Side Event at the 33rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council


15th September 2016

The Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria and the militias in Iraq all share something in common. They are supported, manned, funded and often led by the Iranian regime. We are witnessing a dangerous upsurge of pro-Iranian militias across the Middle East and often, the brutality of these mercenary groups is every bit as barbarous and criminal as ISIS or Daesh. Why is it then that the West seems to pay so little attention to this phenomenon? Why is it that we know how many EU citizens are travelling to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS, but we have no idea how many are travelling there to join the militias in their genocidal and sectarian war against the civilian population of the towns and cities occupied by ISIS?

Horrific sectarian atrocities were committed during the so-called ‘liberation’ of the ancient city of Fallujah, 43 miles from Baghdad. Iranian-led Shi’ia militias who formed the main part of the force fighting to re-capture the city from Daesh (ISIS), systematically arrested Sunni men and women fleeing the conflict. Many were tortured and executed. The Shi’ia militias are financed and led by the Iranian terrorist Qods Force, whose senior commander General Qasem Soleimani is on the EU and US terrorist lists. Soleimani spearheaded the attack on Fallujah. His presence was confirmed in an astonishing statement by Iraq’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim Jafari on 7th June, when he said:  “Qasem Soleimani provides military advice on Iraqi soil and this is with the complete awareness of our government.”

The Iranian regime is exploiting its role in ousting Daesh (ISIS) as a means for implementing its genocidal policy of ethnic cleansing to annihilate the Sunnis in Iraq’s al-Anbar Province. They claim that they have to detain all people fleeing from the cities that were held by ISIS in case some of them may be Daesh jihadists. But this is simply an excuse to perpetrate barbaric atrocities on innocent Sunnis. In June this year the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said: “Eyewitnesses have described how armed groups operating in support of the Iraqi security forces are intercepting people fleeing the conflict, separating the men and teenage boys from the women and children, and detaining the males for ‘security screening’, which in some cases degenerates into physical violations and other forms of abuse, apparently in order to elicit forced confessions. There are even allegations that some individuals have been summarily executed by these armed groups.” Mass graves have already been discovered near Fallujah containing bodies that have been burned, stabbed and brutalised. The Shi’ia dominated Iraqi government has launched an investigation into allegations of executions and torture of Sunni civilians and the disappearance of over 1,000 Sunni men.

The same thing happened during the so-called ‘liberation’ of Ramadi, a city of over one million predominantly Sunni people, which was reduced to dust and rubble. Barely a single building was left intact and the male population simply disappeared. Throughout the battle to recapture Ramadi and Fallujah there was a deliberate attempt by Iraqi forces to provide a lower figure for the civilian population trapped in these cities, in order to hide the inevitable death toll arising from the savage bombardment of residential areas, as well as the active participation of the Iranian regime's Qods Force and its affiliated militias.

Tehran is relentlessly strengthening its grip over Iraq. Corruption and poor training has rendered the Iraqi army almost useless, leaving a vacuum, which the Iranian regime has been quick to fill, pressurising Iraq’s Prime Minister into allowing the Iranian-funded militias to take control of military operations. Political disarray in Baghdad, combined with a directionless and dysfunctional American foreign policy, has paved the way for the fascist Iranian mullah-led regime to consolidate its hold in Iraq.

The Iraqi Sunnis of al-Anbar have paid a heavy price for international complacency. Having achieved their sectarian objectives in Diyala, Ramadi and Fallujah, Tehran has now turned its attention to Mosul in Nineveh Province, Northern Iraq.  Mosul is Iraq’s second biggest city with a population of more than two million Sunnis; it has been held by Daesh since 2014 and its ethnic cleansing features highly on the Iranian regime’s priority list. The Sunni population of Mosul fear they will face the same fate as their brothers and sisters in Ramadi and Fallujah. Last month New York based Human Rights Watch asked Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to exclude the Shi’ia militias from the battle for Mosul. But there is little hope that this will happen.

Nevertheless the war against terrorists could continue for some time to come, partly because the breeding ground for the creation and growth of Daesh still exists in Iraq. The widespread purge of Sunnis from the political scene and their brutal repression, not least by the almost one hundred pro-Iranian Shi’ia militias that currently operate in Iraq, means that many Sunnis fear the sectarian militias more than they fear Daesh. US military officials estimate that there are now more than 100,000 Iranian-backed Shi’ite militiamen fighting on the ground in Iraq. Indeed the eventual collapse of Daesh in Iraq will not herald a new dawn of peace and safety for the beleaguered Iraqi people. Such is the corrupt and decrepit state of Iraq’s crumbling political system that any vacuum created by the removal of Daesh may be quickly filled by new and menacing threats to security.

The invasion of Iraq and its consequences were exposed in great detail in the UK by the long anticipated Chilcot Report published on 6th July this year. Chilcot laid the blame for the illegal invasion firmly on the shoulders of George W. Bush and Tony Blair, but the West’s mishandling of the aftermath of the invasion and the occupation of Iraq revealed an equally sorry picture. From the moment in May 2003 when the US administration appointed Paul Bremer, a man with zero Middle East experience, as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Baghdad, disaster was unavoidable. Bremer made some dreadful decisions that have had repercussions to this day. Firstly he dissolved the Ba’ath Party and banned all members of the party above a certain rank from holding any position in Iraq’s public services. Secondly, he dissolved the Iraqi armed forces, sending over 300,000 heavily armed and well trained young men home without pay and at the same time ending the salary and pensions of thousands of military officers.

The West’s cack-handed attempts at imposing democracy on occupied Iraq were equally catastrophic. Nouri al-Maliki soon emerged as the Godfather of a gangster class of politicians, shoehorned into power as Iraq’s puppet Prime Minister at the insistence of the Iranian regime and meekly buttressed by the Americans. His venal corruption and genocidal policy of aggression against Iraq’s Sunni population catapulted the country into civil war and opened the door for the invasion of Daesh and their subsequent seizure of vast tracts of Iraqi territory. Maliki is still a manipulative force in Iraqi political circles using the vast wealth he accumulated during eight years in office to finance his own private army and continually playing a dirty role in Iraq. Such is the frustration and contempt of the Iraqi people with their political leaders that there have been massive demonstrations and even assaults on Baghdad’s Green Zone and Party headquarters and offices.

Political instability in Iraq has been exploited by Daesh, who have returned to their al-Qaeda roots by mounting a series of devastating suicide bomb attacks on civilian neighbourhoods in Baghdad and other major cities, exacerbating sectarian tensions and adding to the horrendous casualty list of up to one million deaths over the 13 years since the US and British invasion of Iraq.

The autonomous Kurdish region in Northern Iraq looks set to hold a referendum on independence possibly in November this year. A breakaway Kurdish State may mark the beginning of the fragmentation of Iraq and the emergence of Iran as the ultimate victor. Iranian support for the bloody regime of Bashar al-Assad has prolonged the civil war in Syria. Their support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, has caused untold suffering and death. But their blatant meddling in Iraq and their clear backing for the genocide of the Iraqi Sunni population has driven the country to the brink of disintegration.

The international community can remain silent no longer in the face of such crimes against humanity. The Iranian-funded and led militias are now guilty of crimes every bit as horrific as the terrorist Daesh jihadists who they are supposed to be trying to defeat. They are the other face of terrorism. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, US President Barack Obama and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Federica Mogherini must speak out now and demand an end to these atrocities and an end to Iranian meddling in Iraq.

The only possible solution in Iraq is for the international community to assert pressure for real reforms, which must include the expulsion of Iran and its agents from Iraq and the disarming of the Shi’ia militias. Iraq must re-integrate the Sunnis and other minorities into society, completely reforming the heavily politicised judiciary and stamping out corruption. Time may be running out for Daesh and its dreams of a caliphate, but time is also running out for Iraq.

Defeating Daesh in Mosul, cannot happen by using Shi’ia militias affiliated to the Quds force at the expense of the Iraqi population. Western cooperation with the criminal militias, even if it ultimately leads to the expulsion of Daesh from Mosul, will strengthen the jihadists in the long term and as soon as the US military and air force leave Iraq, Daesh will return.

No-one can expect a miracle in Iraq. But leaving a wrecked and devastated nation will not provide a sound legacy for the West. If it adopts the correct strategy, there may still be time.