Iraqi authorities accused of threatening aid workers in Mosul

HRW report dozens of cases of harassment and abuse by officials in Nineveh

The remnants of destruction from the battle of Mosul are seen at an iron factory in Erbil, Iraq February 2, 2019. Picture taken February 2, 2019. To match Special Report IRAQ-MILITIAS/  REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
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Aid workers in Iraq are being harassed and detained by members of the local authority in Nineveh province, a Human Rights Watch report revealed.

According to the rights group Iraqi officials have arrested aid workers on charges of terrorism and in some cases have pressured organisations to stop providing services to families they say have ties to ISIS.

“Charges of ISIS affiliation appear to be thinly veiled attempts to get some organisations to divert aid to corrupt local authorities or to stop giving assistance to some needy families accused of having relatives in ISIS,” Lama Fakih, the deputy Middle East director at HRW, said in the report issued in Monday.

According to a source who has been tracking assaults on aid workers, at least 22 incidents of intimidation, arrests, assault and robbery have taken place in Nineveh since January 2018.

Lawyers also working for the aid organisation have experienced or witnessed verbal harassment or arrests over the past two years, HRW said.

In one incident, military intelligence officers arrested a local lawyer, two drivers and a group of displaced people. They were interrogated, accused of ISIS affiliation and kept in custody.

HRW further documented that security forces prevented some families from receiving humanitarian or legal assistance if they were thought to be affiliated with ISIS.

Iraq declared victory over the insurgents in December 2017, but ISIS cells continue to operate in northern provinces. They have carried out abductions, assassinations and roadside ambushes.

Baghdad is also prosecuting an influx of foreign fighters who joined the terror group.

A letter was sent to the Prime Minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, last week, requesting information on steps his office has taken to investigate allegations of the attacks and to punish those responsible.

HRW has called on the Iraqi authorities to ensure the protection of humanitarian workers and to establish standard operating procedures for investigating and addressing incidents of targeting or interfering with aid workers.

“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 ISIS affiliation,” said Ms Fakih.

Some construction projects in Nineveh have been halted due to threats issued by Iraqi authorities, which have prompted donors to retract financial support.