Iraq officials threatening aid workers in former IS areas
Iraqi officials have been accused of threatening, harassing and detaining humanitarian workers in northern Iraq, according to Human Rights Watch on Monday, while others were forcing agencies to cut aid to Islamic State group-linked families.
At least 22 incidents against aid workers - ranging from intimidation, arrests, assault, robbery and live fire incidents - have been reported in the Nineveh governorate in northern Iraq since January 2018, sources told HRW.
In one case, military intelligence officials arrested a local lawyer for an aid organisation, two drivers and a group of displaced people as he attempted to verify identity documents.
The Iraqi officials repeatedly interrogated the group and accused them of being affiliated to IS, refusing to set free aid workers even after a judge ruled ordered them to be released.
HRW has documented at least 17 such cases in which lawyers working for humanitarian organisations in Ninevah had experienced or witnessed verbal harassment or arrests over the last two years.
"As if the their working conditions aren't difficult enough, aid workers in Mosul and other parts of Nineveh have faced baseless charges of [IS] affiliation, and have even been arrested," said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
"Charges of [IS] affiliation appear to be thinly veiled attempts to get some organizations to divert aid to corrupt local authorities or to stop giving assistance to some needy families accused of having relatives in [IS]."
Some aid workers say that major projects in Nineveh have been halted due to threats and demands, with donors threatening to pull their funding as a result.
In another case, an international aid worker said his colleague, who is a guard at a camp for displaced people south of Mosul, prevented armed local police from entering. This is consistent with international humanitarian law which prohibits armed personnel from accessing refugee camps.
Police later arrested the camp guard, took him to a local station, beat and robbed him, accusing him of being affiliated with the IS.
Another case saw a local leader file a complaint with the Nineveh's governor's office accusing staff at an aid agency of being affiliated to IS after the group refused him access to benefits because he did not meet criteria.
An official in the Nineveh governor's office later demanded the aid organisation give them access to the beneficiary lists to "vet them to exclude [IS] families".
The governor's office later implied the accusations would resolve themselves if the aid agency hired three specific people of its choosing.
HRW has sent a letter to the Iraqi prime minister requesting information on the steps he has taken to investigate the allegations of attacks on aid workers and to punish those security officers responsible.
"Unless there is a robust response to abuses of aid workers and attempts to undermine aid operations, it is going to become even harder and more dangerous for them to help Iraqis who need their assistance, including families with perceived [IS] affiliation," HRW said.