FRONTLINE: Iraq Uncovered
Airs Tuesday, March 21, 2017 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV
Friday, March 17, 2017
Credit: Courtesy of Thaier Al-Sudani/ Reuters 2016
What’s happening on the ground in Iraq in areas where ISIS has been pushed out?
In “Iraq Uncovered,” premiering Tuesday, March 21, correspondent Ramita Navai makes a dangerous and revealing journey inside the war-torn country — investigating allegations of abuse of Sunni Muslim civilians by powerful Shia militias.
The militias have been a crucial part of Iraq’s fight against ISIS and are supposed to answer to the prime minister. But some of the Shia forces have been accused of kidnapping, torturing and even killing Sunni men and boys. ISIS aligns itself with Sunni Islam, and the militias often see Sunni civilians as ISIS suspects.
“Even though ISIS has lost ground in Iraq, people in refugee camps here tell us that they’re as scared of the militias as they are of ISIS, and they’ve been warned by the militias that they can never return home,” says Navai, who has been reporting on conflicts in the Middle East for FRONTLINE since 2011.
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Over several months of filming, Navai travels to areas of the country where few journalists go, talking to Sunnis who say their relatives were abducted and abused at the hands of the militias. She finds a makeshift militia prison crammed with men the militia admit have been there for months without any charges. And she interviews leading Sunni and Shia politicians, as well as militia members themselves, who insist they are only going after ISIS and do not tolerate abuses.
“To kill an ISIS member or to torture an ISIS member, this is abuse to you? To me it's not, this is the right way because he's a murderer, he has to be tortured and killed … We are a country who are facing car bombing every day,” Haitham al Mayahi, a senior advisor in the Badr Organization of the Shia militia, tells Navai.
Ehsan al-Shimery, an advisor to the government, tells FRONTLINE that the government is trying its “best to stop these abuses. However, it cannot control the behavior of every individual.”
In trying to see firsthand the how militias are operating, Navai makes a dangerous, undercover trip into the province of Diyala – a town recently liberated from ISIS and now under the control of several different militia factions. There, she meets a militia member who says his fellow fighters kidnap for ransom and kill local Sunni civilians they suspect may have ties to ISIS. He points out mosques that he said were burned by militiamen, and tells Navai that the violence has caused many Sunnis to flee.
With Shia militias now on the outskirts of Mosul, helping in the fight against ISIS, there are growing concerns about the future of Iraq – and whether Sunnis will eventually turn to violence themselves against the militias.
One Sunni man who was released from a militia prison tells Navai that Shia militias are creating a new generation of enemies: “After ISIS, there will be a civil war because blood has been spilt.”
The Iraqi government has opened investigations into some of the allegations, but the reports of Shia militia abuse continue, raising the spectre of spiraling sectarian conflict.
“It’s possible … that we will see even a worse Daesh [ISIS] in the future,” Ayad Allawi, Iraq’s Vice President and former prime minister tells Navai. “More serious replacements will appear, and more dangerous and more cunning and more destructive, and this will not only limit itself to this part of the world.”
With rare, on-the-ground access, "Iraq Uncovered" is a stunning look at a side of the war in Iraq that’s rarely seen — and at what may lie ahead.
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A Quicksilver Media production for WGBH/FRONTLINE in association with Channel 4. The correspondent is Ramita Navai. The director is Patrick Wells. The producers are Mais Al-Bayaa, Ramita Navai and Patrick Wells. The senior producer is Dan Edge. The executive producer for Quicksilver Media is Eamonn Matthews. The executive producer for FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath.
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