Videos appear to show killings and beatings by Iraq forces

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Iraqi officials said the government is investigating alleged abuses and 'inappropriate conduct'

Still image taken from a video shows IS militants surrender in the Old City of Mosul, 13 July (Reuters)
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Friday 14 July 2017 8:30 UTC
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Videos allegedly shot in the Mosul area appear to show Iraqi security personnel executing a detainee and brutally beating others, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.

Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State (IS) group in Mosul earlier this week after a nearly nine-month battle that ravaged the city and took a heavy toll on residents and security forces.

The videos "appear to show Iraqi soldiers and federal police beating and extrajudicially killing detainees," the rights group said in a statement that included links to the clips, which were posted on Facebook.

In one video, men in Iraqi army uniforms beat a bearded detainee, drag him to the edge of a cliff, throw him off and shoot him and another body at the bottom.

HRW said it had located the site of the first video - which appears to have been removed from Facebook but was circulated elsewhere online - using satellite imagery, but was not able to confirm where three other clips were filmed.

Those videos, which show men in army and police uniforms beating detainees, were still viewable on Facebook, where they were posted by a man HRW said "regularly publishes information regarding security and military activities in and around Mosul".

"In the final weeks of the battle for west Mosul, I observed first-hand the desire of armed forces to get the battle wrapped up as quickly as possible," HRW's senior Iraq researcher Belkis Wille said.

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This was accompanied by "what seems to be a resulting decline in their respect for the laws of war," she said, calling on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to launch investigations of abuses.

Later on Thursday, Iraqi officials said the government has launched a probe into alleged abuses.

An Iraqi journalist embedded with the Rapid Response Division earlier in the operation reported that members of the special forces unit carried out torture, rapes and killings.

The journalist, who has since left Iraq, documented some of the abuses on film.

Two Iraqi officials said at the Pentagon on Thursday that Baghdad is investigating allegations of torture and rights abuses.

Brigadier General Yahya Rasool, the spokesman for Iraq's Joint Operations Command, said anyone committing rights abuses would be held accountable, but he also suggested the videos may be faked and circulated to distract from the recent victory over IS in Mosul.

"Don't forget that there are those that would like to reduce the joy and the comfort we have from this victory," Rasool said through an interpreter, speaking at an unusual briefing in the Pentagon.

"Maybe these videos are being fabricated and quite frankly we will look into this matter very carefully and we will hold anybody who committed that act severely."

Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan said a number of personnel had been suspended.

"There might be some misbehaviour or inappropriate conduct by some of the forces, yes. But the investigation is going on," Maan said.

The Iraqi officials also addressed recent criticisms that security forces - as well as the US-led coalition - had failed to do enough to protect civilians during the brutal Mosul offensive.

Rasool said all blame should lie with IS, which fought among a civilian population and routinely used human shields and suicide bombers.

"This organisation was the main reason [that] significantly [caused] casualties among civilians," he said through an interpreter, noting that the Iraqi security forces had helped get hundreds of thousands of people to safety.

IS overran Mosul and swathes of other territory in the summer of 2014, but Iraqi forces backed by US-led air strikes have since regained most of the territory they lost.

Widespread anger among Iraqi Sunni Arabs - over issues including abuses by security forces - helped aid the militant resurgence which culminated in the 2014 offensive.

Abuses by security forces now are likewise a boon to IS, which is likely to increasingly revert to bombings and hit-and-run attacks as its cross-border statehood project continues to fall apart.