Iraqi forces have displaced, beaten and imprisoned members of at least 235 families of suspected Isil fighters, Human Rights Watch said on Sunday.

The rights watchdog accused the Popular Mobilisation Front (PMF), a group of government-linked Shiite militias that answer to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, of “waging collective punishment on civilians”.

Human Rights Watch said it conducted interviews with at least 235 families as well as officials, managers of camps for displaced people, and international organisations.

From these, it alleges that PMF forces removed the families of suspected Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) militants from their homes around the Hawija area and sent them to camps in the Kirkuk area.

During the displacement of these civilian families, groups within the PMF are alleged to have destroyed homes, forced parents to leave children behind, stolen families’ livestock and beaten some of the men.

“Retaliatory actions like these have no basis in law. Collective punishment is a violation of the laws of war,” Human Rights Watch’s Lama Fakih told the Telegraph.

Children whose father was arrested for being part of ISIL stand outside the tent in which they now live, in a camp for displaced people in Hamam al-Alil, near Mosul, Iraq, 2017Credit:
Sam Tarling / Telegraph

The report paints a grim picture of collective punishment doled out arbitrarily in response to a presumption of guilt by association.

Ms Fakih said that not only were the victims of abuses left with lifelong consequences including the loss of homes and livelihoods, but also that these abuses can often further the types of grievances that can lead to radicalisation.

This isn’t the first time the PMF have been accused of criminal acts on the battlefield. Separate HRW investigations in mid-2017 and late 2015, as well as UN investigations, also yielded similar allegations.

Rights groups allege that heaping blame on Baghdad is not enough, particularly for members of the coalition against Isil. The US, the UK, Canada and a host of European countries have provided troops, training, weapons and other means of support.

“As supporters to the Iraqi government, coalition members should send a clear message: we won’t support forces that participate in these types of abuses,” said Ms Fakih.

“Public pressure can make a difference, but it needs to come from all corners.”

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