(Erbil) – Iraqi and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) forces have detained at least 37 men from areas around Mosul and Hawija suspected of being affiliated with the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) since the beginning of the Mosul operation, Human Rights Watch said today.
Human Rights Watch spoke to 46 relatives and witnesses, who described how security forces took the men from checkpoints, villages, screening centers, and camps for displaced people. Most said that they did not know where the men are being held and all of them said that the men have not been able to contact them while in detention.
My husband worked in the local waterworks and ISIS fighters threatened to kill him at one point because he wanted to stop working. When we got to Makhmur, Asayish forces took him – I have no idea why. Later I heard from others in the group we escaped with that one of them said he was ISIS, who knows why. I just don’t know what to do, I have been asking the Asayish here every day about where he is, but they say they don’t know anyone at the Asayish in Makhmur. He has heart problems, and I have his medicine. I just don’t know what to do!
A group of men in the Debaga screening center also told Human Rights Watch that they observed security forces running the site remove two or three men a day on average from the center, out of about 400 currently being held.
One man who arrived at Debaga with his wife was separated into the screening area on October 15, and taken to a prison in Erbil two days later. While in prison, he said, he did not have access to his wife or to a lawyer, and was held in a cell with about 35 to 40 other ISIS suspects. He was never interrogated, and was moved five days later back into the screening area. He did not understand why he had been cleared for prison release but was still being held and prevented from joining his wife.
On November 7, Human Rights Watch visited Hasansham camp, 30 kilometers east of Mosul. Researchers interviewed 11 Shabak villagers from the town of Gelyuhan, 5 kilometers southeast of Mosul, who said that on November 3, as ISIS retreated from the area, they and at least 150 families fled toward Ali Arash, 4.5 kilometers away, the first village along their route.
There, the interviewees said, the government-allied armed group known as the Hashd al-Sha’abi, a Popular Mobilization Force (PMF) made up of Shabak fighters, put the women, girls, and young boys in the second floor of a school, and the men and boys 15 years old and above downstairs in classrooms.
The fighters called out three men’s names and then took the men into a separate room. The next morning at 10 a.m., Iraqi military officers arrived and, nine of the men said, went into the classroom and said, “Why are you here? You are free to go!” At that point, on November 8, the families were allowed to leave and go to Hasansham camp, but the three men were kept in custody, according to all of the interviewees.
Human Rights Watch interviewed a villager arriving at the camp directly from the school on November 7, who said he had seen the three men still being held in a classroom at the school that morning. The mother and brother of one of the detained men said that a family friend in Baghdad who is linked to the Shabak forces said that her son was being held because he was accused of looting fighters’ homes, abandoned once ISIS came to the area. The families have had no contact with the three men still being held.
Iraqi forces, including PMF forces, and KRG authorities should not use schools for security or military purposes such as screening and detention centers except as a last resort when no other facilities are available, Human Rights Watch said. Such use of schools can delay the re-opening of the schools to teach and provide other services to children and lead to damage to classrooms and equipment.