A new report from UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein warns that the Iraqi military victory in Fallujah marks a return to “full-throttle sectarian violence” in the country, urging the Iraqi government to do something to rein in allied Shi’ite militias who are increasingly taking revenge on Sunni Arab civilians.
While a recurring story throughout the ISIS war, this latest violence against fleeing civilians began during the siege of Fallujah, with militias rounding up Sunni men and boys and taking them to be interrogated and tortured.
Per Hussein’s report, one of the militias, Ketaeb Hezbollah, has kidnapped at least 900 civilians over the course of the Fallujah offensive so far, and has executed at least 49 of them, saying this marked one of the worst sectarian purges of the entire war.
After scandals started during the siege, which led to assurances that the militias would not enter Fallujah itself, but would just participate in fighting on the outskirts. This was scrapped almost immediately after the city fell, and despite assurances from them that they meant no harm they almost immediately started looting and setting fires.
Camps around the outskirts of Fallujah are full of displaced women and children, many of them still wondering where the men went, and others reporting that they eventually returned, tortured either nearly to death, or entirely so. Many hundreds remain unaccounted for, and the number could be much larger than officially confirmed.
Fallujah was supposed to be an improvement on the offensive against Ramadi, an even bigger Sunni Arab which was virtually destroyed. And while Fallujah mostly stands intact, the militias’ abuse is likely to be more galling and even worse for sectarian relations than Ramadi itself.