BAGHDAD – Kurdish forces have destroyed thousands of homes in northern Iraq in an apparent attempt to uproot Arab communities, Amnesty International said Wednesday.
The rights group said the destruction took place after Kurdish forces captured areas from the Islamic State group, which overran swaths of territory north and west of Baghdad in 2014.
Destruction and theft of property has been a frequent occurrence in the war against IS, angering residents whose support security forces may need to hold recaptured areas.
“Peshmerga forces from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Kurdish militias in northern Iraq have bulldozed, blown up and burned down thousands of homes communities in revenge for their perceived support” of IS, Amnesty said in a statement.
The autonomous Kurdish region’s “forces appear to be spearheading a concerted campaign to forcibly displace Arab communities,” Donatella Rovera, Amnesty’s senior crisis response adviser, said in the statement. “The forced displacement of civilians and the deliberate destruction of homes and property without military justification may amount to war crimes.”
Arab civilians who fled fighting have also been barred from returning home.
Amnesty documented evidence of “forced displacement and large-scale destruction of homes” by Kurdish forces in three provinces: Nineveh, Kirkuk and Diyala.
The London-based rights watchdog published a similar report about Kurdish forces in neighboring Syria in October, accusing the “autonomous administration” led by Syrian Kurds of war crimes. It said those forces had deliberately demolished civilian homes and forcibly displaced inhabitants “with no justifiable military grounds.”
Although the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) pushed back against the allegations at the time, it said on Tuesday that it would prosecute four of its fighters accused of damaging property in a town recaptured by IS several months ago.
All three provinces mentioned in Amnesty’s latest report on Iraq are outside the borders of the autonomous Kurdistan region.
However, Kurdish forces gained or solidified control over areas in the provinces after federal troops fled IS’s devastatingly effective offensive in June 2014.
Iraqi Kurdish leaders want to incorporate territory from the provinces into their autonomous region, and depopulating them of Arabs aids efforts to solidify Kurdish control.
Baghdad strongly opposes Iraqi Kurdistan’s incorporation of the areas, which it wants to remain under federal control, but after fighting IS for these areas, the Kurds are even more committed to keeping them.