Amnesty says ISIL 'annihilation' of rural Iraq is a war crime

Amnesty says ISIL 'annihilation' of rural Iraq is a war crime


The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant's (ISIL, also known as ISIS) "deliberate, wanton annihilation" of agricultural land in northern Iraq amounts to a war crime, Amnesty International has said.

The rights group, in a report released on Thursday, said the ISIL's "scorched-earth tactics" devastated Iraq's rural communities as it looted livestock, burned orchards, planted land mines, sabotaged water pumps and destroyed farmland.

The report was released a day after Nobel Peace Prize winner and Yazidi activist Nadia Murad visited Iraq's capital, Baghdad, to call for more government support to her native Sinjar region

ISIL overran Sinjar in 2014, killing Yazidi men, forcefully enlisting boys as soldiers and kidnapping more than 6,000 women and girls as "sex slaves".

The US-backed Iraqi forces gradually drove the fighters from the territory under their control, declaring victory last year after a costly campaign that destroyed entire neighbourhoods and towns.

'Compensate the displaced'

"The conflict against ISIL eviscerated Iraq's agricultural production, now an estimated 40 percent lower than 2014 levels," the Amnesty report said

"Before ISIL, around two-thirds of Iraq's farmers had access to irrigation - only three years later, this had fallen to 20 percent. Around 75 percent of livestock was lost, spiking to 95 percent in some areas."

Richard Pearshouse, senior crisis adviser at Amnesty International, said the consequences of the conflict on Iraq's rural residents are "being largely forgotten".

"The damage to Iraq's countryside is as far-reaching as the urban destruction," he said

The London-based rights group said ISIL fighters sabotaged wells by filling them with rubble, oil or other materials. The armed group also stole or destroyed pumps, cables, generators, transformers and vital electricity lines

Amnesty called on the Iraqi government to repair rural infrastructure and compensate the displaced. About half of Sinjar's residents have returned, with many others saying they have nothing to go back to.

'Rural poverty and resentments'

"There is nothing left. Now the house is destroyed, and all the trees burned down," Majdar, a farmer in his mid-50s from a village south of Sinjar mountain, told Amnesty

"We had 100 olive trees, but when I went I didn't see a single tree in any direction. They were chopped down and burned … They wanted us to lose everything. They didn't want us to be able to come back to our land," he said.

ISIL still maintains its presence in the Syrian desert and remote areas along the border with Iraq. Many warn it could stage a comeback if economic grievances are not addressed.

"Unless there is urgent government assistance, the long-term damage inflicted on Iraq's rural environment will reverberate for years to come," Pearshouse said

"When ISIL tore through Iraq in 2014, it thrived off rural poverty and resentments, so Iraq's government should be concerned that something similar could happen again."