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Sectarian Abuses in Iraq help ensure Islamic State (IS) Survival

Tens of thousands of civilians already have fled IS-held areas, and an estimated 1 million additional civilians are in Mosul

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ISIS group members with their flag. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
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August 26, 2016: In its frenzy to clear Iraq of Islamic State and erase any trace of the extremists’ self-declared caliphate, Baghdad is running the risk of laying the foundation for the terror group’s resurgence.

Human rights groups already have voiced repeated concerns about the treatment of civilians from areas once controlled by IS, and point to a growing anxiety among Iraqi Sunnis living under IS that they will be targeted no matter what.

“A large number of people have simply disappeared, who were picked up when they left ISIS,” Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s senior crisis response adviser, told VOA, using an acronym for the terror group.

“Pretty much everybody coming out of ISIS areas now is considered to have been there by choice and cooperated,” she said.

FILE - Iraqi security forces and allied Sunni tribal fighters help trapped civilians cross from neighborhoods under control of the Islamic State group to neighborhoods under control of Iraqi security forces in Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Jan. 4, 2016.
FILE – Iraqi security forces and allied Sunni tribal fighters help trapped civilians cross from neighborhoods under control of the Islamic State group to neighborhoods under control of Iraqi security forces in Ramadi, 70 miles (115 kilometers) west of Baghdad, Iraq, Jan. 4, 2016.

Most of those who have vanished are believed to have been taken by Shi’ite militias that operate parallel to the Iraqi military with the blessing of the Baghdad government.

Males suspected to have collaborated with IS have disappeared from checkpoints — such as the Hezbollah-controlled point of Razazah, near Karbala — or from extrajudicial security screening centers run by Shi’ite militias near Fallujah.

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And the fear is that human rights abuses and a lack of accountability will only increase as Iraqi federal forces, Kurdish Peshmerga and the coalition further tighten the noose around the IS stronghold of Mosul.

Fear of revenge

Although Shi’ite militias have stayed away from the Mosul front line so far, there are concerns they may move into the city as it falls to Iraqi forces.

“I fear that if the Shi’ite militias play a large role in Mosul, there will be significant revenge and retaliation actions, similar to what happened in Fallujah,” said David Witty, a retired U.S. Army Special Forces colonel and former adviser to the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service.

As Mosul falls, Iraqi officials increasingly will be forced to decide the fate of many of the more than 1 million civilians who have lived under IS rule for more than two years.

“There are questions as to whether the judicial system could cope with these numbers,” said Francesco Motta, director of the office of human rights at the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq, or UNAMI.

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“No judiciary could handle an influx of possibly thousands of cases,” Motta told VOA.

Failing system

Already, human rights groups say the system is failing.

In Anbar province, where the former IS-held cities of Ramadi and Fallujah are located, there are thousands of detainees with very few people conducting interrogations, low-quality lawyers, and few examining magistrates looking at cases, according to Amnesty’s Rovera.

“Not only did they not have the expertise, the place was like a market house on a busy market day,” Rovera said of one processing point that Amnesty visited.

“No one can do a good job in those circumstances, even if they had the skills,” she added. “With the background of a dysfunctional judiciary, that does not give a good result.

“Hopefully, for Iraqi collaborators with IS, they will get turned over to the legal system, but many will probably not make it that far,” Witty said.

Flood of suspects

Making the situation even more treacherous is the lack of resources dedicated to the official screening processes run by the Iraqi government and the Kurdish regional government.

Iraqis and foreign fighters suspected of affiliation or of fighting with IS will be transferred immediately to Ministry of Interior detention centers known as tasfiraat, or held in military prisons and charged under Iraq’s counterterrorism laws.

The problem is there could be thousands of suspects. Tens of thousands of civilians already have fled IS-held areas, and an estimated 1 million additional civilians are in Mosul.

Women and children also may be found guilty.

“It is a concern that the families will be treated similarly to the fighters,” Motta said. “The issue of accountability is becoming extremely important.”

The U.N. has been advocating for an international tribunal or investigation mechanism and appropriate domestic mechanisms to be put in place to ensure that IS victims are not unfairly charged.

Motta also pointed out that IS fighters are not the only people guilty of crimes in the two-year conflict.

“Any attempt to limit jurisdiction to one party to the conflict, or to one particular group of victims or to one particular crime, would potentially be highly detrimental in terms of ensuring justice and promoting community reconciliation,” he said.

IS has tended to lodge itself in Sunni-majority areas, exploiting deep sectarian grievances against Iraq’s majority Shi’ite governments.

If Sunni fears of sectarian abuses are realized, the future of Iraq could be bleak.

“At some point, four or five months down the road, six months down the road, a year down the road, when the governance is not being delivered, services are not being delivered, sectarian violence is taking place … [IS will] see an environment in which the conditions are ripe for them to re-establish themselves,” warned Patrick Martin, Iraq research analyst with the Institute for the Study of War. (VOA)

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Muslims in Malaysia Rally In Kuala Lumpur To Keep Status

Mahathir’s new government won a stunning victory in a May 9 general election amid anger over a massive corruption scandal.

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Malaysia, Malay
Protesters rally near a mosque to celebrate the government's decision not to ratify a U.N. anti-discrimination convention, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Dec. 8, 2018. Thousands of Malaysian Muslims are rallying against any attempt to strip ethnic Malay majority of their privileges. VOA

Tens of thousands of Malaysian Muslims rallied Saturday in Kuala Lumpur against any attempt to strip the ethnic Malay majority of its privileges, in the first massive street gathering since Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s alliance won a historic vote in May.

The rally, backed by the country’s two largest opposition Malay parties, was initially aimed at protesting a government plan to ratify a U.N. treaty against racial discrimination. Critics allege that ratifying the treaty would end Malay privileges under a decades-old affirmative action policy. The plan to ratify was eventually abandoned, but organizers decided to proceed with what they called a “thanksgiving” rally.

Rare racial clashes

Racial clashes have been rare in multiracial Malaysia since deadly riots in 1969. A year later, Malaysia instituted a preferential program that gives Malays privileges in jobs, education, contracts and housing to help narrow a wealth gap with the minority Chinese. Ethnic Malays account for nearly two-thirds of the country’s 32 million people, with large Chinese and Indian minorities.

Malaysia, Malay
A protester covers his face with headbands reading “No to ICERD” during a rally to celebrate the government’s decision not to ratify a U.N. anti-discrimination convention called ICERD at Independent Square in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Dec. 8, 2018. ICERD stands for International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. VOA

Saturday’s rally came less than two weeks after more than 80 people were arrested in a riot at an Indian temple in a suburb outside Kuala Lumpur. The government was quick to stress that the violence was the result of a land dispute and was not a racial riot. Still, the government warned Saturday’s rally-goers not to make any provocative statements that could fan racial tensions.

Mahathir said the government allowed the rally as part of democracy, but warned against any chaos. The rally was held under tight police security, but ended peacefully after rain started to fall.

Former Prime Minister Najib Razak, who has been charged with multiple counts of corruption, was among opposition lawmakers at the rally.

In the streets, 55,000

Police said there were at least 55,000 people on the streets. Many wore white T-shirts and headbands with the words “Reject ICERD,” referring to the U.N. treaty, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

The protesters gathered at three locations before marching to a nearby historic square, chanting “Long live the Malays” and “Crush ICERD.”

malay
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, right gestures to Myanmar’s Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi, to move in closer for the group hand shake as Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak, left, watches during the opening ceremony of the 28th and 29th ASEAN summits at National Convention Center in Vientiane, Laos, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016. VOA

“Yes, we did not ratify ICERD, but we are still here to say that we are still against it,” said shopkeeper Rosli Ikhsan. “Even if the government has said they won’t endorse it, we are still protesting with all our might from all of Malaysia.”

Mahathir’s new government won a stunning victory in a May 9 general election amid anger over a massive corruption scandal involving Najib and his government, but many Malays still support Najib’s party, the United Malays National Organization, and the Malaysian Islamic Party, which controls two of the country’s 13 states.

Some analysts say Najib and his party were using the rally to shift attention away from corruption charges against Najib, his wife, his party’s president and former government officials.

Also Read: Syrian Stranded at Malaysia Airport in a Political Limbo

“For me, ICERD is bad,” university student Nurul Qamariah said at the rally. “It’s bad because it will erode the position of Malays. This is a country for Malays. We want Malays to be superiors, but why do these people want to make Malays the same level as Chinese and Indians?” (VOA)