cbc.ca (© Copyright: (C) Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, http://www.cbc.ca/aboutcbc/discover/termsofuse.html#Rss)
Updated: Mon, 01 Sep 2014 14:21:32 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Iraq crisis: UN backs inquiry of ISIS's alleged war crimes



Iraqi security forces and Shi'ite militias advance towards town of Amerli from their position in the Ajana, September 1, 2014. U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday formally notified Congress that he had authorized targeted air strikes in Iraq to help deliver a humanitarian aid to the besieged Shi'ite town of Amerli, the White House said in a statement. Iraqi security forces backed by Shi'ite militias on Sunday broke the two-month siege of Amerli by Islamic State militants and entered the northern town, after U.S. military carried out air strikes on IS militant positions near the town and airdropped humanitarian supplies to the trapped residents there. REUTERS/ Stringer (© IRAQ - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS MILITARY)

Iraqi security forces and Shi'ite militias advance towards town of Amerli from their position in the Ajana, September 1, 2014. U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday formally notified Congress that he had authorized targeted air strikes in Iraq to help deliver a humanitarian aid to the besieged Shi'ite town of Amerli, the White House said in a statement. Iraqi security forces backed by Shi'ite militias on Sunday broke the two-month siege of Amerli by Islamic State militants and entered the northern town, after U.S. military carried out air strikes on IS militant positions near the town and airdropped humanitarian supplies to the trapped residents there. REUTERS/ Stringer (IRAQ - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS MILITARY) - RTR44K4Y Reuters

The UN's top human rights body today approved the Iraqi government's request for an investigation into alleged crimes against civilians committed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group in its rampage across northeastern Syria and Iraq.

Diplomats agreed by unanimous consent, during a meeting Monday in a special session of the 47-national Human Rights Council, to approve a nearly $1.2-million US UN fact-finding mission.

Iraq's request for the UN to investigate alleged abuses by the extremist group was included in a resolution that more broadly condemns the group's severe tactics but also calls on Iraq's government to protect human rights.

Its aim is to provide the Geneva-based council with a report and evidence next March that could shed further light on Iraqi atrocities and be used as part of any international war crimes prosecution.

The approval of the investigation request came the same day the United Nations said at least 1,420 Iraqis were reported killed in violence in August, down from the previous month.

The UN mission to Iraq, known as UNAMI, said in its monthly statement that the death toll includes 1,265 civilians and 155 members of Iraq's security forces. It added that 1,370 were wounded, including 1,198 civilians. July's death toll stood at 1,737. In June, 2,400 were killed as Sunni militants swept across the country, the highest figure since at least April 2005.

Monday's UN session saw a draft resolution put forward by Iraq.

The session was focused on the threat posed by ISIS, which has seized cities, towns and vast tracts of land and carried out a number of massacres and beheadings, including of American journalist James Foley.

Iraq's human rights minister, Mohammed Shia' Al Sudani, said his country needs the world's support because the Islamic State "is not an Iraqi phenomenon, it is a transnational organization that is an imminent danger for all countries of the world." 

"Their movement must be curbed. Their assets should be frozen and confiscated. Their military capacities must be destroyed," he said.

Diplomats convened after the U.S. launched a series of airstrikes to prevent the group from advancing on the Kurdish regional capital of Irbil and to help protect members of the Yazidi minority who were stranded in Iraq's northwest.

War crimes, crimes against humanity alleged

In Geneva, UN officials expressed grave concern Monday at the reported atrocities in Iraq committed by both sides.

Flavia Pansieri, the UN deputy high commissioner for human rights, said ISIS's widespread, systematic persecution of ethnic and religious groups likely amounts to a crime against humanity. She said Iraqi government forces' execution of detainees and its shelling of civilian areas may also amount to war crimes.

Keith Harper, the U.S. ambassador for human rights in Geneva, told the council that as a co-sponsor of the Iraq resolution, the U.S. is appalled at the Islamic State's "heinous acts" that include extrajudicial killings, enslavement, deliberate targeting of civilians, sexual assault, and religious persecution.

He also pointed a finger at the Iraqi government.

"We urge the Iraqi government to take an even-handed approach to the investigation of all human rights violations and abuses, including allegations against government actors as well as terrorist groups," Harper said. 

As the UN heard from diplomats concerned about the Iraq crisis, aid began to flow Monday to a small northern Shia town in the country, a day after security forces backed by Iran-allied Shia militias and U.S. airstrikes broke a two-month siege by Sunni militants.

Ali al-Bayati, who heads local NGO the Turkmen Saving Foundation, said that four trucks loaded with foodstuffs, medicine and fruit had entered the town of Amirli. The aid was sent by the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Red Crescent, he said, adding that soldiers had begun bringing food to families in their houses Sunday night.

"The situation is getting back to normal, but gradually," al-Bayati told The Associated Press. "Some people have come out from their houses and walk in the street. Shops are still closed, but people are happy to see their city secured by Iraqi security forces."

Since early this year, Iraq has faced a growing Sunni insurgency led by an al-Qaida-breakaway group, the Islamic State, and allied militants have taken over territory in the country's north and west. The crisis is Iraq's worst since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The blitz stunned Iraqi security forces and the military, which melted away and withdrew as the Islamic State in June overran the northern cities of Mosul and Tikrit, as well as small towns and villages on their path.

Since then, Iraqi security forces and Shia militias have been fighting the militants without achieving significant progress on the ground. 

On Sunday, the forces managed to break a two-month siege imposed by the militants on Amirli, where about 15,000 Shia Turkmens were stranded.

Thousands of the Iranian-backed Shia militias have answered a call by Iraq-based cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to join government forces in the fight against the Sunni insurgents.

The U.S. airstrikes that helped liberate Amirli were the first to hit areas where the Iranian-backed militias fought Sunni militants, possibly outlining an unlikely alliance between the U.S. and Shia militiamen who once fought American soldiers in Iraq.

It also means the strikes supported forces backed by Iran, whose Revolutionary Guard military advisers have been guiding Shia militiamen in artillery attacks on Sunni positions.

Since Aug. 8, the U.S. has carried out at least 120 airstrikes with aircraft and unmanned drones. It has focused on areas bordering the self-ruled northern Kurdish region where Kurdish forces have been fighting the militants.

On Monday, the White House released a letter formally letting Congress leaders know that Obama approved the mission that repelled Sunni fighters in Amirli, and dropped food, water and medical supplies for civilians.

Such notifications are required by law and are considered a formality.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Central Command said that American military forces continued to attack Islamic militant targets, using fighter and attack aircraft to conduct three airstrikes Sunday and Monday near Mosul Dam.

It said the strikes destroyed three trucks, severely damaged another, destroyed an armed vehicle and took out a mortar position near the dam. The Central Command said all aircraft exited the strike area safely.

Merkel defends arming Kurdish fighters

In other news related to the Iraq crisis, Chancellor Angela Merkel has told German lawmakers that arming Kurdish fighters battling Islamic extremists in Iraq wasn't an easy decision, but is in her country's interest.

The government decided Sunday to deliver rifles, tank-busting weapons and armoured vehicles to forces fighting ISIS, breaking with Germany's previous reluctance to send weapons into conflicts.

Lawmakers were to hold a non-binding vote Monday in a special session of parliament, which was recalled from its summer break.

Merkel said the decision was "very carefully weighed." She said officials faced a choice between "taking no risks, not delivering [weapons] and ultimately accepting the expansion of terror" or supporting those fighting the extremists.

Merkel said: "The immense suffering of many people cries out, and our own security interests are threatened."

Other countries have also boosted arms and other aid to Iraq.

Last Friday, Canada said it is dispatching $2.75 million to aid groups along with humanitarian supplies. The government also confirmed the first Canadian delivery of arms to Iraqi and Kurdish forces battling Islamic militants.

more video