Salah al-Din Villagers: Our lives are worse now under Shia militia control than during ISIS Era.
By MECRA RESEARCHER in IRAQ
The following is the combined testimony of a number of individuals resident in the vicinity of Farhatiya village, Salah al Din ( صلاح الدين) Province, Iraq. The Sunni village was the site of an incident in which eight civilians were massacred by gunmen on Saturday, October 17th. Four other men are missing. No organization has taken responsibility for the attack. Many of the local people suspect the involvement of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq (عصائب الحق) militia, a pro-Iranian Shia force, in the killings. MECRA’s Iraq correspondent travelled to the area and spoke with local people in the days following the massacre. The individuals interviewed asked both for their names and identifying details not to be made public.
Farhatiya (الفرحاتية) is an area controlled by Asaib Ahl al Haq. In recent weeks, people from the village went to representatives of the militia to complain about certain security issues in their area. They spoke with the leader of AAH there, telling him that unknown, suspicious individuals had been seen in the area, and AAH should address this, as they are responsible for the area. In response, the local commander told them that the area was fully under control and they should not worry.
People in this area do not trust the PMU and prefer to secure their village by their own efforts. They placed armed men on the roofs of a number of houses to keep watch. On October 16th, four armed men were spotted entering the village. One of the guards on the roof called on them to identify themselves. They responded by opening fire on him. He returned fire, killing one of them. The others returned, apparently to the headquarters of AAH. Asaib ahl Al-Haq then returned the next day with a large armed force, in the middle of the night. They took 12 males from the village to an unknown place. The force came at 12 at night in seven four-wheel drive Adhari vehicles. In the morning eight dead bodies were found in the countryside around the village. At 1 am the people of the village reported hearing the sound of intense gunfire. At 4 am the murdered individuals were found near the Al-Ishaqi* project.
The names of the murdered individuals are:
1- Hamid Karim Jassim/ 2- Nihad Hamid Karim/ 3- Issa Hamid Karim/ 4- Musa Hamid Karim/ 5- Cosanzan Taha Karim/ 6- Jamal Muhammad Jamar/ 7- Muhannad Ibrahim Ali Hazaa /8- Aziz Ibrahim Ali Hazaa.
Eyewitnesses saw the force of Asa'ib Ahl Al Haq, after they passed from Al-Farhatiya Road, and approached and entered their headquarters in the Balad station. Four people are still missing.
According to individuals interviewed by MECRA, it is ‘common knowledge’ in Farhatiya that the PMU and specifically Asaib was responsible for the massacre. Villagers spoken to asserted that both the police and the provincial governor are aware of this, but no one is prepared to speak publicly about this, either because they are afraid or because they share interests with Asaib.
Abu Haider is the chief leader of Asaib militia in this area. He hails from the south of Iraq. Asaib took control of the area after the defeat of ISIS.
Control of Salah al-Din Province is divided between a number of Shia militias affiliated with the PMU. Samarra and SAID Mahamad "Balad" are under control of the SARAYA SALAM Brigades Operations Command (affiliated with Moqtada al-Sadr) and their official commander is the head of the SARAYA AL-SALAM Brigades, Abu Hassan Al-Halfi. His deputy is Sheikh Hassan Al-Aqili.
People in this area do not trust the PMU and prefer to secure their village themselves
In Baiji axis operations are led by Abu Shahd from Asaib, and his area of control extends until the Shaaqi area. Also present in Baiji are - the ‘Messengers’ ( Risalioun) faction and Ali Akabar brigade , whose commander is Imad al-Shahmani. In al-Sharqat, the 51st Tribal Mobilization Brigade led by Asham al-Jubouri is in control. The Badr Organization, meanwhile, controls all Dur district, Hamrin area, Balad and Dujail in cooperation with Saraya and Asaib. As for Yathrib, it is controlled by the Asaib, and their commander there is Abu Abbas.
The people of Salah al-din province are dis-satisfied and angry because of the actions of the Shia militias in this area. The militias impose taxes and fees on them at the checkpoints. The residents of the area mainly depend on agriculture for their livelihood. Threats, arrests, humiliation and even kidnappings of local residents by the militias are common.
In certain locations, such as Al-Aouja, Yathrib, Said Gharib, and Biji, local people have been prevented from returning to their homes by the militias. As result, livestock, and agricultural areas of cultivation are being held and controlled by the militias. These have become a source of revenue for the militias. They were also the primary source of revenue for the local people. As a result, local people want the removal of the militias from the area. They want the militias replaced by the army or the federal police and are calling for help to achieve this.
A sectarian and demographic agenda lies behind what is happening in this area. The local government is weak and incapable of confronting the militias. Many local people indeed believe that there is an agreement between local government and the militias, considering that the depth and breadth of militia activity in the areas would be impossible without such an agreement.
The local people contend that if the current situation continues, it means effectively the absence of the state in their areas. They also expect further massacres, noting that the Farhatiya events were not the first of their kind. Similar incidents have taken place in Dur, and in Yathrib. A year ago in Eshaqiya camp a number of men were taken and their fate remains unknown. Salah al Din residents also point to a massacre carried out by the Badr Organization in Makishifa.
Iranian control in the area;
Residents identify Iran as the force truly in control in Salah al-Din. Iranian influence is overt and open in the area. An example of Iran’s power concerns the inhabitants of al-Aouja. They were prohibited to return to their homes by Iranian decision, and Iran then reversed this decision. Iran IRGC personnel were present in the area during the ISIS war. Hamid Al-Taqwi, an IRGC commander was killed in the area and a statue and monument to him was erected in the Salah al-Din area. Local people have grown used to seeing individuals located with the militias who do not speak Arabic or speak with a heavy accent.
Withdrawal of Militias from the area:
A government decision has been made for the withdrawal of Asaib Ahl al-Haq from this area, after pressure from local people. The decision has yet to be implemented. Locals are hoping for the deployment of the Iraqi army.
If justice is not done regarding the massacre, and the militias not removed, local people are likely to leave their homes and move to an area controlled by the state security forces. The local authorities are seeking to prevent a renewed ‘displacement,’ which would be a public embarrassment for the authorities. But four families have already left Farhatiya for Thlouaia. Thlouaia is not occupied by militias.
Yathrib, controlled by Asaib Ahl al Haq, is one of the worse places for militia mistreatment of locals, according to local people interviewed by MECRA. There have been assassinations of tribal leaders, activists, teachers, soldiers, young leaders and other prominent local figures. The militias then cast the blame on ISIS. Local people dismiss this, asserting that ISIS has no presence in the area since its defeat. They consider the militias responsible. Local people are afraid to speak out, however, fearing that they will be killed by Asaib should they do so.
These crimes have been carried out by Asaib and by Ktaeb Hizballah. The latter was present in the area shortly after the defeat of ISIS. But now their presence is diminished. Ktaeb Hezbollah, according to local testimony was the main element responsible for the displacement of Salah al-din people from their homes in the early stage. They terrorized, threatened, kidnapped, killed and tortured people from this area.
People in Farhatiya area are afraid that after giving statements to the authorities, they may be subject to reprisal from the militias, including fatal attacks. On a number of occasions, MECRA’s reporter was told by local people that their conditions of life and the dangers facing them are now worse than during the period of ISIS rule.
*We have attempted to transliterate Arabic names or use the most frequent spelling of places and individuals where it was known, in other places we have relied on our researcher.
Further social media sources
An image of sheikhs paying respects to the "Farhati martyrs (شهداء الفرحاتية )" and other images after the mass killing. Click on the hyperlinks. Other social media reactions can be found at this link. An image of a Badr poster in Salah a-Din governorate.
Social media posts about Asaib in the wake of the killing and about the Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. Video of anger at the militias, also at this link. Discussion on social media about Asaib positions in the area.