One of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite militia groups has been found to be responsible for a massacre in August that killed 32 Sunni civilians in a mosque shooting. A Human Rights Watch report released on Sunday detailed the testimony of the five witnesses. All of them identified the perpetrators of the massacre as the Iranian sponsored Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq militia.
This attack took place in Diyala, a governate to the north-east of Baghdad at the Musab Bin Omair mosque. A witness, who came in just after the massacre had taken place told Human Rights Watch “What I saw was indescribable, inhuman. Most of the people were injured, not dead, and were crying out for water and for help with their injuries. I saw a man whose left side of his head was completely blown off.”
Despite the fact that the shootings were broadcast over the mosque’s loudspeaker, which had been switched on for the service, no security forces responded to the attack. This was even though there was an army checkpoint only 200m away and a police checkpoint a mere 150m away.
Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, an expert of Islamist militia groups in Syria and Iraq, said that this tragedy was all too predictable. “Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq have long been committing sectarian abuses in Diyala” he said, adding “and in the present state of affairs are almost untouchable.”
They are backed by Iran and allied to other powerful Shiite militia factions that have grown ever stronger since the army melted in the face of the Islamic State’s advance earlier this year. A spokesman for Iraq’s Interior Ministry which officially has authority over the various militias said that the massacre of Sunni civilians was a reprisal for an IED that had gone off earlier in the day. He called the killings “a normal, spontaneous reaction of revenge.”
This is by no means an isolated incident. An Amnesty International report released in October detailed a litany of atrocties of Shiite militants across Iraq. In the northern Salehuddin province, south of Kurdish controlled areas, village after village has been destroyed;looted and burned by Shiite militias. Groups such as the Saraya al-Khorasani Brigade came into the region after recapturing it from the Islamic State. They seem to have embarked on a campaign to rid the area of all Sunnis, accusing them of being sympathetic to the Islamic State. Tirana Hassan from Foreign Policy reported that in the village of Yengija “The destruction was overwhelming. The only houses that remained standing shared one common feature — blackened exterior windows showing where the militia had set fire to them in their efforts to destroy whatever they could not loot.”
Dozens of villages in the surrounding area were razed to the ground in this way. Their inhabitants were driven out or worse. There are no signs that the violence is slowing or that the Iraqi government is taking action to reign in the excesses of its Shiite militia groups.