UN report recounts tales of Islamic State atrocities in Iraq

Kurdish refugees arrive in Yumurtalik, Turkey, fleeing the advances of Islamic State extremists on the north Syrian city of Kobani (Roy Gutman/McClatchy)
Kurdish refugees arrive in Yumurtalik, Turkey, fleeing the advances of Islamic State extremists on the north Syrian city of Kobani (Roy Gutman/McClatchy) McClatchy

Islamic State insurgents have committed a “staggering” array of human rights violations in Iraq, including mass executions of civilians and clerics, trafficking abducted women and children as sex slaves, using child soldiers, and attacking and destroying churches and shrines, the United Nations said in a report released Thursday.

The report said the year’s toll of civilians killed in Iraq stood at at least 9,347 civilians through Sept. 10, with another 17,386 wounded. Half of the deaths came in the three months after the insurgents seized Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in early June.

“The array of violations and abuses perpetrated by ISIL and associated armed groups is staggering, and many of their acts may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity ,” said Zeid Ra’ad Hussein, the Jordanian who is the U.N.’s high commissioner for human rights. ISIL is one of the acronyms used for the Islamic State.

Nickolay Mladenov, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative for Iraq, called the report “terrifying” and said allegations of hundreds of other killings of civilians had not been included because they have not yet been sufficiently verified.

To compile the report, which covers the period from July 6 to Sept. 10, U.N. investigators interviewed 501 people, including Iraqis who’d been forced from their homes, then cross-checked those accounts with other sources.

The report gave a lengthy list of ethnic and religious groups that had been targeted by the Islamic State, including Christians and Arab Shiite Muslims, Kurds, Turkmen, Yazidis and a variety of less well-known ethnic groups, such as Sabians, who follow the teachings of John the Baptist.

The Islamic State, the report said, “systematically targeted these communities for gross human rights abuses, at times aimed at destroying, suppressing or cleansing them from areas under their control.”

The report gave accounts of individual acts of violence, including, it said, the execution of 40 people in Mosul with gunshots to the head on Sept. 7. Executions of women occurred in that city on Sept. 5 and Sept. 9, the report said.

The report also recounted in grim detail Islamic State attacks on Yazidi families in early August. The siege of the Yazidis prompted President Barack Obama to order U.S. military action in Iraq for the first time since U.S. troops left the country at the end of the 2011.

In one instance, Islamic State fighters on Aug. 3 chased 10 Yazidi families fleeing al Qahtaniya, “killing the male members and abducting the females and the children.” The next day, the Islamic State killed 60 Yazidi men from Hardan, a village near Sinjar, the report said.

The report said that witnesses reported that at least 200 children had died “from thirst, starvation and heat” when their families were trapped in the Sinjar mountains after fleeing Islamic State fighters.

“Some women with their children had thrown themselves off the mountain in desperation,” the report said.

In another account, five survivors from Khocho told investigators that on Aug. 15, the Islamic State “gathered all males older than 10 years of age at the local school, took them outside the village by pickup trucks, and shot them. According to survivors, as many as 400 males were killed.”

Investigators also documented persecution of all faith groups. It accused the Islamic State of killing Sunni Muslim clerics in Baquba and Mosul for criticizing the group and said that at least 45 abandoned Christian institutions in Mosul “were demolished, converted to mosques or used as bases” by Islamic State fighters.

It said that the Islamic State had sent about 150 unmarried girls and women, most of them Yazidis or Christians, to Syria, “either to be given to ISIL fighters as a reward or to be sold as slaves.”

“An office for the sale of abducted women was opened in the al Quds area of Mosul city,” the report said.

The Islamic State was also “actively recruiting children as young as 13 as fighters,” the report said, adding that Islamic State patrols in Mosul often included children between the ages of 13 and 16.