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News 05 Jan 17

Balkan Weapons Flowing to Iraqi Militias, Amnesty Warns

Arms from at least 16 countries have flowed to paramilitary militias allied to the Iraqi government who have used them to commit serious human rights violations, rights group Amnesty International says.

Mariya Cheresheva
BIRN
Members of Iraq's Badr Brigade, a Shia militia, man the last line of defence between Islamic State militans and the capital Baghdad, August 25, 2014. Photo: Jerome Starkey/Flickr

A new report by Amnesty International, published on Thursday, says weapons from various countries - including Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania - have ended up in Iraq with mainly Shiite militia groups, which have used the arms to commit serious crimes.

Field research and analysis of photographic and video evidence since June 2014 has found that these predominantly Shiite militias, fighting against Islamic State in Iraq alongside Iraqi government troops, have accessed arms produced in at least 16 countries, mainly the US, Russia and European states.

According to Amnesty, so-called Popular Mobilization Units, PMU, which formally joined the Iraqi armed forces in 2016, have used those arms to commit war crimes, undertake revenge attacks and other atrocities against Iraqi Sunnis.

“International arms suppliers, including the USA, European countries, Russia and Iran, must wake up to the fact that all arms transfers to Iraq carry a real risk of ending up in the hands of militia groups with long histories of human rights violations,” said Patrick Wilcken, Researcher on Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty.

The London-based rights group recalled that, as of 2015, Iraq was the sixth largest arms importer of heavy weapons in the world.

The report said the PMUs deploy at least 100 types of weapons, ranging from heavy weapons such as tanks and artillery to a variety of small arms, including Kalashnikovs, M-16 automatic rifles, machine guns, handguns and sniper rifles.

Among the identified arms are Croatian handguns and HS Produkt VHS-1 series rifles, Serbian M70 rifles, Romanian PSL precision rifles, as well as RPK type machine guns that were manufactured in the former Yugoslavia.

More recently delivered artillery guns deployed by the same militias include Bulgarian 152 mm D-20 and MQ-1M PK machine guns manufactured by Arsenal, likely delivered to Iraq between 2008 and 2011, Amnesty said.

The rights organization expressed grave concern about the capacity and will of the Iraqi authorities to secure and manage incoming military stocks.

“Any state selling arms to Iraq has to show that there are strict measures in place to make sure the weapons will not be used by paramilitary militias to flagrantly violate rights. If they haven’t done that, no transfer should take place,” Wilcken said. 

Amnesty has regularly accused Western governments of turning a blind eye to the end destination and end purpose of arms exported to Africa and the Middle East.

In May 2016 Amnesty condemned Balkan countries for selling arms to Egypt, which it said had used them for killings and torture.

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