- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Defense Department has implored Baghdad to begin investigations into claims by human rights group Amnesty International of extrajudicial killings by members of the Iraqi Federal Police outside of Mosul.

The killings occurred at various Iraqi police checkpoints near al-Qayyara, the Iraqi town south of Mosul that has been the main hub for U.S. personnel supporting Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting to push Islamic State from the city, according to Amnesty International.

“Men in Federal Police uniforms have carried out multiple unlawful killings, apprehending and then deliberately killing in cold blood residents in villages south of Mosul,” Lynn Maalouf, deputy director for research at Amnesty’s Beirut regional office, said Thursday in a statement.

“In some cases, the residents were tortured before they were shot dead execution-style,” said Ms. Maalouf.

In other cases, men wearing police uniforms rounded up several men accused of being Islamic State members and beat them “with cables and rifle butts, punched and kicked them, and pulled their beards — even setting one man’s beard alight,” said Ms. Maalouf.

“The victims were made to lie on their stomachs and shots were fired between their legs, as they were insulted, often using sectarian language, and accused of being members of Daesh,” she added, using the derogatory acronym for the Islamic State.

An Iraqi fighter told The Associated Press on Thursday that he personally killed two men suspected of being members of the Islamic State in October while manning a checkpoint alongside Iraqi police and militia members south of Mosul, shortly after the offensive to retake the city kicked off.

Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said U.S. defense officials are aware of the Amnesty International report, but he could not confirm the validity of the group’s claims.

“Obviously, we have concerns about those reports, and any indication of human rights abuses in Iraq in the course of this campaign would cause us concern,” Mr. Cook told reporters Thursday at the Pentagon.

Any accusations of human rights violations by Iraqi or Kurdish forces “should be completely be investigated and we would call the Iraqi government to carry out that kind of investigation,” he added.

All Iraqi and coalition forces that have undergone training with U.S. military advisers in Iraq receive “specific training” on preventing human rights violations when dealing with civilians or captured enemy forces, Mr. Cook said.

“I can’t speak to whether or not every single member of the Iraqi Federal Police has gone to the training, [but] certainly anyone we have trained, [it] has been a component of our training,” he added.

Extrajudicial killings marred the Iraqi-led operation to liberate Fallujah from Islamic State control earlier this year. As many as 300 Sunni Muslim civilians reportedly were executed and dumped in shallow graves by Iranian-backed Shia militias, officially known as the Popular Mobilization Units, or PMUs, fighting alongside Iraqi forces during the Fallujah operation.

Thousands of PMU members, under the command of Baghdad, are pushing toward Mosul’s western suburbs as part of the operation to liberate the city. Militia forces successfully cut off one of two major supply routes between Mosul and the Islamic State’s Syrian capital of Raqqa, Mr. Cook said Thursday.

North of the city, Kurdish peshmerga units continued to clear pockets of Islamic State resistance in the town of Bashiqa and have advanced to within a mile of Mosul, while Iraqi forces reportedly halted their advance to secure previously cleared cities and towns east of the city.

Mr. Cook dismissed claims the Iraqi offensive east of Mosul, which had advanced with blistering speed at the onset of the assault, was bogged down amid heavy resistance.

“Iraqi security forces are seeing results on the ground in Mosul,” Mr. Cook said. “We’ve also said all along that this is gonna be a difficult fight, and [the Islamic State] is a difficult enemy, and this is an urban environment [which] we’ve always said, would be challenging.”

Meanwhile in Syria, U.S. defense officials maintain that the coalition of Arab and Kurdish forces who have begun their assault on Raqqa remains solid, despite reports that the majority of the Arab fighters under the Syrian Defense Forces or SDF, have abandoned the operation.

Members of the Arab-led Raqqa Revolutionary Brigade, a splinter faction from the defunct Free Syrian Army, told the Middle East Eye on Thursday they have pulled out from the 30,000-man force on the march toward Raqqa.

Mahmoud Hadi, the brigade’s top political officer, said U.S. advisers were attempting to “sideline” the group, and hand over control of the operation to members of the Kurdish members of the People’s Protection Unit, also known as YPG.

On Thursday, Mr. Cook dismissed Mr. Hadi’s claims of U.S. officials pressing his group or other Arab militias out of the Raqqa operation.

“We remain confident that Arab and other groups, including people from Raqqa itself, that will be part of not only the effort to isolate Raqqa,” he said, adding the city “will be governed and held by the people from the local population” once the Islamic State is driven out.

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