Isis in Iraq: UN report details 'staggering' violence, war crimes and 'possible genocide' in Iraq

A wide-reaching report finds at least 18,800 civilians have been killed in Iraq since 2014, while Isis is now understood to hold 3,500 people in slavery

The Isis jihadist group is holding as many as 3,500 people as slaves in its territories in Iraq alone, the UN has said, and continues to carry out a wide range of abuses against civilians that amount to "war crimes, crimes against humanity and possibly genocide".

From the beginning of 2014, a new report said, at least 18,800 civilians have been killed in Iraq and more than 3.2 million people have been displaced.

According to the UN Assistance Mission in the country, those being held as slaves by Isis "are predominantly women and children and come primarily from the Yezidi community", though they also include small numbers from other ethnic and religious minorities.

Detailing evidence of executions by shooting, beheading, burning alive and bulldozing, the UN report said the scale of "systematic and widespread violence" perpetrated by Isis from May to October 2015 was "staggering". 

The report is a rare and detailed insight into the violence committed by all sides in Iraq, and only includes incidents the UN has verified "using independent, credible and reliable sources". The group's activities in Syria, where there is even less access for UN monitors and where Isis controls large swathes of land, are not documented.

The picture the UN paints, then, is potentially just the tip of the iceberg for civilian casualties in Iraq's long and bloody conflict.

The enslavement of the Yazidi people is among the worst Isis atrocities documented. The UN said that while it believes 3,500 members of ethnic and religious minorities are being held as slaves in northern Iraq, individual reports of abuses dwindled over the course of 2015. "It is likely that most of the members of [these] communities located in areas of Isis control have been killed, abducted or [already] fled," the report said.

The UN said it was able to verify reports that on 21 June last year, between 800 and 900 children were rounded up in Mosul and abducted for military training. It said it had also been informed that those who refused Isis commands were flogged, tortured or raped. 

In August, the UN said, 18 child soldiers were murdered by Isis for running away from the front line in Anbar province and returning to their homes in Mosul. In a separate incident, child soldiers were made to execute 15 Isis fighters who had themselves fled the fighting or lost battles.

In a statement, the UN's human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said: "Even the obscene casualty figures fail to accurately reflect exactly how terribly civilians are suffering in Iraq.

"The figures capture those who were killed or maimed by overt violence, but countless others have died from the lack of access to basic food, water or medical care."

He added that the report laid bare the "horror" that Iraqi refugees were attempting to escape when they fled to Europe and other regions. 

The UN Special Representative in Iraq, Ján Kubiš, said the "scourge of Isis continues to kill, maim and displace Iraqi civilians in the thousands and to cause untold suffering".

He called on "all parties in the conflict to ensure the protection of civilians from the effects of violence".

Additional reporting by agencies