Iraqi engineers who left the country to join the fighting against ISIS have been receiving death threats for daring to leave, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
The U.S. and the United Nations have warned the Iraqi government to immediately stop any arrests and deport all those who have been caught attempting to leave the country.
In a statement, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said that “several thousand” Iraqi engineers have left the city of Mosul, located in the northwest corner of Iraq.
Cook said in the statement that the U.N. Security Council has “identified several hundred individuals who have violated their obligations to leave Iraq” and that the Iraqi authorities should “take immediate steps to ensure the safety and security of the thousands of engineers.”
The United States is providing intelligence support for Iraqi security forces.
Cook declined to elaborate on the number of Iraqi engineers, citing the ongoing efforts to identify those who were trying to leave.
He also said the Iraqi Government has not yet determined how many engineers were killed in the fighting that has been raging in Mosul since 2014.
U.K.-based Iraq Institute for Policy Studies (IIPS) and the Institute for Middle East Policy said they had documented more than 2,000 deaths of Iraqi government troops, civil servants and contractors since the fighting began in 2014.
In April, an estimated 20,000 Iraqis were killed.
Iraq’s government has not acknowledged any civilian deaths, saying the fighting was under the control of “terrorists.”
Cook said the government is “working closely” with the U,N.
and other countries to find “a way to find and repatriate the remaining engineers.”
“We are working closely with the international community and the international forces that have been in Iraq to ensure that we find them and return them to Iraq,” he said.
IIPS said in a statement that a small number of engineers were freed after being detained by Iraqi security authorities, but many others were “killed by ISIS” and other groups.
“The situation has worsened since the recent military gains, and we believe that the Iraqis have failed to deliver a satisfactory return to the Iraqis, the people of Iraq and the people in the wider region,” IIPs director of operations, Sami Khatib, said in an email.
“In light of this, we are calling for a political solution to this crisis that includes a negotiated withdrawal of all foreign forces.”
The IIP also called on the Iraqi Parliament to hold a vote to release all engineers who were arrested and sent to jail in the country’s northern Nineveh province.
“We know that the government has been unwilling to cooperate with our requests to get them released,” Khatimbi said.
“Therefore, we demand the release of all of those detained.”
IIP has released a series of videos in the past that highlight the plight of Iraqis working for the Iraqi army, including one in 2015 that showed a soldier and his colleague getting out of a Humvee after a battle in which they were shot at by Iraqi forces.