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Iraqi Kurds destroyed Arab villages and homes: HRW.

An Arab home purportedly destroyed by Iraqi peshmergas is shown in this picture released with a report of the Human Rights Watch on Sunday.

ERBIL, Iraq: Kurdish fighters battling Daesh militants in Iraq's Kurdistan region have destroyed Arab villages or homes in what may amount to a war crime, US-based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Sunday. In a report titled "Marked With An 'X': Iraqi Kurdish Forces' Destruction of Villages, Homes in Conflict with ISIS," HRW said the victorious Peshmerga forces "targeted Arab homes while leaving Kurdish homes intact." Kurdish peshmerga and Iraqi armed forces have faced a common enemy in the Daesh since the militants took over large parts of Iraq in 2014. Iraqi troops and Kurdish fighters make up the 100,000-strong, US-backed alliance currently battling to retake Mosul. But animosity persists, going back to decades of mistreatment of Kurds by ruling Arabs in Baghdad, especially under Saddam Hussein. Reuters found last month that Kurds are using the battle against Daesh (Arabic acronym of Islamic State) to settle old disputes and grab land in ethnically mixed territory separating the Kurdish region in the north from the majority Arab south. The 80-page report said that violations between September 2014 and May 2016 in 21 towns and villages within disputed areas of Kirkuk and Nineveh provinces had followed "a pattern of apparently unlawful demolitions." The areas are nominally under the jurisdiction of Baghdad but are controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Field visits The HRW report is based on more than a dozen field visits and interviews with over 120 witnesses and officials. Analysis of satellite images suggests property destruction targeted Arab residents long after any military necessity for such actions had ended. "In village after village in Kirkuk and Nineveh, KRG security forces destroyed Arab homes - but not those belonging to Kurds - for no legitimate military purpose," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at HRW. The satellite imagery provides evidence of destruction in 62 other villages following their capture by Kurdish security forces, but HRW said a lack of witness accounts made it difficult to determine cause and responsibility in those instances. The report said KRG and Peshmerga officials said that some of the property destruction resulted from bombing by the US-led anti-Daesh coalition and Peshmerga artillery fire. "This is consistent with Human Rights Watch analysis of some before-and-after satellite imagery. But in the overwhelming majority of cases, the satellite imagery showed damage patterns consistent with the use of bulldozers, fires, and high explosives - hardly safe ways to clear mines and explosive devices - after fighting had ended and KRG forces were in control," the report said. "In a more recent round of demolitions and displacements, Kurdish authorities ejected at least 325 Arab residents and Arab internally displaced people from Kirkuk governorate following an ISIS attack on Kirkuk on October 21, 2016, and demolished at least 100 homes. In the days leading up to the expulsions, HRW examined satellite images from September 2016 to October 12, 2016, and identified 85 demolished buildings. "The images showed most of the destruction took place between September 11 and 27, in the "June First" neighborhood in southern Kirkuk, inhabited by a mix of long-term Arab residents of Kirkuk, families who fled violence in Diyala and Baghdad in 2007, and Arabs displaced from ISIS held territory in 2014," the report said. Unintended demolitions KRG leaders have maintained that these are historically Kurdish areas that they intend to incorporate into the Kurdistan region. The Kurdish region has taken in more than 1 million people from elsewhere in Iraq, who have been displaced by the conflict, most of them Sunni Arabs. The KRG has denied any systematic policy of destruction of Arab homes, but said peshmerga had carried out demolitions for security reasons such as clearing booby-trapped homes. KRG and Peshmerga officials said that their forces often needed to destroy homes because Daesh had rigged them with improvised mines and explosive devices, it said. Kurdish officials have stated their intention to absorb land recovered from Daesh into their autonomous region and prevent Arab residents from returning to areas "Arabized" decades ago by Saddam Hussein. Dindar Zebari, the head of a KRG's committee tasked with responding to international reports, said authorities had carried out a thorough investigation, examining cases in individual villages. "There was a strategic intention for the destruction of houses or a number of these villages," Zebari told reporters in Erbil. "(The) large presence of IEDs placed in these areas, especially in civilian properties, has been a huge cause of the destruction following the liberation process. "Sometimes we have no choice ... before entering a village you destroy as much as you can to make sure everything is safe." Zebari attributed much of the rest of the damage to US-led coalition air strikes on Daesh positions or to exchanges of artillery fire during fighting. He said militiamen allied to the peshmerga had demolished some homes in apparent revenge, but denied peshmerga participation in those cases. Contrary opinion "But demining experts said that was inconsistent with accepted practices and that uncontrolled explosions risked dispersing explosives throughout rubble, making the area and later cleanup extremely unsafe. "In many cases, destruction of homes and villages took place weeks and months after Peshmerga retook control, indicating that eliminating Daesh-planted explosive devices was not essential to KRG military operations and did not meet the test under international humanitarian law of imperative necessity as a justification for attacks on civilian objects," the report said. It cited instances in which Peshmerga demolished buildings in villages that Daesh fighters had never captured. "In some of those cases, KRG leaders said their forces had destroyed homes because one or more inhabitants supported ISIS," the report said. HRW called on the United States, Germany and other members of an international coalition backing Iraqi forces in the fight against Daesh to pressure the Kurdish authorities to end the demolitions. It also called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to expand the investigation mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Daesh abuses to include serious violations by all parties, including KRG security forces. "The pattern of unlawful KRG destruction of Arab homes and villages is deeply disturbing in its own right," Stork said. "More than that, it is a recipe for continued conflict even if KRG and allied forces dislodge ISIS from Mosul and other territory it controls in Iraq," HRW said.

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Nov 13, 2016
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