• Report claims Kurdish forces barred Arabs from returning to their homes in the Ninevah and Erbil provinces
  • Thousands of Arabs in the area have been held in “security zones”

Non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) claims the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has barred Arabs from returning to their homes in areas seized during the conflict in northern Iraq.

The autonomous KRG moved into areas of Baghdad-controlled provinces including Ninevah and Kirkuk in the summer of 2014 as Iraqi federal forces retreated from the advance of the jihadist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis).

A HRW report claims Kurdish forces for months barred Arabs displaced by fighting from returning to their homes in areas of the Ninevah and Erbil provinces, while permitting Kurds to move back and, in places, move into the homes of Arabs who fled. Thousands of Arabs in the area have been held in “security zones”.

“Cordoning off Arab residents and refusing to let them return home appears to go well beyond a reasonable security response to the Isis threat,” says Letta Tayler, senior terrorism and counter-terrorism researcher at HRW, who says there is no evidence that Kurdish forces have placed similar restrictions on the movement of Kurds.

“The US and other countries arming the Iraqi Kurdish forces should make it clear they won’t stand for discrimination under the guise of countering terrorism,” she adds.

The KRG’s Peshmerga soldiers have been a key ally in the US-led coalition to combat Isis and have received training and arms from several European countries.

Iraqi Kurdish President Massoud Barzani appears intent on incorporating some of the areas captured in 2014 into the Kurdish autonomous area in the long term.

HRW said Kurdish military and intelligence forces eased several of the restrictions against the movement of Arabs in January. The organisation sent a letter to the KRG expressing its concerns in December and January.

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