One of the policies pursued by Iran and the Quds Force in Iraq is forcing Sunnis from their hometowns to migrate to other areas. Tehran is executing this policy by implementing its “burned grounds” tactics. In this regard one can refer to the areas retaken from ISIS by Quds Force-associated militias, such as Jurf al-Sakhar located south of Baghdad, Tikrit and various areas of Diyala Province which have been attacked and devastated to such an extent that months later locals have yet to be able to return to their homes. The latest case of these widespread attacks by Quds Force-associated militia groups took place in Baiji in the northern sections of Salahadin Province, supported by the Revolutionary Guards itself. These attacks are continuing to this day and in this report we will refer to a number of the crimes committed by the militia groups.
These militias and Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) in their attacks on Baiji and its vicinity have destroyed the homes and lives of the locals, and also devastated the mosques of the Sunni community in this area. Leveling homes and mosques, and setting houses and other buildings ablaze are all common methods resorted to by Quds Force-associated militias when entering any area of combat. This method is dubbed as “burned grounds” aimed at destroying any possibility of locals returning to the region, and militias and PMF units are resorting to when entering any district, all under the pretext of combatting ISIS. The aim is to create a climate of fear and force local Sunnis out of these areas, plunder the people’s property, level their homes, abduct locals for ransom, destroy and set ablaze mosques to make life in that particular region literally impossible in the future. Militia and PMF commanders have given their units a green light to carry out any such measures after taking over combat areas. These units are seen stealing and conducting all types of crimes against Sunnis in various areas of combat. In Baiji when the widespread and horrific crimes committed by these forces came under the spotlight in the media and leaked to the outside world, PMF spokesman Karim Nouri appeared on state-run al-Iraqiya TV and claimed, “… unfortunately, after we gained victory in Baiji, voices were heard raising bogus allegations and various ISIS-related satellite stations are attempting to claim events have taken place that are not true, such as setting mosques ablaze and bombing homes.”
These remarks were made when video footages of mosques being bombed and set ablaze were broadcasted through various TV stations.
1. Destroying homes and Sunni mosques are not limited to one specific area. In fact, militia groups are resorting to this policy – dictated by the Quds Force and senior PMF officials such as Hadi al-Ameri and Abu Mahdi al-Mohandess – as part of the operations carried out in various areas. Systematic assassinations, abductions, plundering and setting people’s homes and property ablaze, bombing and destroying Sunni mosques, killing worshippers, destroying and setting farms ablaze and … are all carried out with the goal of implementing forced demographic changes in the poupulations of various regions, all under the guise of fighting ISIS.
2. From October 18th to the 24th, Quds Force-associated militia groups and PMF units in Baiji and the vicinity bombed or set fire to 65 homes belonging to Sunni locals of the area. These measures were carried out under the pretext that those facilities were used to hide ISIS fighters. While these attacks were carried out al-Ameri had ordered all reporters banned from that area.
3. On October 19th militia groups affiliated to the Mokhtar Battalion of the Ali Akbar Brigade took over and bombed the Fattah Mosque to the ground the next day during their operations in liberating the city of Baiji and making advances in this area. Militia commanders claimed ISIS snipers are using such mosques, and therefore all Sunni mosques must be levelled. From their point of view any individual remaining in these areas are considered “pagans” and “useless”. Furthermore, the districts of al-Siniye and al-Asriye were scenes of numerous mosques being destroyed by Katayeb Hezbollah, Ali Akbar Brigade and Badr.
4. In addition to mosques the homes of villagers and others that are located in the path of the militias’ advances were first plundered, the owners’ property stolen and then set ablaze or levelled to the ground.
5. From October 12th to the 15th a Revolutionary Guards artillery unit began barraging people’s homes in villages around Baiji and other ares near this city. Al-Ameri ordered all militia commanders that after the heavy artillery attack any individual remaining in Baiji and the vicinity areas must be considered terorirst and in cooperation with ISIS. Therefore, every home in this path must be bombed and destroyed, or else they will later on be used by ISIS against militia forces. Each of the locals seen in their path must be killed because they are all terorrists, he added.
6. During the Baiji operations PMF spokesman Karim Nouri and al-Ameri did not allow any reporters – other than those related to militia units –enter the area to take video footages and prepare reports. Al-Ameri’s policy was to cover-up any news regarding the murder and killing sprees launched by the militias in Sunni areas, and prevent news agencies from preparing any reports in this regard.
7. Prior to the Baiji liberation operation, al-Ameri briefed all militia commanders they will not be able to maintain their control over the areas they retake from ISIS due to the shortage of forces. Therefore, in their advances they must inflict as many casualties as they can on the locals to prevent anyone from remaining in the region. He also told these forces they will be able to use tribes from other regions to transfer to this area and take control over the situation on the ground. On October 19th a segment of the police and Salahadin tribes were sent by al-Ameri to Baiji to protect the liberated areas.
8. In most of the operations al-Ameri was seen threatening local Sunnis in advance to evacuate the area or else face grave consequences. In late January of this year al-Ameri had threatened the residents of the town of Meqdadiya in Diyala Province before operations began in this district. “The day of accountability is near” and “We will attack this area and leave nothing in tact. Is my message clear?” These were some of the remarks he made in threatening the locals.
9. Plundering and setting people’s homes and property ablaze, levelling mosques and … are no new methods used by the militias. In other operations Sunni homes and mosques were always targeted by the militias. During the operations in Sa’diya and Jalulua in late November 2014 militia groups and PMF units entered these two towns, began massacring local Sunnis and setting ablaze and destroying a large number of markets. They also levelled 22 mosques in this area. On January 24th of this year militia groups and PMF units attacked the village of Sharwin near the town of Meqdadiya and in addition to massacring the locals they also destroyed and set 12 mosques ablaze.
10. Militia groups and PMF units were briefed by al-Ameri and other senior PMF officials to destroy all homes to prevent ISIS from returning to those areas. Their pretext for such measures was to rid the area of all IEDs. However, their true objective was to prevent any locals from returning to their homes ever again.