An investigation into one of Iraq’s “effective fighting force” is underway after a photojournalist captured footage of them torturing and performing extrajudicial killings.
The Iraqi government is said to be looking into the abuse allegations against the Interior Ministry’s Emergency Response Division, according to The Washington Post.
The allegations stem from video footage recorded by Ali Arkady, an Iraqi photojournalist embedded with the ERD – a special forces-like team that had been praised by US military commanders as one of the principal liberators of Fallujah.
Footage of the alleged torture depicts a man suspended from the ceiling – hanging just from his hands that are tied behind his back – with a case of water bottles placed on top of his shoulders to weigh him down. Another image shows an individual poking his fingers into the eye sockets of another man.
One officer struck a man in the head 15 times and ordered him to recite a pledge to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS’ purported leader.”Say the pledge, say the pledge,” he said, according to ABC News. “I will hit you in the nuts.”
Arkady said that the man eventually recited the ISIS pledge. Afterward, the officer asked Arkady to edit the footage to make it seem like the man had recited the pledge without instruction.
“This is a powder keg for strategic failure,” retired Special Forces officer Scott Mann told ABC News. “This is the narrative fuel that groups like ISIS look for.”
After publishing the footage, Arkady and his immediate family fled to Europe in fear of retaliation from the ERD. “I don’t know,” Arkady said after being asked whether he thinks he’ll be returning to Iraq. “Really, I don’t know. I’d like, because I love Baghdad and Iraq.”
The threat of retaliation for Arkady’s whistle-blowing appears to be credible, as ABC News reports that his family members have received evocative text messages from the group.
“Sir, we have a matter that concerns us and I want to solve it with you quietly,” one of ERD’s officers texted to Arkady’s father. “Tribal law holds you responsible as his father.”
The Interior Ministry stated that it would “investigate the matter clearly and impartially,” and that it would “take legal action in accordance with the laws,” reported The Post.
US officials claimed that they were unaware of the incidents; however, in a statement to ABC News, they said the US “has not provided military aid, arms or assistance to the Emergency Response Division.”
The US is bound by the Leahy Act, a federal law that prevents the US from issuing military aid if there is “credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”