More than 100 relatives of Iraqi soldiers abducted by Islamic State fighters broke into the parliament buildings in Baghdad armed with sticks, metal bars and stones yesterday, demanding news of their loved ones, witnesses said.
The crowd, mostly from Iraq’s Shiite majority, smashed some equipment, assaulted at least two staff members they mistook for lawmakers and refused to leave the building, officials inside said.
“They were ready to bulldoze anyone standing in front of them... They were saying: ‘Our sons are buried in the dust. We don’t even know their names, and you are sitting here in comfort under the air conditioning,’” a parliament employee said. “A special force unit came with batons to remove them from the parliament... I can hear screaming, shouting and name calling.”
Islamic State — formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — captured the soldiers in June at the start of its lightening advance through northern and central Iraq.
The soldiers walked out of their base in Tikrit, north of the capital, believing a truce had been brokered. Instead, Islamic State took them and later reported it had killed 1,700 soldiers, posting pictures of corpses online.
There have been no independent reports on how many died. Locals in Tikrit said in June they believed the number was in the hundreds.
The relatives had been scheduled to address parliament about the fate of their loved ones. However, they started to violently protest outside the building and then forced their way inside past several checkpoints, parliament employees said.
“They broke into parliament. They roughed up some guards and officials. They broke the equipment [inside the assembly hall],” a witness said.
Some lawmakers fled, leaving briefcases and jackets behind, one civil servant said.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International yesterday accused Islamic State fighters of “systematic ethnic cleansing” in the north, as Iraqi troops, Kurdish fighters and Shiite militiamen backed by US air strikes fought the jihadists.
The military gains came as a senior UN rights official said Islamic State had carried out “acts of inhumanity on an unimaginable scale” in Iraq.
The London-based Amnesty cited “hair-raising” accounts from survivors of massacres, accusing the jihadists of “war crimes, including mass summary killings and abductions.”
“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 Donatella Rovera, the rights group’s senior crisis response adviser currently in northern Iraq.
The Sunni Islamic State has pressed a campaign of terror in areas under its control in Syria and Iraq, which it has declared an Islamic “caliphate,” carrying out decapitations, crucifixions and public stonings.
The breakthrough at Amerli on Sunday was the biggest success for the Iraqi government since Islamic State-led militants overran much of the Sunni Arab heartland north and west of Baghdad in June.
The US carried out limited air strikes in the area during the operation, the first time it has expanded its more than three-week air campaign against Islamic State beyond north Iraq.
Iraqi forces kept up the momentum on Monday, with Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen retaking Sulaiman Bek, a town north of Amerli that had been an important militant stronghold.