BAGHDAD – Iraq's Interior Ministry said it launched an investigation into allegations of human rights violations perpetrated by its forces fighting the Islamic State group in Mosul.
The allegations were first reported by Germany's Der Spiegel magazine last weekend. The report, authored by an Iraqi photographer reportedly embedded with the police unit, claims he witnessed killing, torture and rape of IS suspects.
The ministry's spokesman, Brig. Gen Saad Maan, said on Tuesday that the newspaper report identifies the Emergency Response Division — an elite unit that answers to the Interior Ministry and has been closely backed by the U.S.-led coalition in the Mosul fight — as the perpetrator of the abuses. Maan did not give a time frame for the investigating but said "legal measures will be applied ... against wrongdoers."
An officer with the ERD reached by The Associated Press said his unit is not authorized to comment and that all inquiries should be directed to the Interior Ministry. In other developments, Amnesty International released a report on Wednesday saying the U.S. Army in Iraq and Kuwait failed to keep track of more a $1 billion worth of arms and other military equipment provided to forces in the fight against IS, according to a 2016 Department of Defense audit obtained by the rights group.
The report "makes for especially sobering reading, given the long history of leakage of U.S. arms to multiple armed groups committing atrocities in Iraq, including the armed group calling itself the Islamic State," said Patrick Wilcken, a researcher with Amnesty. Iraq's ERD forces have been closely backed by airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition in the fight to retake Mosul. Coalition forces also shared surveillance and intelligence information with the forces to aid in their advances on the city's eastern and western sides.
Following the Interior Ministry statement, Brett McGurk, U.S. envoy for the global coalition against IS, said Iraqi security forces have "bravely placed civilian protection as top priority" throughout the Mosul campaign but that "individuals or units failing to uphold that standard ... must be investigated and held accountable."
U.S.-backed Iraqi forces are closing in on the last IS held neighborhoods in western Mosul nearly three years after the extremists overran almost a third of Iraq in 2014. With the help of more than 12,000 airstrikes and $12.5 billion dollars in training, logistics and support from the U.S.-led coalition, in addition to Iranian training and support, Iraqi forces have retaken more than half of the territory IS once held in the country.
The operation to retake Mosul was launched in October and the city's east was declared "fully liberated" in January.
Associated Press writers Geir Moulson in Berlin and Susannah George in Baghdad contributed to this report.