10 May 2019
Al Razaza Checkpoint in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province is known to families and activists from the region as the “crossing of death”. During the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Hezbollah Brigades arrested and disappeared hundreds of men passing through the checkpoint while fleeing to safer areas.
Among those disappeared, MENA Rights Group and Al Wissam Humanitarian Assembly documented the cases of 192 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) arrested at the checkpoint on October 26, 2014 while fleeing violence in Jurf Al Sakhr. All 192 individuals – some of whom were minors are the time of their arrest – remain disappeared to date.
Far from being an isolated incident, the total number of individuals disappeared from the checkpoint is much higher, with some estimates stating that as many as 1,200 civilians went missing from the checkpoint in one year.
On April 18, 2019, MENA Rights Group and Al Wissam Humanitarian Assembly submitted the cases of the 192 individuals to the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED), requesting the CED’s urgent intervention with the Iraqi authorities to call for their immediate release.
192 IDPs disappeared since 2014
Due to the ongoing fight against ISIL, on October 26, 2014, many families fled from Jurf Al Sakhr in the Babylon governorate, located about 50 kilometres south of Baghdad, to safer areas.
The families fleeing included the Al Shahban and Al Mazareia tribes, which are considered the largest tribes in Jurf Al Sakhr. Other smaller tribes also fled, including the Al Jaafari, Al Hamad, Dehaimesh, Al Sab’aa, Al Janabi, Albo Hayia and Al Othman families.
In order to leave Jurf Al Sakhr, individuals from the tribes were required to pass through Al Razaza Checkpoint, the main crossing point between the provinces of Al Anbar and Karbala. The checkpoint is close to Amiriya, a city in the Fallujah district of Al Anbar province.
During the fight against ISIL, Al Razaza Checkpoint became the only crossing point available for individuals fleeing from the areas of Hit, Al Rutba, Al Qaim and Ramadi to IDP camps in Habbaniya, as well as to cities on the Euphrates and in the south of the country.
In all 192 cases documented by MENA Rights Group and Al Wissam Humanitarian Assembly, the individuals were arrested by the Hezbollah Brigades as they made their way through the checkpoint, and forcibly taken to an unknown location.
The Hezbollah Brigades are part of the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU) – an umbrella organisation composed of various militias that supported the Iraqi armed forces during the fight against ISIL. On December 19, 2016, the PMU were incorporated into the Iraqi armed forces, and on March 8, 2018, a prime minister’s decree formally included the group in the country’s security forces.
Following the disappearances of the 192 individuals on October 26, 2014, the head of the Al Shahban tribe, who was coordinating the movement of individuals fleeing from Jurf Al Sakhr, submitted a complaint on behalf of the families of the missing to the Council of Al Anbar Province, but to no avail.
Enforced disappearance in Iraq
Iraq has the highest number of enforced disappearances in the world – a practice that dates back to the late 1960s and which peaked in the context of the US-led invasion in 2003 and the fight against ISIL – with estimates ranging between 250,000 and one million persons disappeared in recent decades.
The issue of enforced disappearances remains prevalent, particularly in the context of counter-terrorism operations. Between 2014 and 2017, the Iraqi forces, including militias from the PMU, disappeared thousands of individuals perceived to be, or who were actually of the Sunni faith and who were from or lived in areas that were under ISIL control.
Since 2014, Al Wissam Humanitarian Assembly, in collaboration with INGOs, including MENA Rights Group, has submitted over 340 cases of enforced disappearances to the CED under its Urgent Action Procedure.
Despite ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) in 2010, Iraq has not taken any steps to effectively implement the provisions of the convention or to reveal the fate and whereabouts of the thousands of missing persons in the country.