Many extremist groups have a signature trait by which to define themselves, and none more so than the extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS), which commits and then celebrates human rights abuses on a breathtaking scale.
So when the 60-member strong international coalition against ISIS meets in Paris today, will accountability for abuses top the agenda?
This is not just a question of the moral high ground, but key to any successful strategy against ISIS, given the scale of the abuses committed under its rule in Iraq and Syria.
But ISIS fighters aren’t the only ones abusing human rights in Iraq.
So it’s vital that foreign ministers impress on Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi that success in the fight against ISIS, as well as sustained international support for the mission, depend on transparent and genuine accountability for all human rights abuses in the country.
When Iraqi forces ousted ISIS fighters from Salah al-Din province in March and April they went on a rampage, burning down or blowing up hundreds of residents’ homes and shops, a Human Rights Watch investigation found.
Today, tens of thousands of Iraqis from Salah al-Din province remain displaced, often too scared to return to their homes that remain under the control of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF).
The PMF comprise Iraqi Shia militias – Badr Brigades, League of the Righteous, Hizbollah Brigades, Khorasani Brigades, Ali Akbar Brigades, Imam Ali Brigades, and others – supported by local volunteer fighters.
On April 7, the Iraqi cabinet voted to bring the PMF formally under Abadi’s control, but PMF abuses continue.
One graphic video posted last week appears to show a person wearing PMF insignia in northern Salah al-Din executing with a rifle a kneeling and blindfolded man he claims is an ISIS member. And in another gruesome video posted just three days ago, people wearing Imam Ali Brigades and PMF insignia laugh as the body of a man who they say is ISIS is suspended over a fire.
Foreign ministers of the anti-ISIS coalition should also ask Abadi about the whereabouts of more than 160 local men and boys who were last seen being taken from the Jallam al-Dur area in the custody of Hizbollah Batallions around March 8.
Abuses like these help fuel support for ISIS. It will be all but impossible to win the fight against ISIS if these kinds of crimes go unaddressed by Iraq’s government and its allies.