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FRONTLINE: Iraq Uncovered

Airs Tuesday, March 21, 2017 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV

This photo shows displaced people walking in Mosul, Iraq after fleeing from I...

Credit: Courtesy of Thaier Al-Sudani/ Reuters 2016

Above: This photo shows displaced people walking in Mosul, Iraq after fleeing from ISIS militants. “Iraq Uncovered,” a timely investigative report from inside Iraq, examines the forces vying for control there, and what’s happening in the places where ISIS has been pushed out. On the ground, in dangerous conditions, the film looks at the militias working with the military, the impact on civilians, and concerns about sectarian fighting erupting inside the country.

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.

A 360° View Inside the Brutal Battle for Mosul

Go inside the ongoing fight in "Battle for Mosul," an immersive short documentary from FRONTLINE and The Guardian. Filmed on 360° cameras, it follows Iraqi-born reporter Ghaith Abdul-Ahad as he makes a dangerous trip inside Mosul to witness the fight firsthand. (Jan. 31, 2017 / by Patrice Taddonio )

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.


This episode of FRONTLINE will be available for viewing on demand during the broadcast.


FRONTLINE is on Facebook, Instagram, tumblr, and you can follow @frontlinepbs on Twitter.

FRONTLINE: Iraq Uncovered: Preview

Coming to FRONTLINE Tuesday, March 21: A timely report from inside Iraq, as militias and the military fight for the future of the country. With on-the-ground reporting, the film examines the power of the militias, concerns about sectarian fighting, the impact on civilians and what’s happening in the places where ISIS has been pushed out.


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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