BAGHDAD — Iraq's Shiite militias have abducted and killed "scores" of Sunni civilians in retaliation for the onslaught by the Sunni militant Islamic State group, Amnesty International said Tuesday, claiming that the attacks are supported by the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.
The Shiite militiamen number in the tens of thousands and wear military uniforms but operate outside any legal framework and without any official oversight, Amnesty said.
Moreover, they are not prosecuted for the crimes, the London-based watchdog warned in its new report, entitled "Absolute Impunity: Militia Rule in Iraq."
The accusations were based on interviews with families and survivors who claimed that members of four prominent Iraqi Shiite militias — Asaib Ahl al-Haq, the Badr Brigades, the Mahdi Army, and Ketaeb Hizbollah — were behind many abductions and killings of Sunnis in the country.
The report underscores a possible new layer in the complex violence that has gripped Iraq since the Islamic State group's lightening offensive this summer. The Sunni militants seized large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, carving out a self-styled caliphate, imposing strict Islamic law and expelling hundreds of thousands of Iraqis of religious and other minorities from their homes.
Sunni grievances have metastasized since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003 and handed power to the long-oppressed Shiite majority. Their anger fueled the Islamic State militants' rampage across northern and western Iraq, and the militant onslaught has aggravated sectarian tensions elsewhere, again driving Iraq to the brink of civil war.
After Iraq's second-largest city, Mosul, fell to the militants in June, then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called upon volunteers to reinforce the humiliated military, and many Shiite militias quickly reported for duty. But with different leaders and divided loyalties among the militias, they were impossible to control. Al-Maliki's successor, Haider al-Abadi, has pledged to bring the militias under control.
Amnesty says the government is not doing its job to prosecute Shiite militia crimes but is also condoning them.
"By granting its blessing to militias who routinely commit such abhorrent abuses, the Iraqi government is sanctioning war crimes and fuelling a dangerous cycle of sectarian violence that is tearing the country apart," said Donatella Rovera, a senior adviser with Amnesty.
"Shiite militias are ruthlessly targeting Sunni civilians on a sectarian basis under the guise of fighting terrorism, in an apparent bid to punish Sunnis for the rise of the (Islamic State group) and for its heinous crimes," she added.
Amnesty says the fate of many of the Sunni abductees remains unknown and that some captives have been killed even after their families paid ransoms of $80,000 and more.