In early January 2016 the Islamic State carried out a double bombing in Diyala’s Muqtadiya that left over a hundred casualties. The attack targeted the Hashd, and in retaliation they went after the city’s Sunnis burning and destroying buildings and killing civilians. The Iraqi government initially did nothing, and then blamed gangs, while the Hashd said it was all the work of insurgents. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both talked with residents that confirmed that it was Shiite armed groups that were responsible for the sectarian violence.
The Islamic State provoked the descent into chaos in Muqtadiya. On January 11, the group set off two bombs at a café in the Asri neighborhood that left 46 dead and 55 wounded. Afterward elements of the Hashd carried out revenge attacks in 9 neighborhoods, plus the town of Qubba. They drove cars around with loudspeakers telling Sunnis to leave, while they destroyed buildings. Both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch talked with locals who said that armed men came to their houses and took away their relatives who later turned up dead or shot them in front of their residences. Amnesty reported that many of these acts took place in sight of the security forces that did nothing. The Hashd also killed two reporters from Sharqiya TV that had just left Muqtadiya at a checkpoint according to the station. In total, 8 houses, 12 mosques, 36 shops, and 43 people were killed in the days following the bombings. Human Rights Watch was told that members of Badr and Asaib Ahl Al-Haq were responsible. This was just the type of violence that the Islamic State was hoping to provoke. It has played upon the sectarian divisions within the country, and is still hoping to incite them.
While the revenge attacks were going on the Iraqi press and most politicians said nothing, and afterward tried to blame other elements besides the Hashd. A review of nearly twenty Iraqi newspapers showed only two stories on the events in Muqtadiya the day it happened. Afterward, an array of different parties were said to be behind the violence. The head of the city council said it was unknown gunmen, Hadi Ameri the head of Badr who controls Diyala claimed it was Baathists, and some Hashd blamed the Islamic State. Prime Minister Haidar Abadi eventually went to Muqtadiya and promised that the perpetrators would be arrested, and blamed gangs. The police eventually arrested seven people, but none of them were from the Hashd. The authorities were obviously following the lead of the politicians who were trying to downplay the events.
The lack of coverage and the dodging of guilt revealed a lot about the situation in Diyala, and Iraq in general. The province is under the military and political control of Hadi Ameri. He is a powerful figure as his Badr is part of the State of Law list, he is one of the major commanders in the war against the Islamic State, and is close to Iran. His position was why the security forces did nothing while the Hashd were attacking Sunnis, and why there was almost a total press blackout on the situation while it was happening. This is the predicament facing Iraq. It needs the Hashd to fight the Islamic State, but the major elements are trying to carve out their own position in the country to the detriment of the state and Premier Abadi. This problem is not going to go away any time soon.
Alsumaria, “Abadi issued strict instructions to arrest the aggressors on mosques,” 1/14/16
- “Popular crowd: Events in Muqdadiyah caused by international community to destabilize the situation and nothing sectarian,” 1/14/16
Amnesty International, “Iraq: Militia war crimes in Muqdadiya highlight authorities’ persistent failures to hold them to account,” 2/5/16
Human Rights Watch, “Iraq Possible War Crimes by Shia Militia,” 1/31/16
Iraq News Network, “Parliamentary security: the formation of a fact-finding committee to cause Diyala,” 1/14/16
National Iraqi News Network, “IEDs Injures Five Civilians In East Of Baquba,” 1/13/16
New Sabah, “Salim al-Jabouri: State is endangered and everyone is working for the stability of the province,” 1/13/16
Rasheed, Ahmed and Hameed, Saif, “Sunni MPs boycott Iraq parliament and govt in protest at violence,” Reuters, 1/19/16
Sattar, Sardar, “Iraqi Sunnis Plea UN to Stop Shi’ite Militia “Atrocities,”” Bas News, 1/14/16
Sotaliraq, “Amiri: targeting Sunnis is a crime and we will stand against igniting sedition,” 1/16/16
- “Armed groups tell people of Muqdadiyah to choose between leaving and death,” 1/13/16