The US military unveiled a document during a Pentagon press briefing on Tuesday that officials say shows the terrorist group ISIS instructing its fighters to pose as Iraqi military forces and to commit atrocities before fleeing the city of Fallujah.
But some experts cast doubt the authenticity of the pamphlet, cautioning that it could be a forgery by Shia militias anxious to disassociate themselves from atrocities in Sunni areas.
The pamphlet, which was printed in Arabic, obtained by the US military, and translated into English, says that holding Fallujah has “become more harmful than useful” for ISIS, which seized the Sunni-dominated city last year and still holds control there.
“We realised that withdrawal is the right thing to do in the event if the Army and the PMF [Popular Mobilization Forces] will conduct assault on it,” the document states.
The pamphlet then instructs ISIS fighters to blow up mosques, bomb civilian areas, set up snipers on high buildings, and kill and torture civilians.
Fighters are told to dress similar to Shia militia fighters, who are referred to as Popular Mobilization Forces, and Iraqi Security Forces (ISF). They’re also asked to film these acts, send the footage to Middle Eastern TV networks like Al Jazeera, and claim they were carried out by Shia forces and Iraqi Security Forces.
ISIS seems to hope that this will “incite the Sunnis’ commotion and grudge feelings” and make it seem as though the fight is sectarian, according to the pamphlet.
Here’s a look at the pamphlet:
“It’s the behaviour of thugs, it’s the behaviour of killers, it’s the behaviour of terrorists,” Col. Steven Warren, a spokesman for the US-led, anti-ISIS coalition, told reporters in a press briefing on Tuesday.
Though ISIS is known for fanning the flames of sectarian hatred to further its cause and attract new recruits, some experts still doubted the document’s authenticity. It’s unclear how exactly the US military verified that it came from ISIS, the group also known as the Islamic State, ISIL, and Daesh.
One inconsistency on the document can be seen on the top left corner, which reads, “Ninawa Province.” Fallujah is in Anbar Province.
Michael Pregent, a former US Army intelligence officer who served as an embedded military adviser in Iraq, told Business Insider that he thinks the document could be a Shia militia forgery.
“ISIS isn’t fleeing Fallujah now,” Pregent said in an email.
Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland and a leading expert on Shia militias, also told Business Insider he had doubts about the document’s authenticity.
“Essentially, [the pamphlet] gives a sort of carte blanche for sectarian Shia militias to continue engaging in vicious activities and also gives cover to Iran’s activities with those groups in Iraq (given they back a large number of the groups participating in the Fallujah offensive),” Smyth said.
Earlier this year, Shia militias vowed to drive ISIS out of Fallujah. Shia militias, many of which are backed by Iran, have been accused of burning down Sunni villages they have liberated from ISIS and committing other atrocities against Sunnis. The militias have allegedly committed such atrocities in retribution for purported Sunni support for ISIS.
Some of the allegations against Shia militias are recent. A man named Ahmed, who has been fighting with Iraqi Special Operations Forces to retake parts of Ramadi from ISIS, told Vice News this week that he was tortured by a Shia militia unit. The unit, known as the Golden Division, is the only non-sectarian force in Iraq, comprising Sunni, Shia, Kurdish, and Christian fighters, according to Vice.
Smyth pointed out that Shia militias have been known “for quite some time” to carry out “ethnic cleansing, kidnappings, property destruction, and executions” in Sunni areas. The US has been criticised for working with these militias, which are said to have a great deal of influence over the Iraqi central government in Baghdad.
When asked at the briefing about the authenticity of the Fallujah pamphlet, Warren said he believed it “is in fact a legitimate document.”
“It’s certainly easy for me to believe it is in fact a legitimate document because this is the type of behaviour we’re used to seeing from these guys,” Warren said, referring to ISIS.
Warren added, however, that he doesn’t have “any documented examples of ISIS posing as Iraqi Security Forces and committing atrocities yet.”
The Pentagon didn’t immediately respond to a request for further comment.
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