HRW said on Friday that Kurdish Peshmerga fighters detained Daesh fighters at a school in Sahel al-Maliha, a town 45 miles northwest of Mosul — the site of one of the last major battles against Daesh in Iraq. Coalition forces, including many Kurdish fighters, wrested control of the city from Daesh in July 2017.
"The evidence suggests that Asayish security forces [the Kurdistani security force] conducted mass executions of captured [Daesh] suspects night after night for a week, perhaps killing scores or even hundreds of male detainees," said Lama Fakih, HRW's deputy Middle East director in the statement.
"Iraqi and KRG [Kurdish Regional Government] authorities should urgently and transparently investigate the allegations of mass executions and hold those responsible to account."
HRW was not able to find any witnesses to confirm their report, but a retired Asayish fighter told them that he had spoken to Peshmergas who had participated in the mass executions.The former fighter, who went by the pseudonym "Nadim," said he was told by one of the Asayish that they had executed at least 170 captives, possibly more.
"Because the mass grave site is located within the flood zone of the Mosul Dam reservoir, it is critically important to urgently allow international forensic experts to conduct a detailed exhumation of the site before seasonal rains fill the reservoir again later this year," the HRW report said.
Asayish leaders denied the report when asked about it. Kurdish official Dindar Zebari said that in their report of the incident, the Asayish claimed to have been chasing the militants as they were trying to flee across the Syrian border.
The bodies discovered by HRW were from that battle, Zebari added. "The corpses of the killed [Daesh] members in this fighting were probably brought to one place to be buried," he said.
But HRW cast their doubts on the Peshmerga version of the events. They argued that the bodies were discovered around 25 miles from the site of the alleged battle, and the conditions of the corpses did not suggest that they were killed in pitched combat.
"This explanation does not match the state the bodies were found in, shot in the head" and buried "in a solitary desert area, far from where any fighting had occurred," the watchdog group said.
Mosul acted as the de facto capital of Daesh's presence in Iraq while they remained a territory-holding entity. The nine-month-long campaign to retake the city heralded the beginning of the end for Daesh, as they lost the last of their Iraqi territory in December 2017.
However, Daesh survives as a guerrilla and terrorist group. Their highest profile attack since then was in mid-January when a series of suicide bombings in Baghdad left 27 dead.