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BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's Shiite militias have abducted and killed scores of Sunni civilians with the tacit support of the government in retaliation for Islamic State group attacks, Amnesty International said Tuesday, as a suicide car bombing claimed by the Sunni extremists killed 23 people, including a Shiite lawmaker.
The Shiite militiamen number in the tens of thousands and wear military uniforms but operate outside any legal framework and without any official oversight, the London-based watchdog said, adding that they are not prosecuted for the crimes.
The accusations were based on interviews with relatives of victims and survivors who claimed that members of four prominent Iraqi Shiite militias — Asaib Ahl al-Haq, the Badr Brigades, the Mahdi Army, and Ketaeb Hizbollah — were behind many abductions and killings of Sunnis in the country, the rights group said in a 28-page report, entitled "Absolute Impunity: Militia Rule in Iraq."
A spokesman for the Iraqi military, Brig. Gen. Saad Maan Ibrahim, dismissed the Amnesty report, saying that the government would "in no way be an accomplice for killing its own citizens." He added that the Iraqi government and its military "do not support any group, including militias, which work to kill innocent people."
Amnesty says the fate of many of the Sunni abductees remains unknown and that some captives have been killed even after their families paid ransoms of $80,000 and more.
Waleed Khalid, a shop owner in Baghdad's Sunni-majority Slueikh district, was headed to Sadr City for his weekly trip to restock his store when he received a call Monday from a Shiite friend warning that the militias were out in force, kidnapping Sunnis they came across in the Shiite stronghold.
"He told me not to come," Khalid told The Associated Press Tuesday, adding that one of his neighbors was recently kidnapped, and Shiite militias have allegedly demanded $60,000 from his family for his release.
The Amnesty report underscores an apparent new layer in the complex violence that has gripped Iraq since the Islamic State group's lightening offensive this summer. The Sunni militants seized large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, carving out a self-styled caliphate, imposing strict Islamic law and expelling hundreds of thousands of Iraqis of religious and other minorities from their homes.
"There's a lot of tit-for-tat these days," said Michael Knights, an Iraq expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "In some areas like the Baghdad belt and Sunni Turkmen areas, militiamen are actually destroying infrastructure" so that Sunnis don't return to their homes.
"They are making demographic changes to places,""They are making demographic changes to places," he said.
Amnesty accused Iraq's Shiite government of not only failing to prosecute Shiite militia crimes but also condoning them.
"By granting its blessing to militias who routinely commit such abhorrent abuses, the Iraqi government is sanctioning war crimes and fueling a dangerous cycle of sectarian violence that is tearing the country apart," said Donatella Rovera, a senior adviser with Amnesty. She said she has documented cases of alleged abuses by the militias in a number of cities, including Baghdad, Samarra and the northern city of Kirkuk.