Iraq’s ‘ISIS families’ are a recipe for future conflict

Iraq could face another resurgence of nationwide violence and a further empowerment of Iran’s terrorist organisations.
Sunday 06/01/2019
Children of an ISIS fighter pose for a family portrait at Daquq Camp near Kirkuk, last April. (AP)
Powder keg. Children of an ISIS fighter pose for a family portrait at Daquq Camp near Kirkuk, last April. (AP)

Human Rights Watch has published a scathing attack against the Iraqi government and its security and intelligence agencies for policies that have led to Iraqi families being held in concentration camp-like conditions.

The families have not been charged with any crime, save for being related to supposed or actual members of the Islamic State (ISIS).

Human Rights Watch Senior Iraq Researcher Belkis Wille said more than 100,000 Iraqis could be affected. They had identity documents confiscated and are confined to camps that were built to house refugees fleeing the violence that raged across Iraq from 2014-17.

Entire families have been implicated because their fathers, sons or husbands were civil servants, teachers, doctors or other professionals whose only crime was continuing to turn up to work in cities that had been captured by ISIS. Others were punished because their relatives fought on behalf of ISIS, even if they denounced their actions and wanted nothing to do with them.

Iraqi authorities and the security establishment made considerable efforts to utilise methods that can only be described as collective punishment, a crime under international humanitarian law.

Making matters worse, Iraqi security forces have been exploiting children and women, often forcing women into sexual relations just to be able to leave the camps for routine medical appointments.

This is diabolical and this cannot be stated enough.

The world was rightly up in arms when ISIS discriminated against various religious groups and used sex as a weapon against Yazidi women. The United States used this and threats towards Iraqi Kurdistan as a pretext for its intervention, providing air cover and arms to some of the worst of Iran’s Shia jihadist proxies to counter the Sunni extremists of ISIS.

Those Shia jihadists are part and parcel of the Iraqi armed forces and intelligence agencies and they are sexually abusing women in camps while denying them and other vulnerable people identity documents so that they are effectively stripped of their citizenship.

Without identity documents, it is impossible for “ISIS families” to return to their homes, reclaim their legal property and start to rebuild their shattered lives.

These people are frequently subjected to threats of being charged with aiding and abetting or even committing acts of terror and therefore face the death penalty.

Even if they are cleared, they are forced back into the camps and could be arrested again because security agencies do not coordinate their efforts and have many of the same names on their wanted lists.

Imagine escaping a death sentence and being declared innocent the first time, only to be subjected to a new trial that could easily end with a conviction and a short stint on death row before execution.

Wille warned that without a commitment to national reconciliation and the reintroduction of these people into Iraqi society, it could lead to tensions that would be an enormous roadblock on the road to peace.

It is also the case that such brazen sexual assaults against vulnerable women and children by those who are supposed to protect them could enrage the population, particularly Sunni Arabs who represent most of those suffering under the discriminatory and sectarian policies.

Should this happen, Iraq could face another resurgence of nationwide violence and a further empowerment of Iran’s terrorist organisations that control much of Iraq’s state power. This is a calamity that must be avoided.

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