LONDON - More than 12,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq so far this year, mainly by Islamic State (IS), and minorities facing ethnic cleansing are the principal victims, according to a report published on Thursday.
Minority Rights Group International (MRG) said several minority communities, including Christians, Yazidis and Turkmen, had been subjected to assassinations, kidnappings and sexual violence and were in danger of extinction in Iraq.
The civilian death toll almost doubled to 12,618 in the January-September period from 6,676 a year earlier, according to the report, which cited the Iraq Body Count database.
At least half a million people have been forced to flee their villages in Ninewa province, home to minority communities for thousands of years, according to the report, From Crisis to Catastrophe: the situation of minorities in Iraq.
Fighters of IS, a militant Sunni group, have seized control of large swaths of Syria and Iraq this year, attacking Shi'ite districts in Baghdad and taking over surrounding farmland where Iraqi security forces and Shi'ite militias try to push them back.
MRG executive director Mark Lattimer said the Iraqi government had shown that it was “either unable or unwilling to protect the safety of minorities.”
“Since minorities generally do not have their own militias or tribal protection structures like the majority groups in society, they are especially vulnerable,” Lattimer said in a statement accompanying the report.
“In the vast majority of cases, investigations are not properly conducted and the perpetrators of attacks go unpunished, often with indications of official complicity.”
Minorities persecuted for years
MRG said that Iraq's minorities had faced summary exeuctions, armed robberies, torture and bombings for years.
Members of minorities who have not fled the country live in constant fear for their safety, as their religious sites are the target of attacks and they are afraid of openly displaying their religious identities, the report said.
The government has done nothing to compensate victims or to rebuild infrastructure damaged in IS attacks on minority communities, who have little access to clean water, electricity, housing and healthcare, according to the report.
“The sectarianism gripping Iraq's government and security forces must be reversed and those responsible for attacks on minorities should be held to account in Iraq, and internationally,” Lattimer said.
All parties to the conflict should abide by international humanitarian law and should prohibit any aerial bombardment, or other attack, expected to result in a disproportionate loss of civilian life, he added.
The report also called for measures to provide refuge in foreign countries to Iraqis fleeing persecution and to prevent the transfer of financial support to IS and other armed groups responsible for gross abuses.
MRG works to secure rights for ethnic, national, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples around the world.