Meltdown in Iraq: The new battle for Baghdad

Regional war in the Middle East draws ever closer. Events in neighbouring Iraq will have violent repercussions for Syria, UN investigators warn

The Middle East appears on the brink of wider sectarian war engulfing Iraq, with radical Islamist insurgents wantonly kidnapping, torturing and killing civilians, UN human rights investigators said in a report on Tuesday.

Militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group have routed Baghdad's army and seized the north of Iraq in the past week, linking it with a major swathe of territory previously taken in eastern Syria during the civil war there.

"We predicted a long time ago the dangers of spillover both ways, which is now becoming a regional spillover," said Vitit Muntarbhorn, an international law expert who took part in the inquiry. "We are possibly on the cusp of a regional war and that is something we're very concerned about."

UN human rights Navi Pillay said on Monday forces allied with ISIL in northern Iraq had almost certainly committed war crimes by executing hundreds of non-combatant men over the past five days.

A report presented on Tuesday to the UN Human Rights Council said foreign Sunni jihadi militants and funds had poured into Syria where rebel factions including ISIL were wantonly abusing civilians in zones they controlled.

"A regional war in the Middle East draws ever closer. Events in neighbouring Iraq will have violent repercussions for Syria," the investigators' report said.

"Growing numbers of radical fighters are targeting not only Sunni (Muslim) communities under their control but also minority communities including the Shi'ites, Alawites, Christians, Armenians, Druze and Kurds," it said of Syria.

Its reference to Sunni militants targeting Sunni civilians involved forceful pressure on Sunni women to comply with sharia (Islamic religious law) and acts of revenge against Sunnis who had served in the Syrian government.

Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, has dominated Syria for decades.

The report said ISIL kidnapped nearly 200 Kurdish civilians in an attack in the Syrian city of Aleppo at the end of May.

Muntarbhorn said ISIL was fighting other rebel groups in Syria more than it was fighting the Damascus government.

"ISIL has shown itself willing to fan the flames of sectarianism, both in Iraq and in Syria. Any strengthening of their position gives rise to great concern," the report said.

At least 160,000 people have been killed in Syria's three-year-old conflict that began as peaceful demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad and escalated into civil war.

On Iraq, US President Barack Obama was considering options for military action to support Baghdad's besieged government but has made no decision on the US response to the ISIL onslaught threatening to tear apart the country.

Covering the period since mid-March, the UN report described how Syria's government had regained strategic terrain in Damascus and Aleppo provinces through a mix of "brutal tactics with long-lasting sieges", marked by barrel bombing.

"Victims describe...the agony of being encircled, shelled and bombarded while slowly starving," the Brazilian chief investigator, Paulo Pinheiro, told reporters in Geneva.

The team of about 20 UN investigators has interviewed 3,000 Syrians in Syria or neighbouring countries via Skype.

They say they have documented war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by all sides and have drawn up four confidential lists of suspects for future prosecution.

"The international community, and specifically the (UN) Security Council, have yet to demand that the individuals perpetrating crimes against the men, women and children of Syria are held responsible. Through their inaction, a space has been created for the worst of humanity to express itself," the report said.

The inquiry has received thousands of photos published in January, smuggled out by a former Syrian military police photographer who said the images showed people tortured and killed in government-run detention centres.

"Many are emaciated, almost all bear marks of horrific abuse, including strangulation, mutilation, open wounds, burns and bruising," Pinheiro said. "Such injuries are consistent with torture methods previously documented by the commission in our 12 reports until now."

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Posted by: SAM

It was a manageable domestic uprising, but Maliki and Iran wanted the US and UK to do the fighting on their behalf, as they did in 2003. This explains the army's mass exodus, deliberately leaving brand new US-made helicopters; the US would not like these groups to have such weapons and Maliki knew that very well. Thankfully, this "Come and get them" bait did not work and the US public and US administration saw through that and the government opted to provide intelligence rather than military support. Most importantly, the US publicly urged the current regime to cede some basic powers to the marginalized Kurds and Arabs of Iraq. I believe the GCC is safe and so is Jordan. The only new participants in this turmoil would be countries opposed to an independent Kurdish nation.

Posted by: procan

Let nature take its course if you want peace ,fight for it your self. Arabs must take care of Arab issues . Let us know when your done.

Posted by: Vicky

Your great grand kids will ask the same question 50 years from now and will wait for an answer too.

Posted by: Sohail

Things have started to change since last few days when Ayatullah Seestani issued statement asking all Iraqi Muslims to fight in one way or other these terrorist. UN should be fast enough to report this also. I hope by these negative reports, although the facts may be correct, UN is not trying to justify US deployment of ships in the nearby seas.

Posted by: Doug

This is overspill from Syria and what's made this particularly interesting is how the GCC has completely failed to do anything to help clean up the situation in its own back garden.

And then irony of ironies, this has now brought Iran and the US together - something that just a year ago would be dismissed as unthinkable.

The big GCC powers need to take decisive, useful action NOW. Otherwise they are going to find that Iran is going to be seen as the 'reliable partner' in the region...and that is extremely bad news for the GCC.

Posted by: Saudi Engineer

I'm not sure you know what you're talking about. Check your facts, or your assumptions...

Posted by: Vicky

Doug, hope you are reading the GCC psychology. They are getting what they wanted and why should they try to stop the train wreck working to their advantage? Nobody should be surprised at the fact that the he rebels appear confident, adequately armed and working to a plan and that would mean only one thing... they have been backed by ideologically aligned wealthy sources.

Posted by: Unacceptable!

I'll be furious if this delays my application for an Iraqi passport.

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