The original 12-second smartphone clip depicting the cold-blooded murder of an unidentified Iraqi was allegedly recorded by the Iraqi Emergency Response Division (ERD) in December 2016. It shows a man, whose arms are tied behind his back, trying to run away from his executioners before being murdered in broad daylight by his captors.
The details of the apparent extrajudicial execution were made public by Arkady, a freelance filmmaker who between October and December of last year, documented the accomplishments and atrocities of the ERD – the Iraqi special forces unit tasked with hunting down Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) fighters in Iraq.
Speaking to RT about the murder video, Arkady revealed how the man’s executioners boasted about killing an unarmed Iraqi. The incident, Arkady recalled, unfolded on December 12, 2016, when two members of the ERD – Captain Omar Nizar and Sergeant Haidar – who the filmmaker has been following for months, returned from one of their assignments.
The ERD officers recorded the execution on their smartphone, and once back at the unit’s headquarters, were very eager to share the footage with Arkady and at least two other journalists present there.
“They started showing [the footage], saying, look how we killed this person. He leads us into a village. We wanted to extract information out of him,” Arkady told RT.
“[The footage] showed how Sergeant Haidar started firing, unloading around 6-9 shots at the person. Then you hear Captain Omar’s voice [saying], ‘Haidar, stop, that is enough. I want to talk to him.’ But then he himself shot this person three times.”
Further conversations on that day revealed that the Iraqi was murdered for allegedly trying to lead the special forces unit into an ISIS ambush.
“The story that I heard from them was that they went to a hospital. This person worked in this hospital. They took him captive, led him out and said, ‘Show us where ISIS is. You must have information where ISIS is.’ He said that according to his information ISIS fighters are located nearby, in the village of Bazwaya.”
On their way to the village, they met an old woman who warned the ERD that only “ISIS snipers are there.” Certain that their captive wanted to deliver them right into the jihadist’s hands, ERD officers executed him.
“They [EDR] thought that this person [from the hospital] wanted to set them up. That is why they decided to kill him,” Arkady said.
During his time with the ERD, Ali Arkady observed how heroes turned into monsters, and captured several horrendous scenes and was ordered to delete some of the more extreme clips, he says.
“We worked together every day. We slept together. I spent more time with them than with my family. I thought they were heroes. They were so brave, fighting on the front lines daily,” Arkady recalled. “But then I saw their other side… the torture, the raping, the killing… First they didn’t want me to film the torture, and other bad stuff. But eventually, they relented and gave me permission.”
In another episode of extreme brutality, two brothers who escaped IS-held Mosul with their families were blindfolded with hands tied behind their backs. The siblings were severely beaten, harassed and eventually killed by the ERD, despite an earlier clearance from Iraqi special forces who confirmed the two men were civilians.
“At first, it didn’t register. During the second week, I went home and my relatives asked me what the hell was wrong with me. After that it all changed. It affected me, my psychology. I kept thinking about all that torture, all those people and their suffering.
“It got worse and worse, and after 5 weeks it became so horrible that I decided to publish everything.”
The US military has distanced themselves from accusations that they helped train the ERD interrogators, following Arkady’s revelations. The Pentagon insists the unit was blacklisted in 2015, under the Leahy Law, which prohibits Washington providing military assistance to human right violators.
“The US does not currently train or equip the Iraqi Emergency Response Division,” the Pentagon said in a statement to RT, adding, however, that “Leahy vetting does not prevent the US from working with the ERD.”
Washington has demanded an investigation into the suspected war crimes allegations, which the Iraqi government agreed to launch following the publication of the damning material.
RT reached out to several human rights groups for comment but the requests were largely met with silence. Human Rights Watch reiterated an earlier statement that “the US is dangerously close to complicity” in war crimes for its working relationship with the ERD.
“Authorities should immediately and unconditionally establish an independent, thorough and impartial investigation into the past violations with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in line with international standards,” the Gulf Center for Human Rights said in a statement to RT.
Meanwhile, HRW said they plan to interview the families of the victims, senior Iraq researcher Belkis Wille toldnews.com.au.
“The images and videos released by Ali Arkady after his embed with the Ministry of Interior’s elite Emergency Response Division show that the unit he was following engaged in the most horrific forms of torture and executions of six men they accused of having links to the Islamic State,” she said.
Arkady, who eventually fled with a trove of brutal torture and murder evidence, also told RT that his family has since received a number of threats from the ERD officers whom he once considered “heroes,” and who were supposed to be the protagonists in his upcoming documentary film about the special forces unit.
“Two months ago my family has received direct threats from these forces, namely from Omar Nizar on Facebook. He threatened them, saying they will come after us at night,” Arkady said, noting that he has not personally received any threats because he has no contact with those people. “But, of course, all the threats that they addressed to my family were addressed to me.”
“This story of torture, rape, coercion, and murder, and everything else lasted five weeks,” Arkady told RT.
“I continued to work because I told myself it is necessary to work as long as possible to collect materials and document everything I saw and then to include it in the documentary that I will put together in the future.”