International rights group Amnesty International has accused the extremist Islamic State (IS) group of carrying out a systematic campaign of “ethnic cleansing” in northern Iraq that includes mass killings, abductions and other war crimes.
The British-based group said in a new report that militants have abducted “hundreds, if not thousands” of women and children who belong to the ancient Yazidi faith, and had committed “despicable crimes”.
The extremists also have rounded up Yazidi men and boys before killing them, Amnesty said.
The 26-page report adds to a growing body of evidence outlining the scope and extent of the IS’ crimes since it began its sweep from Syria across neighbouring Iraq in June.
The militants have since seized much of northern and western Iraq, and have stretched as far as the outskirts of the Iraqi capital Baghdad.
The United Nations’ top human rights body approved a request by Iraq to open an investigation into alleged crimes committed by the IS against civilians.
Its aim is to provide the Human Rights Council with a report and evidence that could shed further light on Iraqi atrocities and be used as part of any international war crimes prosecution.
In its report, Amnesty detailed how IS fighters expelled Christians, Shiites, Yazidis and others from their homes.
The report said the group had abducted of hundreds of Yazidi women and children, most of whom were still missing.
“The massacres and abductions being carried out by the Islamic State provide harrowing new evidence that a wave of ethnic cleansing against minorities is sweeping across northern Iraq,” said Amnesty investigator Donatella Rovera.
It documented several cases where the militants rounded up Yazidi men and boys and killed them in groups after overrunning their ancestral lands in Iraq’s far north.
Two of the deadliest took place when IS fighters raided villages and killed hundreds of people on 3 August and 15 August.
“Groups of men and boys including children as young as 12 from both villages, were seized by IS militants, taken away and shot,” it said.
“IS is carrying out despicable crimes and has transformed rural areas of Sinjar into blood-soaked killing fields in its brutal campaign to obliterate all trace of non-Arabs and non-Sunni Muslims.”
It was also unclear how many men and boys were killed. The Amnesty report said in two mass killings, “hundreds” of men were probably shot to death.
Yazidi politician Mahma Khalil called on the Iraqi government and international community to urgently help the Yazidis, who are still facing “continuing atrocities” by the extremist militants.
“They have been trying hard to force us to abandon our religion. We reject that because we are the oldest faith in Iraq, that has roots in Mesopotamia,” Mr Khalil said.
In other developments on the ground, Iraqi Shia militias and Kurdish Peshmerga forces have continued their push against IS, seizing the stronghold of Suleiman Beg on Monday.
The joint forces have in recent days broken a two-month siege by IS fighters in Amerli.
Thousands of Shia Turkmen had been holding out in the northern town, and the United Nations had expressed fears there could be a massacre if IS were allowed to capture it.
Iran had played a role in the recent operations, supplying weapons and helping with military planning, the militia’s said, in a sign of an increasing front against the Islamist militants.