May 2003 reveals anger at the United States.
    © 2005 Fred Abrahams/Human Rights Watch

  • A more powerful enemy. The United States and its coalition partners are better financed and equipped than insurgent groups, with overpowering technology and firepower. Against such an adversary, all means of attack are necessary, including attacks on civilians and other “soft targets.”
  • Double standards on the applicability of international law. Some insurgents argue that armed opposition groups should not be expected to respect legal standards when the other side brazenly disregards the law. They assert that the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was a violation of international law, and that excessive and indiscriminate force during and after the invasion has killed tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
  • Reprisals. Some attacks against civilians are justified as reprisals for alleged abuses or unlawful attacks by Iraqi or multinational forces. This was a justification given for the May 2004 beheading of American businessman Nicholas Berg, as recorded in a video entitled “Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi Shown Slaughtering an American.” “For the mothers and wives of American soldiers, we tell you that we offered the U.S. administration to exchange this hostage with some of the detainees in Abu Ghraib and they refused,” one of five men wearing headscarves and black masks read from a statement. “So we tell you that the dignity of the Muslim men and women in Abu Ghraib and others is not redeemed except by blood and souls.”55
  • International humanitarian law does not apply to insurgent groups in Iraq. Some who defend the conduct of insurgent groups in Iraq claim the groups are not bound by the laws of war because they did not sign the Geneva Conventions or otherwise make legal commitments to abide by international law. They say that insurgent groups cannot be bound by international norms they did not help shape or pledge to respect.
  • Insurgents only recognize Islamic law, which permits all attacks against an occupying force. Some groups cite the Qu’ran or Islamic scholars to justify the killing of Muslim and non-Muslim civilians in a war against occupying militaries. “Killing Muslims who are serving as human shields [for U.S. forces] is allowed by the sharia,” Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi said in a tape posted to the Internet on May 18, 2005, backing the argument with statements from several Muslim clergymen. He also said that “it is legitimate to shoot all infidels with all kinds of arms that we have.”56
  • Executions are carried out according to law. At least one insurgent group has justified an execution because it was carried out after a legal review. On July 21, 2005, al-Qaeda in Iraq abducted two Algerian diplomats, `Ali Belaroussi and Azzedine Belkadi, and executed them six days later. “The judicial court of the Organization of al-Qaeda in Iraq has sentenced to death the diplomatic envoys of the apostate Algerian government,” a statement posted to the Internet said.57
  • None of the justifications given above is defensible under international law. The justifications for attacking specific groups of people misread or misapply the definition of a civilian as it applies under the laws of war. The arguments that international law does not apply are contrary to long-accepted understandings of the applicability of the laws of war.

    International humanitarian law provides that in all armed conflicts, whether during armed conflicts between states, occupations or civil wars, the parties must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants. According to the principle of civilian immunity, attacks may only be directed against combatants, and never civilians.58

    Civilians are defined as persons who are not members of the armed forces.59 A civilian is protected against attack unless and for such time as he or she takes a direct part in hostilities.60 In practice a civilian would temporarily lose immunity by, for instance, picking up a weapon and engaging in fighting, loading ammunition during a battle or spotting targets for artillery. Civilians involved in the planning of military operations or who are giving orders to military forces likewise may be subject to attack. As described in the ICRC Commentary to Protocol I, direct participation in hostilities “implies a direct causal relationship between the activity engaged in and the harm done to the enemy at the time and the place where the activity takes place.”61 Thus, while a worker in a munitions factory may be assisting the war effort, the absence of direct participation in hostilities means the person cannot be subject to attack (the munitions factory is a legitimate target, however, and the worker bears the risks of being present there).

    Although there are gray areas regarding whether certain conduct constitutes “direct participation in hostilities,” the immunity of the civilians whose cases are documented in this report is clear. Ordinary civilians regardless of ethnic group or sect, government officials not directly involved in the war effort, Iraqi and foreign staff performing non-combat jobs for foreign governments, humanitarian aid workers and journalists are all protected from direct attack by the laws of war.

    The prohibition on intentional attacks against civilians is absolute. Where there is doubt as to whether a person is a civilian or a member of the military, that person must be considered a civilian.62 Reprisal attacks against civilians and captured combatants are prohibited.63 It is also unlawful to carry out sentences, including executions, of any person except by a regularly constituted court meeting international fair trial standards.64

    It is no justification to claim that the attacked civilian was part of a larger group that has members involved in the hostilities. Thus Kurdish civilians are not lawful targets because the peshmerga ismade up of Kurdish fighters. Likewise, foreign civilians do not become lawful targets because of the presence of foreign soldiers in Iraq.

    The broader justifications for attacks on civilians based on the perceived irrelevance or unfairness of international humanitarian law are a blanket disavowal of international law. Under international humanitarian law, the fighting that has persisted in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 meets the requirements for an armed conflict. The classification of that armed conflict, whether as an international armed conflict or as a non-international (internal) armed conflict, is of limited importance for issues pertaining to direct attacks on civilians: such attacks are illegal during an international armed conflict or occupation as per the 1949 Geneva Conventions, or during an internal conflict as a matter of article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and customary international humanitarian law.

    While armed opposition groups such as insurgents in Iraq are not parties to the Geneva Conventions, it has long been recognized that such groups are bound by common article 3 and customary international humanitarian law.65 Recourse to competing principles such as “the ends justifies the means” or other bodies of law, such as interpretations of Islamic law, have no legal bearing on whether or not international humanitarian law has been violated. As the preamble to Protocol I states, the provisions of the Geneva Conventions “must be fully applied in all circumstances to all persons who are protected by those instruments, without any adverse distinction based on the nature or origin of the armed conflict or on the causes espoused by or attributed to the Parties to the conflicts.”66 Moreover, a failure by one party to a conflict to respect the laws of war does not relieve the other of its obligation to respect those laws. That obligation is absolute, not premised on reciprocity.67

    The rejection of international humanitarian law has moral, political and legal consequences. Most importantly, the unwillingness to adequately distinguish between civilians and combatants is having a devastating impact on the civilians of Iraq. Serious violations of the laws of war are considered war crimes; under international law, persons who commit, order, or condone war crimes or crimes against humanity are criminally responsible individually for their actions. In certain circumstances, international humanitarian law also holds commanders criminally liable for war crimes committed by their subordinates. There are two forms of command responsibility: direct responsibility for orders that are unlawful, such as when a military commander authorizes or orders intentional attacks on civilians; and imputed responsibility, when a superior failed to prevent or punish crimes committed by a subordinate acting on his own initiative when the superior knew or should have known of the subordinate’s plans.

    War crimes that are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and crimes against humanity are crimes of universal jurisdiction, meaning that they can be prosecuted anywhere in the world. Moreover, international crimes committed since July 2002 may be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague if the state involved is unwilling or unable to prosecute the offense. Because there is no statute of limitation for war crimes, those responsible may be arrested and tried at any time and in any place.68

    Statements by Insurgent Groups

    Various armed groups, notably Ansar al-Sunna, al-Qaeda in Iraq and the Islamic Army in Iraq, have repeatedly claimed credit in videos and written statement for assassinations, executions and bomb attacks that unlawfully killed civilians.69 Only on rare occasions has an armed group condemned such attacks. When such condemnations occur, they are likely to express disapproval with attacks on “innocent Muslims” or Iraqi citizens, including soldiers and police, rather than a condemnation based on the legal obligation to distinguish between civilians and combatants. The implied message often is to redirect attacks from Iraqis to foreigners, whether soldiers or civilians, rather than a desire to protect all civilians from attack.

    A statement from Jaysh Muhammad, for example, a Sunni group with a strong Islamist bent, was as much an affirmation of certain unlawful attacks as it was a condemnation of others. “A Muslim must not kill a Muslim, no matter what,” a spokesman said in an interview, as he denounced the bombings at Shi`a shrines and attacks on police. At the same time, he accepted kidnapping those who “cooperate with the occupation.” “Kidnapping is an obligation,” he said. “It is not prohibited by religion, if it is done to foreigners who cooperate with the occupation.”70

    In a statement by the Abu-Hafs al-Masri Brigades, one of three groups that claimed responsibility for the U.N. bombing of August 19, 2003, the group said it was against “any action that harms the interest of the Iraqi people, such as targeting the Abu Ghraib Prison and blowing up the principal water main in Baghdad because it is not allowable to harm Muslims.”71 The statement did not mention that eight of the twenty-two people who died in the U.N. bombing were Iraqis (see chapter VIII of this report, “Attacks on Humanitarian Organizations and the U.N.”).

    In one of the very few cases that al-Qaeda in Iraq condemned an attack on civilians, it commented only on the need to protect innocent Muslims. “We changed the plans for a number of decisive operations against the enemy because of the presence of a Muslim who would have been killed by the explosions, and we canceled martyrdom [suicide] operations out of concern for the blood of Muslim passers-by,” it said.72

    On January 27, 2005, three days before Iraq’s elections, an apparent umbrella organization of Sunni nationalist groups called the Political Bureau of the Islamic Front of the Iraqi Resistance,73 announced that it condemned the elections but had ordered its fighters not to attack polling stations or Iraqi citizens. “It is not our policy to provoke sedition that will allow the blood of our citizens to be shed by attacking the polling stations and shedding the blood of innocent Iraqis, especially as many of our compatriots have failed to understand the reality of this issue,” the statement reportedly said. “Our wish to spare the lives of our Iraqi people extends to all our citizens of all religious persuasions and ethnic affiliations.”74

    A month later the Islamic Front of the Iraqi Resistance issued another statement that extended its condemnation to attacks on all civilians. “We prohibit targeting civilians, slaying hostages and spilling the blood of Iraqis whether civilians or members of police and national guard forces, under any pretext,” the statement said, adding that its fighters should not undertake actions in cities, where civilians could be hurt. Regarding non-Iraqis, the Front said its members were not allowed to target civilian foreigners, such as reporters, drivers and relief workers, or Iraqi infrastructure facilities, like oil pipelines and electrical grids. It called on its members not to cooperate with any insurgent group that attacked Iraqis or civilians in general.75

    Likewise, in a statement posted on its website in June 2005, the Iraqi Patriotic Alliance, an alliance of Iraqi political parties and groups based abroad, denounced the targeting of civilian objects and foreign civilians:

    Schools, churches, mosques and other civilian places have never been the target of the Iraqi resistance. Besides, we have to be very critical and careful about any kidnapping or killing process of a foreigner [sic] worker in Iraq. The resistance has no benefit in attacking people like Margaret Hassan,76 two Simonas77 or others. These actions are meant to discredit the legal resistance of our people.78

    In an interview published in June 2005, the head of a pro-Saddam group claimed his force did not target civilians, and he did not distinguish between Iraqis and foreigners. “We strike only at military targets,” said Shaikh Majid al-Qa’ud, secretary general of Wahaj al-`Iraq. “It is others who slaughter women, old people and children.”79

    Statements by Sunni Religious Groups

    Most Sunni institutions and religious bodies view the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq as an occupation, and they support the insurgents’ military actions as a legitimate response. Some have condemned attacks on civilians, particularly the large-scale attacks on Shi`a shrines and Christian churches, but their condemnations are sometimes limited and suggest that attacks on civilians are warranted in certain circumstances.

    The most influential Sunni religious authority in Iraq is the Hayat ‘Ulama al-Muslimin (Association of Muslim Scholars), which was created in April 2003, after the fall of the Saddam Hussein government. Directed by Shaikh Harith al-Dhari, the Association undertakes religious, political, social and economic activities, from organizing the protection of mosques and the work of imams to caring for the families of Iraqis killed by U.S. forces. It has been an outspoken critic of the U.S.-led military presence and called on the Sunni to boycott the January 30, 2005, elections.

    At the same time, the Association has condemned the Jordanian Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi and some of the attacks for which he claimed responsibility. “We have nothing to do with the terrorist al-Zarqawi,” an Association spokesman said in February 2005. “He is a foreigner and an enemy of Iraq. Our liberation struggle against the occupation is a completely different matter from his barbarous terrorism.”80

    The Association has condemned some hostage-taking and attacks on civilians, but it has been accepting of other practices that violate the laws of war. For example, at least one spokesman said it was acceptable to kidnap—but not kill—“collaborators.” “Iraq is an occupied country and Iraqis are entitled to resist this ugly occupation no matter what the means…It makes sense then to target collaborators,” Association spokesman Muthana Harith al-Dhari said in September 2004. He added, “Kidnapping the collaborators is lawful when it comes to warfare. They are deemed as troops fighting alongside the occupation forces.”

    As an example, al-Dhari mentioned the case of twelve Nepalese workers, abducted and executed by Ansar al-Sunna in August 2004. “There was nothing wrong in kidnapping the twelve Nepalese as they used to work for the occupation forces as bodyguards or supply drivers in return for mind-boggling salaries,” he said. “But we are totally against killing them. They are prisoners of war and shouldn’t be killed.”81

    The Association had condemned the killing when it took place. “We are against killing hostages, particularly if it has been a group execution,” Shaikh al-Dhari said. “Those twelve Nepalese hostages are simple people. They might have been deceived to serve the occupation forces.”82 That same month, when insurgents bombed five Christian churches in Baghdad and Mosul, the Association said the attacks were “totally remote from any religious or humanitarian norms.”83

    On September 12, 2004, the Association called for the release of two Italian humanitarian workers, Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, who had been abducted one week before. “The two Italians were doing a humanitarian job and don’t have any links to the occupation,” a spokesman said.84 The two women were eventually released.

    In January 2005, the Association called upon all armed groups to release any hostages they held on the Eid al-Adha feast (Feast of Sacrifice)—a major Islamic holiday. “On the occasion of `Eid al-Adha, the Association of Muslim Scholars appeals on parties who hold hostages to free them as an expression of goodwill,” a spokesman said. “Our religion does not accept such acts that lead to killings and humiliation.”85

    In February 2005, the Association called for the release of the abducted Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, saying “she was doing a humanitarian job in Iraq and has nothing to do with the occupation forces.”86 A group called the Islamic Jihad Organization responded that it would kill the woman if Italian forces did not leave Iraq. “We call upon our brothers in the Association of Muslim Scholars to be careful in their call to release the Italian POW,” a statement posted on the Internet said. “We are still investigating the POW and the judicial committee in the organization will take its decision on that soon.”87 Sgrena’s captors released her on March 4 (see chapter IX of this report, “Attacks on Media”).

    In contrast to these statements, another large Sunni group has condoned certain attacks. Fakhri al-Qaisi, a prominent Sunni cleric who heads a Salafi group in Iraq88 and is part of the Higher Council for al-Da`wa, Guidance and Fatwa, told a French journalist that the killing of CARE director Margaret Hassan in November 2004 (see chapter VIII of this report, “Attacks on Humanitarian Organizations and the U.N.”) was justified because a U.S. Marine had recently killed a wounded and unarmed insurgent in an al-Falluja mosque.89 “As the Americans wage a war of extermination against us, the resistance also will kill everyone, women, old men and infants,” he reportedly said. “The Americans left us no other choice but violence.”90

    A leading Sunni cleric in al-Falluja has sought to differentiate between “honest” and “dishonest” insurgents. “Honest resistance is a legitimate right against the occupation all over the world. It is not governed by the ideas of small groups of people,” Shaikh `Abdullah al-Janabi explained. “If they think beheading civilians is a means of pressure over the occupation, then they don’t understand the concept of honest and true resistance, which targets the American and British occupation.” He added, “If there is someone called Zarqawi, I am not grateful for his attack on our policemen.”91

    [3] On July 19, 2005, for example, unknown gunmen in Baghdad killed Mijbil Shaikh al-`Issa, a Sunni representative on the Constitution Drafting Committee of the Transitional National Assembly, Dahmen al-Jabouri, an adviser to the Committee, and their driver. (Alissa J. Rubin, “Sunni Arabs Halt Work on Constitution After Killings,” Los Angeles Times, July 21, 2005.) On August 19, 2005, insurgents in Mosul abducted and executed three members of the largest Sunni Arab political party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, as they were putting up posters that urged Sunnis to vote in a referendum for a new constitution planned for October 2005. (“Iraqi Sunni Party Workers Killed”, BBC, August 19, 2005, available at, as of August 19, 2005.)

    [4]See James Glanz, “Rings That Kidnap Iraqis Thrive on Big Threats and Bigger Profits,” New York Times, March 28, 2005, Monte Morin, “Crime as Lethal as Warfare in Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, March 20, 2005, Ali Rifaat and Hala Jaber, “Kidnap Gangs Force Doctors to Flee Iraq,” The Times, June 5, 2005, and Hisham Mohammed, “Insurgency Provides Financial Lure,” IWPR, June 21, 2005.

    [5]“Iraq Battling More Than 200,000 Insurgents: Intelligence Chief,” Agence France-Presse, January 3, 2005.

    [6]Ansar al-Islam began fighting the two principal secular Kurdish parties in 2001. U.S. forces destroyed the group’s bases during the 2003 air war on Iraq, killing some members and forcing others to disperse. For background on the group, see Human Rights Watch Backgrounder, Ansar al-Islam in Iraqi Kurdistan, available at

    [7]According to one press account, Ansar al-Sunna was established five months after the U.S. entered Iraq. In its first statement to the press on September 20, 2003, the group said, “It is known that jihad in Iraq has become an individual duty of every Muslim after the atheist enemy assailed the territory of Islam.” (Dr. Hani al-Siba’i, “Ansar al-Islam, Ansar al-Sunnah Army, Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, and Abu-Hafs Brigades,” posted March 14, 2004, on al-Basra Net, translated by FBIS Report in Arabic, March 14, 2004.

    [8]See the website of Jama`at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, in Arabic, available at, as of September 26, 2005.

    [9]See Ahmed Hashim, “Foreign Involvement in the Iraqi Insurgency,” Jamestown Foundation, Terrorism Monitor, Volume 2, Issue 16, August 12, 2004, available at, as of September 23, 2005, and Patrick Quinn and Katherine Shrader, “Foreigners Blamed for Iraq Suicide Attacks,” Associated Press, July 1, 2005.

    [10] “Nepalese Hostages Killed in Iraq,” BBC, August 31, 2004, available at, as of June 22, 2004, and “Militants Kill 12 Nepal Hostages,” CNN, August 31, 2004, available at, as of June 22, 2005, and Stephen Farrell and Charles Bremner, “Hostage Fears After Mass Killing,” The Times, September 1, 2004, available at,,7374-1240841,00.html, as of June 22, 2005.

    [11] See Samir Haddad and Mazin Ghazi, “Who Kills Hostages in Iraq,” al-Zawra, September 19, 2004, and

     “What is Driving the Iraqi Insurgency,” Council on Foreign Relations, May 20, 2005, available at, as of June 19, 2005. In one example, a January 2005 statement announcing the existence of the Mujahadin of Iraq Army said the group had veteran officers and soldiers. (“Saddam Hussain Loyalists Said to Have Formed ‘Mujahadin of Iraq Army,’” BBC Monitoring Middle East, excerpt from report by `Usamah Mahdi, “International Information Centre to Guide Iraqi Voters Abroad. Saddam Loyalists Establish ‘Mujahidin of Iraq Army,’” published by Elaph website on January 7, 2005.)

    [12]See, Rod Nordland, Tom Masland and Christopher Dickey, “Unmasking the Insurgents,” Newsweek, February 7, 2005, available at, as of August 19, 2005.

    [13]One Iraqi newspaper report said Saddam’s Fedayin might have abandoned its support of the former leader. (Samir Haddad and Mazin Ghazi, “Who Kills Hostages in Iraq,” al-Zawra, September 19, 2004.)

    [14] See “Hostage Takers Widen Demands Beyond Iraqi Affairs,” Agence France-Presse, August 29, 2004, and Mahan Abedin, “Post-Election Terrorist Trends in Iraq,” Jamestown Foundation, Terrorism Monitor, Volume 3, Issue 5, March 11, 2005.

    [15] A video broadcast by the Islamic Army in Iraq in April 2005 showed the execution of a Bulgarian pilot from a civilian helicopter the group had shot down. (“US Military Probes Iraq Chopper Crash,” Agence France-Presse, April 22, 2005, and Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Robert F. Worth, “A Private Copter Crashes in Iraq,” New York Times, April 22, 2005.)

    [16] For an interview with a Muhammad’s Army spokesman, see Ali Kais al-Rubai, “Islamists Pledge Continued War on Coalition,” IWPR, May 14, 2004, available at, as of June 22, 2005.

    [17]For a detailed description of abuses by Iraqi government-affiliated militias, see Anthony Shadid and Steve Fainaru, “Militias on the Rise Across Iraq,” Washington Post, August 21, 2005.

    [18] In the August 2003 bombing of the United Nations headquarters, for example, three groups claimed responsibility for the attack (see chapter VIII of this report, “Attacks on Humanitarian Organizations and the U.N.”). In the case of the two Italian humanitarian aid workers, Simona Pari and Simona Toretta, abducted in Baghdad on September 7, 2004, a group calling itself the Islamic Jihad Organization in Iraq said on September 22 that it had killed the two women. The next day, another group, the Supporters of al-Zawahri, said it had beheaded the Italians. The women’s captors eventually released them both unharmed. (See Nadia Abou el-Magd, “Militants Claim to Have Killed Italians,” Associated Press, September 23, 2004.)

    [19] Human Rights Watch interviews with Kurdish intelligence and security officials in Arbil and Sulaimaniyya, January 2005.

    [20] See Ibrahim al-Marashi, “Iraq’s Hostage Crisis: Kidnappings, Mass Media and the Iraqi Insurgency,” Middle East Review of International Affairs, Vol. 8, No. 4, December 2004.

    [21] Will Dunham, “U.S. Estimates Iraqi Resistance Forces at 5,000,” Reuters, November 13, 2003.

    [22] Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, “Estimates by U.S. See More Rebels With More Funds,” New York Times, October 22, 2004.

    [23] “Iraq Battling More Than 200,000 Insurgents: Intelligence Chief,” Agence France-Presse, January 3, 2005.

    [24] For a detailed account of fighter smuggling from Syria, see Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, “Outside Iraq but Deep in the Fight; A Smuggler of Insurgents Reveals Syria’s Influential, Changing Role,” Washington Post, June 8, 2005.

    [25] Michael E. O’Hanlon and Adriana Lins de Albuquerque, “The State of Iraq: an Update,” New York Times, June 3, 2005. The International Institute for Strategic Studies in the United Kingdom made a similar estimate in October 2004, but with a total insurgency figure of 18,000. (The Military Balance 2004/05, International Institute for Strategic Studies, October 19, 2004.)

    [26] Carol J. Williams, “Suicide Attacks Emerge as Weapon of Choice,” Los Angeles Times, June 1, 2005.

    [27] Liz Sidoti, “Top Commander Says Insurgency Still Strong,” Associated Press, June 23, 2005.

    [28] See James Glanz, “Rings That Kidnap Iraqis Thrive on Big Threats and Bigger Profits,” New York Times, March 28, 2005, Monte Morin, “Crime as Lethal as Warfare in Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, March 20, 2005, and “Filipino Returns Home After Hostage Ordeal in Iraq,” Reuters, June 23, 2005.

    [29] Ali Rifaat and Hala Jaber, “Kidnap Gangs Force Doctors to Flee Iraq,” The Times, June 5, 2005.

    [30] Hisham Mohammed, “Insurgency Provides Financial Lure,” IWPR, June 21, 2005, available at, as of June 22, 2005.

    [31] “What is Driving the Iraqi Insurgency,” Council on Foreign Relations, May 20, 2005, available, as of June 19, 2005.

    [32] In response to a Human Rights Watch request in 2003 for information about civilian casualties, the Multi-National Force’s press office replied:

    It is tragic that civilians have died as a result of our operations and we are fully aware that every time a civilian is caught in the line of coalition fire, we potentially lose allies among the Iraqi population. In terms of statistics, we have no definitive estimates of civilian casualties for the overall campaign. It would be irresponsible to give firm estimates given the wide range of variables. For example, we have had cases where during a conflict, we believed civilians had been wounded and perhaps killed, but by the time our forces have a chance to fully assess the outcomes of the contact, the wounded or dead civilians have been removed from the scene. Factors such as this make it impossible for us to maintain an accurate account.

    (E-mail sent to Human Rights Watch from Multi-National Force press office on September 29, 2003.)

    [33] Iraq Body Count, A Dossier of Civilian Casualties 2003-2005, July 19, 2005. See The list of media sources is on the report’s methodology page.

    [34]Les Roberts, Riyadh Lafta, Richard Garfield, Jamal Khudhairi and Gilbert Burnham, “Mortality Before and After the 2003 Invasion of Iraq: Cluster Sample Survey,” The Lancet, Volume 364, Number 9448, November 20, 2004.

    [35]Luke Baker, “Iraq Insurgency Has Killed 6,000 Civilians—Govt,” Reuters, April 5, 2005.

    [36] Hamza Hendawi, “Iraqi Interior Minister Jabr Interviewed,” Associated Press, June 2, 2005, Ellen Knickmeyer, “Iraq Puts Civilian Toll at 12,000,” Washington Post, June 3, 2005, and Bassem Mroue, “Civilian Deaths in Iraq Exceed Military,” Associated Press, July 14, 2005.

    [37]Sabrina Tavernise, “Data Shows Rising Toll of Iraqis from Insurgency,” New York Times, July 14, 2005. For other Iraqi government figures, see Bushra Juhi, “Casualties From Iraq Insurgency Up in May,” Associated Press, June 1, 2005. According to a cited health ministry official, insurgents killed 434 civilians and wounded 775 in May 2005, up from 299 and 598, respectively, the previous month.

    [38] “Civilian Deaths in Iraq Violence Far Exceed Those of Military and Police, Government Says,” Associated Press, July 14, 2005. The number of insurgents killed during the first six months of 2005 was 781, the Iraqi government said.

    [39] See, for example, Anthony H. Cordesman, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Iraq’s Evolving Insurgency, Updated as of May 19, 2005, Jeffrey White, “Assessing the Iraqi Insurgency (Parts I and II),” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Policy Watch #978, March 24, 2005, and Iraq: Insurgency Goals, Council on Foreign Relations, May 20, 2005.

    [40]“Iraqi Militants Behead Man Who Worked With U.S. Forces in Mosul,” Associated Press, October 23, 2004.

    [41] “Iraqi Groups Shows Tape of Beheading of Three Kurds,” Reuters, September 19, 2004.

    [42] Alistair Lyon, “Philippines Announces Pullout to Save Iraq Hostage,” Reuters, July 12, 2004, and “Hostage Takers Widen Demands Beyond Iraqi Affairs,” Agence France-Presse, August 29, 2004. The government claimed that it was already planning to withdraw its fifty-one-person contingent at the end of the month.

    [43] “Islamist Group Threatens Attacks After Iraqi Vote: Website,” Agence France-Presse, January 27, 2005.

    [44] Andrew Hammond, “Insurgency Soaks Up Money Set for Reconstruction,” Reuters, August 10, 2005.

    [45] “British Hostage Pleads For His Life Amid Claim Italians Killed in Iraq,” Agence France-Presse, September 23, 2004.

    [46] Some Iraqis and insurgent groups in Iraq claim that attacks on civilians are the work of foreign forces, particularly from Israel and the U.S., in an attempt to cause chaos and to rally the Shi`a and Kurdish populations around the new government. In March 2005, for example, the influential Sunni group, the Association of Muslim Scholars, condemned an attack on a Shi`a mosque and said that foreign elements must have been involved. “The Iraqis are not programmed to kill. Even the extremist Islamists, we know them and we know how they think,” an association spokesman said. “They have no such ideology which makes them sanction the killing of innocent people without any religious or moral scruples.” (BBC Monitoring Middle East, “Iraqi Sunni Clerics Spokesman Rejects Iraqi Involvement in Shi’i Mosque Blast,” al-Jazeera Television, March 10, 2005.) Another example was an article in Quds Press that argued, citing “special sources,” that the U.S. had sent a special unit to commit assassination, sabotage and random bombings attributed to the insurgency in order to “smear its reputation.” (“U.S. ‘Special Unit’ Said in Iraq for ‘Dirty Operations,’” Quds Press, August 3, 2005.)

    [47] Alix de la Grange, “‘The Liberation of Baghdad is not Far Away,’” Asia Times Online, June 25, 2004, available at, as of August 19, 2005.

    [48] Ali Kais al-Rubai, “Islamists Pledge Continued War on Coalition,” Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Iraqi Crisis Report 63, May 14, 2004, available at, as of March 31, 2005.

    [49] “Head of Pro-Saddam Militants in Iraq Sets Peace Terms, Doesn’t Know al-Zarqawi,” BBC Monitoring Middle East, published in La Repubblica, June 3, 2005.

    [50] Translation from the website (accessed February 22, 2005). See also, Salah Nasrawi, “Unknown Group Claims Responsibility for Assaults on Iraqi Churches,” Associated Press, August 2, 2004.

    [51] “Al-Qaeda Linked Group Claims Attack Targeting Kurdish Official,” Agence France-Presse, May 24, 2005.

    [52] Samir Haddad and Mazin Ghazi, “Who Kills Hostages in Iraq,” al-Zawra, September 19, 2004.

    [53] Samir Haddad and Mazin Ghazi, “Who Resists and Who Kidnaps,”, September 14, 2004.

    [54] “Iraq Qaeda Leader Defends Slaying of Muslims-Web,” Reuters, May 18, 2005.

    [55] Niko Price, “Video on Islamic Militant Web Site Shows Beheading of American,” Associated Press, May 11, 2004.

    [56] “Zarqawi Tries to Justify Killings of Civilians in Iraq: Tape,” Agence France-Presse, May 18, 2005.

    [57] “Iraq’s al Qaeda Says Will Kill Algerian Envoys—Web,” Reuters, July 26, 2005.

    [58] International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Customary International Humanitarian Law, (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press 2005) (Henckaerts & Doswald-Beck, eds.), volume 1, rule 1, citing Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), of 8 June 1977, articles 48, 51(2); Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), of 8 June 1977, article 13(2).

    [59] ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, rule 5, citing Protocol I, article 50, citing Protocol I, article 50.

    [60] ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, rule 6, citing Protocol I, article 51(3), citing Protocol I, article 51(3).

    [61] See ICRC, Commentary on the Additional Protocols, p. 516. The Commentary also explains that under Protocol II “direct part in hostilities” implies “that there is a sufficient causal relationship between the act of participation and its immediate consequences.” Ibid. p. 1453.

    [62] See Protocol I, art. 50(1); ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, rule 16 (“Each party to the conflict must do everything feasible to verify that targets are military objectives”), citing Protocol I, article 57(2)(a); 1999 Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property, article 7.

    [63] ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, rule 146, citing, e.g. First Geneva Convention, art. 46; Fourth Geneva Convention, art. 33.

    [64] Common article 3 to the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

    [65] See generally the discussion of the applicability of international humanitarian law to non-state armed groups in ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, pp. 497-98.

    [66] Protocol I, preamble.

    [67] The issue of reciprocity is addressed in the ICRC’s Commentary to Protocol I, para. 51: “The prohibition against invoking reciprocity in order to shirk the obligations of humanitarian law is absolute. This applies irrespective of the violation allegedly committed by the adversary. It does not allow the suspension of the application of the law either in part or as a whole, even if this is aimed at obtaining reparations from the adversary or a return to a respect for the law from him.”

    [68] Neither Iraq nor the United States are party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

    [69]Such statements could help demonstrate that particular criminal acts were knowingly part of an attack on a population, as necessary for showing a crime against humanity. See e.g. Kayishema and Ruzindana, International Criminal Court for Rwanda, Trial Chamber, May 21, 1999, para. 133-34.

    [70]Ali Kais al-Rubai, “Islamists Pledge Continued War on Coalition,” IWPR, May 14, 2004.

    [71] “Statement Said From al-Qa’idah Claims Responsibility for UN HQ Attack in Iraq,” BBC Monitoring Middle East, Muhammad Salah, “Al-Qi’diah Claims Responsibility for Blowing Up UN Headquarters in Baghdad,” al-Yat, August 25, 2003.

    [72] Nadia Abou el-Magd, “Iraq Insurgents Call for Hassan’s Release,” Associated Press, November 5, 2004.

    [73] According to one Iraqi press report, the Islamic Front of the Iraqi Resistance is a Sunni group that announced its existence on May 30, 2004. It concentrates in Ninewa and Diyala provinces and has at least two military wings: Salah al-Din al-Ayubi Brigades and Sayf-Allah al-Maslul Brigades. (Samir Haddad and Mazin Ghazi, “Who Kills Hostages in Iraq,” al-Zawra, September 19, 2004.)

    [74] “Iraq’s ‘Islamic Resistance Front’ Says Elections ‘US Conspiracy,’” BBC Monitoring Middle East, Statement by the Islamic Front of the Iraqi Resistance, carried by Quds Press web news agency, January 30, 2005.

    [75] Samir Haddad, “Iraqi Resistance Distances Itself From Civilian Blood,”, March 7, 2005, available at, as of August 15, 2005.

    [76] Margaret Hassan, the head of CARE in Iraq, was abducted in October 2004 and killed the next month. See Chapter VIII of this report, “Attacks on Humanitarian Organizations and the U.N.”

    [77] The “two Simonas” are the Italians Simona Pari and Simona Torretta from the organization Un Ponte per Baghdad (“Bridge to Baghdad”), who were kidnapped in September 2004 with two Iraqi staff and released after three weeks.

    [78]Letter From Iraqi Patriotic Alliance Addressed to Our Brothers All Around the World,” Iraqi Patriotic Alliance website,, as of June 6, 2005.

    [79] “Head of Pro-Saddam Militants in Iraq Sets Peace Terms, Doesn’t Know al-Zarqawi,” BBC Monitoring Middle East, published in La Repubblica, June 3, 2005.

    [80]“Iraqi Sunni Body Reiterates Refusal to Join Government Before US Withdrawal,” BBC Monitoring Middle East, February 4, 2005, translation of interview with Association of Muslim Scholars spokesman Bashar al-Faydi, published in Corriere della Sera on February 3, 2005.

    [81] “Targeting ‘Collaborators’ Lawful: Iraqi Scholar,”, September 27, 2004,, accessed August 15, 2005.

    [82] “AMS Slams Nepalese Captives’ Execution,”, August 31, 2004, available at, as of June 23, 2005.

    [83] Alissa J. Rubin, “Muslims and Their Leaders Denounce Church Attacks,” Los Angeles Times, August 3, 2004.

    [84] “Muslim Scholars Call for Release of Italian Hostages,” Associated Press, September 13, 2004.

    [85] “Influential Sunni Muslim Group in Iraq Appeals to Insurgents to Release Hostages During Holiday,” Associated Press, January 19, 2005.

    [86] “Purported Kidnappers of Italian Journalist Issue Final Warning to Rome to Withdraw Troops From Iraq,” Associated Press, February 6, 2005.


    [88] Al-Salafiyya (derived from the word al-Salaf, denoting the companions of the Prophet Muhammad) as a doctrine or philosophy emerged during the latter half of the 19th Century. Salafism urged believers to return to the pure form of Islam as practiced by Muhammad and it rejected any practice not directly supported by the Qur’an. At the same time, Salafism encouraged Muslims to interpret religious texts for themselves through the practice of ijtihad (independent reasoning), rather than blindly accept the interpretations by theologians of religious texts. (See Denoeux, G., “The Forgotten Swamp: Navigating Political Islam,” Middle East Policy, Vol. IX (2), June 2002.) Denoeux also discusses a “second generation” of Islamist movements witnessed during the 1980s and 1990s, termed “Jihadist Salafi.” These movements “embrace a strict, literal interpretation of Islam, but combine it with an emphasis on jihad, understood here as holy war. To them, jihad becomes the prime instrument through which the “Salafi” desire to “return” to the original message of Islam will be turned into reality…. Some concentrate their attacks on the “infidel regimes” at the helm of the country in which they operate. Such regimes are denounced as Muslim in name only and for having become completely subservient to the West.” Ibid.

    [89] See Andrew Marshall, “Reporter Recounts Killing of Wounded Iraqi by Marine,” Reuters, November 22, 2004.

    [90]Jean-Pierre Perrin, “La résistance va tuer tout le monde,” Libération, November 18, 2004.

    [91] “‘We Pray the Insurgents Will Achieve Victory,’” Newsweek, August 7, 2004, available at, as of August 15, 2005.

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