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US military still working with blacklisted Iraqi special forces

The Emergency Response Division, an Iraqi special forces unit, was documented torturing and killing civilians in Mosul
An ABC report last week released photographs of Emergency Response Division members torturing Mosul civilians (screengrab)

The US military has continued to assist an Iraqi special forces unit that has been banned from receiving training and equipment for human rights abuses, ABC News reported on Wednesday night.

Members of the Emergency Response Division (ERD), which was blacklisted by the US Congress in 2015, were photographed torturing and killing Mosul civilians late last year, according to an earlier ABC report last week.

A US military spokesman, Colonel Joe Scrocca, said on late Wednesday that even though the US blacklisted them, the ban “does not prevent the US from working with the ERD, as we do with other elements of the Iraqi security forces, to help ensure a coordinated effort among different elements of the ISF in the fight to defeat ISIS in Mosul".

ERD was blacklisted under a US law called the Leahy law, which states that non-US armed forces are prohibited from getting military support if “there is credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights”.

Rights groups slammed the country’s continued cosiness with the ERD. Human Rights Watch said “the US is dangerously close to complicity”.

“The US government is playing a clunky shell game, pretending to move its assistance away from abusive Iraqi units like the ERD, while still working with them, training them and coordinating with them," Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East executive director at Human Rights Watch said.

US military commanders have praised the ERD’s efforts in Iraq even after they were blacklisted in 2015.

In January, US army colonel Brett Sylvia, who commanded the US-led Task Force Strike unit in Baghdad during that time, said the ERD is "a very effective fighting force".

And last month, US major general Joseph Martin, who is one of the top American commanders in Iraq, tweeted praise of the ERD.

"Watch the #Iraqi ERD send a message to #ISIS on #saturdaymorning in Western #Mosul," said Martin on 13 May.

Iraqi authorities said they are investigating the allegations and have sent officials to talk to the families of the victims, according to ABC.

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