Vehicles of Kurdistan Regional Government’s Peshmerga military forces on the road between Kirkuk and Erbil, Iraq October 20, 2017. 
© 2017 Reuters
 

(Beirut) – More than 350 detainees held by the Kurdistan Regional Government in the Iraqi city of Kirkuk are feared to have been forcibly disappeared, Human Rights Watch said today.

Those missing are mainly Sunni Arabs, displaced to Kirkuk or residents of the city, detained by the regional government’s security forces, the Asayish, on suspicion of Islamic State (also known as ISIS) affiliation after the regional forces took control of Kirkuk in June 2014. Local officials told Human Rights Watch that the prisoners were no longer in the official and unofficial detention facilities in and around Kirkuk when Iraqi federal forces regained control of the area on October 16, 2017.

“Families in Kirkuk are desperate to know what has become of their detained relatives,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The secret, incommunicado detentions raise grave concerns for their safety.”

On November 7, dozens of people demonstrated in Kirkuk, demanding information on their relatives allegedly detained by Asayish forces, which triggered a statement from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to investigate the disappearances.  On November 8, following the demonstration in Kirkuk, Azad Jabari, the former head of the security committee of Kirkuk’s provincial council, reportedly denied that Asayish forces had carried out any disappearances. He blamed the disappearances on US forces previously present in Kirkuk, saying most of the files of the missing dated from 2003 to 2011 and were not more recent.

However, Kirkuk’s acting governor, Rakkan Said, and a Kirkuk police chief told Human Rights Watch that several days after the protest, Asayish forces handed over to Iraqi federal forces in Kirkuk 105 other detainees first held in Kirkuk and later transferred to facilities in Sulaimaniya. Governor Said said that the Iraqi prime minister’s office also sent a delegation to Kirkuk to further investigate. Human Rights Watch was unable to reach delegation members about their findings, but suspects that the number of detainees disappeared by KRG forces is much higher.

On December 12, a member of the Kirkuk branch of Iraq’s Human Rights Commission told Human Rights Watch that families submitted complaints to the commission against Kurdistan Regional Government authorities about the disappearance of at least 350 other men whom the Asayish had detained in and around Kirkuk.

On November 12 and December 17, Human Rights Watch interviewed 26 people who said they had witnessed identifiable Asayish forces detain 27 of their relatives, all Sunni Arab men, between August 2015 and October 2017 in Kirkuk or south of the city. The witnesses said that they had not been able to communicate with their relatives since their arrest, had received no official information about their status and whereabouts, and were concerned about their whereabouts since the Iraqi officials could not locate them.

Um Ghazi went to court in Kirkuk to obtain information on her husband's whereabouts based on CCTV footage showing the Asayish detaining him in Kirkuk while he was walking on the street with a friend in March 2017. After conducting a search, the court said it had not been able to locate him in any detention center in the city.

In all 27 cases discussed with Human Rights Watch, relatives said they had asked local Asayish or police forces about their relatives but never received an official acknowledgement of the detention or information about where their relative was being held or why. In some cases, family members said they were able to obtain information from informal channels indicating that their relatives were being held by the Asayish in other parts of the Kurdistan Region. 

The relatives of four of the disappeared said that over the last month, newly released detainees held in al-Salam military base for Kurdistan Regional Government Peshmerga military forces in Sulaimaniya, where Asayish forces run a number of informal detention facilities, contacted them to say they had been held in the same cells as their relatives.

The wife of Faisal Sultan Hamed said that four armed men in black Asayish uniforms had arrested her husband at their home in Kirkuk at midnight on December 12, 2015. She said the family had tried to locate him during the past two years but that Asayish forces would not provide her with any information. In mid-November 2017, a man newly released from al-Salam military base called her husband’s brother and said that he had shared a cell at the base with her husband. He said that Hamed had given him his brother’s phone number and asked him to let his brother know he was alive.

Youssef Shebir Mustafa said that at 3 a.m. on May 28, 2016, three Asayish officers broke into his home and arrested his two adult sons and his cousin who lived next door. Since then Mustafa has received no official information about their status or whereabouts from the Asayish. “A friend of a friend recently said he heard all three were being held in al-Salam military base, but another said he heard they were in Chamchamal federal prison [in Kurdistan],” Mustafa said. “Frankly, I just don’t know where they are and I am worried sick.”

On December 18, Human Rights Watch contacted Dr. Dindar Zebari, chairman of the KRG’s High Committee to Evaluate International Organizations’ Reports, and asked for information on the current number and whereabouts of people detained by KRG forces in Kirkuk. He has not responded.

Enforced disappearances occur when a person is arrested or detained by officials or their agents and the authority refuses to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts.

Kurdistan Regional Government authorities should work with the Human Rights Commission’s list of complaints to help families of the 350 people identify the status and whereabouts of their relatives. They should urgently notify the families of all those being detained where they are being held, and on what grounds. They should allow for family communications between the detainees and their families.

The authorities should investigate all suspected crimes, including enforced disappearances, by Asayish and Peshmerga forces in a prompt, transparent, and effective manner, up to the highest levels of responsibility. When evidence of criminal responsibility emerges, prosecutions in accordance with international standards should follow. Those conducting such criminal investigations and making decisions about prosecutions should be independent of those being investigated, outside any military chain of command, and free from political interference in their decisions.

“When forces whisk away hundreds of people without explanation, it’s no wonder that their families have serious concerns for their safety,” Fakih said. “It is the Kurdistan Regional Government’s responsibility to immediately provide information on their relatives’ fate or whereabouts, and to end the practice of disappearances.”
 

Name

Age

Origin

Date of Arrest

Place of Arrest

Previous History of Arrest

Knowledge of Whereabouts

Natiq Muhammad Ibrahim

30

Sumud village, Daquq

August 28, 2015

An Asayish checkpoint in Daquq

No

According to former detainees, he was initially being held an undisclosed place of detention run by Asayish forces in Qara Hanjir.

Amr Muhammad Hamoud

44

Hawija, displaced in Kirkuk

October 2, 2015

His home at midnight

No

At an unknown detention facility in Sulaimaniya according to former detainees

Faisal Sultan Hamed

48

Intisar village, Kirkuk

November 14, 2015

His home at 1 a.m.

No

At al-Salam military base according to former detainees

Abd al-Latif Subhi Ali

 

Kirkuk city

April 10, 2016

His home at 2 a.m.

No

At an unknown detention facility in Sulaimaniya according to former detainees

Munther Subhi Ali

30

Kirkuk city

April 10, 2016

His home at 2 a.m.

No

At an unknown detention facility in Sulaimaniya according to former detainees

Muhammad Youssef Habib

28

Sumud village, Daquq

May 28, 2016

His home at 3 a.m.

Detained by Asayish forces in August 2015, taken to a facility in Sulaimaniya, then handed over to intelligence officers in Kirkuk, then to security forces in Daqua. Released by judge without charge after seven months.

No

Saleh Youssef Habib

26

Sumud village, Daquq

May 28, 2016

His home at 3 a.m.

Detained by Asayish forces in August 2015, taken to a facility in Sulaimaniya, then handed over to intelligence officers in Kirkuk, then to security forces in Daquq. Released by judge without charge after nine months.

No

Omar Muhammad Ibrahim Saleh

32

Ru Bayda village, Daquq

July 17, 2016

His home at 3 a.m.

Detained by Asayish forces in June 2015 and held for 1 year and 8 days at al-Salam military base before being released without charge

No

Ibrahim Hameed Agemi

27

Sumud village, Daquq

August 4, 2016

Asayish checkpoint in Al-Bu Muhammad village, Daquq

No

According to contacts, he was initially being held at an Asayish base in Daquq, then in an undisclosed place of detention run by Asayish forces in Qara Hanjir. Most recently at al-Salam military base according to former detainees

Loai Hussein Salman

27

Sumud village, Daquq

August 4, 2016

Asayish checkpoint in Al-Bu Muhammad village, Daquq

No

According to contacts, he was initially being held at an Asayish base in Daquq, then in an undisclosed place of detention run by Asayish forces in Qara Hanjir. Most recently at al-Salam military base according to former detainees

Ahmed Muhammad Ibrahim

40

Sumud village, Daquq

August 17, 2016

His home at 2 a.m.

Detained by Asayish forces in August 2015 and released by judge without charge after 11 months.

No

Faris Ahmed Ibrahim

27

Sumud village, Daquq

August 17, 2016

His home at 2 a.m.

Detained by Asayish forces in August 2015 and released by judge without charge after nine months.

No

Hussein Muhammad Ibrahim

34

Sumud village, Daquq

August 17, 2016

His home at 2 a.m.

Detained by Asayish forces in August 2015 and released by judge without charge after eight months.

No

Qaysar Kareem Saleh

21

Sumud village, Daquq

August 17, 2016

His home at 2 a.m.

No

No

Falah Hassan Abdullah

24

Sumud village, Daquq

September 4, 2016

His home at 2 a.m.

Detained by Asayish forces in August 2015 and released by judge without charge after six months.

No

Raed Abdullah Ibrahim

36

Sumud village, Daquq

September 4, 2016

His home at 2 a.m.

Detained by Asayish forces in August 2015 and released by judge without charge after nine months.

No

Falah Abd Saleh

24

Sumud village, Daquq

September 4, 2016

His home at 2 a.m.

Detained by Asayish forces in August 2015 and released by judge without charge after eight months.

No

Loai Ahmed Thiyab

31

Sumuq Qa Sufla village, Daquq

October 19, 2016

His home at 2 p.m.

No

No

Nabeel Muhammad

28

Hawija, displaced to Daquq camp

January 2017

Daquq camp

No

No

Malik Ghazi Idan

51

Kirkuk city

March 19, 2017

Off a main road in Kirkuk

Sulaimaniya Farmanday military base

No

Hawam Taha Omar

35

Kirkuk city

March 26, 2017

His home at 1 a.m.

No

No

Muhammad

23

Hawija, displaced to Daquq camp

April 2017

Daquq camp

No

No

Mofaid Rashid Abdullah

23

Hawija, displaced to Daquq camp

May 2017

Daquq camp

Detained by Asayish forces in Daquq camp for four days in October 2016 and released without charge

No

Nassim Muhammad

35

Hawija, displaced to Daquq camp

July 28, 2017

Daquq camp

No

No

Muataz Mahmud Layid Ahmed

24

Tal Rabia  village, Daquq

August 29, 2017

Asayish office in al-Wasitee neighborhood, Kirkuk

Detained by Asayish forces in Qadisiyah neighborhood, Kirkuk for one month from June-July 2017, before being released by judge without charge

According to contacts, he was initially being held an undisclosed place of detention run by Asayish forces in Qara Hanjir, 20 kilometers west of Kirkuk

Raddad Hassan Asaad

33

Tal Basal village, Daquq

October 1, 2017

Asayish checkpoint in Tal Basal village, Daquq

No

No

Hassan Asaad Muhammad

52

Tal Basal village, Daquq

October 1, 2017

Asayish base in Eftakhar village, Daquq

No

No