BAGHDAD – Iraq's prime minister vowed on Monday to protect the people living in territories controlled by the Islamic State group from any retribution or rights violations when their lands are retaken by government forces.
Speaking in Irbil, capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, Haider al-Abadi pledged that the "properties and rights" of local residents would be respected once Islamic State militants were driven out.
"We assure the people of Anbar and Ninevah provinces and other territories under IS control that we do respect the people and will not tolerate any violations against their properties, rights and souls," al-Abadi said.
Volunteer Shiite militiamen, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, have fought alongside Iraqi army troops and are credited with playing a crucial role in pushing Islamic State militants out of Tikrit and other cities. However the Iranian-backed Shiite militias have also been accused of looting and vandalizing the Sunni towns they have retaken.
Al-Abadi admits that dozens of houses and shops were burned in Tikrit, and that several people were arrested and now await trial over violations committed there.
With Tikrit taken, many residents expect the government offensive to now target either Anbar province or Ninevah province -- home to Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul -- for the next phase of the effort to push back the Islamic State group. But some Sunni residents remain fearful that a government victory would simply trade the harsh rule of the Islamic militants for vengeance from undisciplined Shiite militiamen.
The Islamic State group controls about a third of northern and western Iraq.
;In Monday's violence, police and hospital officials said three people were killed and 17 others were wounded in two separate bombings targeting public spaces in the capital, Baghdad.
;All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.