The United Nations on Friday accused Islamic State fighters in Iraq of executing religious leaders, forcibly recruiting children and raping women — acts that amount to war crimes.
At least 5,576 Iraqi civilians have been killed this year in violence, the U.N. said in a report that provides the most detailed account yet of the impact of unrest culminating in advances by Sunni rebels led by the Al-Qaeda offshoot Islamic State, formerly known as ISIL, across the north.
"ISIL and associated armed groups have also continued to... perpetrate targeted assassinations (community, political, and religious leaders, government employees, education professionals, health workers, etc.), sexual assault, rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls, forced recruitment of children, kidnappings, executions, robberies," the report said.
The U.N. study focused on a range of violations committed against civilians, particularly by the Islamic State, though it also said Iraqi forces and allied fighters had not taken precautions to protect civilians from violence.
"(This) ... may also amount to war crimes," the report found.
The U.N. also accused Islamic State of wanton destruction and plundering of places of worship and cultural or historical significance.
"Credible information on recruitment and use of children as soldiers was also received," the report noted.
"Every day we receive accounts of a terrible litany of human rights violations being committed in Iraq against ordinary Iraqi children, women and men, who have been deprived of their security, their livelihoods, their homes, education, healthcare and other basic services," said U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
The report also detailed violations committed by government forces and affiliated groups, citing "summary executions/extrajudicial killings of prisoners and detainees," which it said may constitute war crimes.
The Iraqi Interior Ministry said this week that an investigation had revealed the Islamic State had taken 510 Shia prisoners from a prison in Mosul to an agricultural area and executed them — killing all but 17 who managed to escape.
The ministry said its report was based on testimony of one of the prisoners who fled.
Separately on Friday, Islamic State threatened Christians in Mosul with death if they did not convert to Islam or pay a tax. The group issued the orders in a letter after Friday prayers. The document, obtained by Al Jazeera, stated that the order was issued after Christian leaders failed to attend a meeting called by Islamic State.
The civilians killed in the first half of 2014 represent an almost 36 percent increase of the 4,114 civilians killed in the previous six months. A total of 6,973 civilians were killed in 2013.
The U.N. report called on the Iraqi government to investigate serious violations and to hold the perpetrators to account.
But the capacity of the Shia-led government to do so in the face of a Sunni uprising that threatens to fracture the country may be limited.
Iraqi politicians have yet to complete the formation of a new government more than three months after parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki faces pressure from Sunnis, Kurds and some Shias to step aside after two terms in office in which his critics say he marginalized opponents.
The bruised Iraqi army has leaned heavily on Shia militia and volunteers in its battle against the Sunni insurgency. A Shia lawmaker said militia fighters carried out "a lot of assassinations and killings" when first deployed last month, although he said the situation had improved.
The U.N. noted that the "deteriorating security situation" had limited its ability to directly monitor and verify incidents. More than 1.2 million Iraqis have been displaced this year, according to the report, including some 600,000 in June alone.
"The combined effect of insecurity, inadequate resources, weak government capacity, and constraints from the prevailing political situation, has created a crisis of displacement," the report said.
Al Jazeera and Reuters