Fates vary of foreign terrorists arrested in Iraq and Syria

Melina Boughedir, 27, was arrested last summer in Mosul with her four children, three of whom have been repatriated to France. (AFP)
Updated 24 February 2018

Fates vary of foreign terrorists arrested in Iraq and Syria

QAMISHLI, Syria: Iraq and Syria’s Kurds have netted foreign terrorists by the thousands but while the former is expediting trials, the latter would rather send them home.
A Baghdad court on Monday sentenced Frenchwoman Melina Boughedir to seven months in prison, a term she had already served by the time she was tried.
The authorities only found her guilty of entering Iraq illegally and she will soon be able to return to France, a country which was one of the Daesh group’s main suppliers of foreign fighters.
The 27-year-old is one among the thousands of foreigners suspected of having fought for or supported terrorist groups, more or less directly, over the past years.
Iraq, which has detained at least 560 women, as well as 600 children identified as terrorist or relatives of suspected Daesh fighters, is wasting no time in putting them on trial.
In January, a court sentenced a German woman to death on charges of providing logistical support to Daesh and on Sunday a Turkish woman was also handed the death penalty.
France so far has ignored appeals by families and lawyers advocating repatriations and said it supported the idea of its nationals detained in Iraq and Syria being tried there.
Paris has said it would only intervene if death penalties were handed down. Iraq is one of the countries in the world that carries out the most executions.
Most countries, especially in Europe where a string of deadly attacks has had a major impact on public opinion, do not want to see those detained nationals return on their soil.
There appears to be little ambivalence in Iraq over the fate of the foreign fighters and their families.
“These people have killed, put women into slavery... They have committed war crimes on Iraqi soil, and Iraqi law prevails,” said the main spokesman of Iraq’s judiciary, Abdel Sattar Bayraqdar.
Across the border, the Syrian Kurds have more misgivings.
“We have arrested thousands of foreign jihadists and we still capture some every day,” Redur Khalil, a senior spokesman, told AFP in the Kurdish region of Syria.
Khalil is an official in the People’s Protection Units, a group which formed the backbone of an outfit that was the US-led coalition’s main ground partner in the fight against Daesh in Syria.
“We want foreign jihadists to be tried in their home countries,” he said.
The Kurdish forces have more immediate priorities, such as fending off a Turkish military offensive on the enclave of Afrin.
The Kurdish administration in northeastern Syria is self-proclaimed, which leaves many legal question marks hanging over its dealing with foreign states over such an issue.
The semi-autonomous region is led by a de facto government and elections are due for its Parliament but its fledgling institutions are not recognized internationally.
“According to which law can we sentence them?” Khalil asked, adding: “We don’t have big prisons.”
Abdul Karim Omar, a senior official in one of the three cantons of the autonomous Kurdish territory, said a bilateral deal had been reached with Indonesia and Russia, calling for others to follow suit.
“We wish to deliver these prisoners to their countries,” he told AFP.
But after being held up as the heroes of the war against Daesh, Syria’s Kurds face the risk of isolation on the international scene and appear ready to accommodate some of the states least willing to take back their terrorists.
“If it’s not possible to deliver them, we will put them into court here,” Omar said.

Sentences in Syrian Kurdish courts go up to 20 years in jail for terrorism-related charges but can be reduced.
The families of and lawyers of some of the detained foreign terrorists have voiced concern that these foreign detainees will turn into bargaining chips in geopolitical horse-trading.
“The Kurds are perfectly aware that these foreign detainees are a key card in their hand,” said Martin Pradel, a lawyer for several French nationals held in Syria.

Kurds split on next Iraqi president and throw government formation into further turmoil

Updated 22 min 33 sec ago

Kurds split on next Iraqi president and throw government formation into further turmoil

  • The failure of the Kurds to agree on a single candidate will threaten the stability of the Kurdish region
  • A close ally of KDP leader Massoud Barzani has been backed as a presidential nomination

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s main Kurdish political forces have failed to agree on a candidate for the post of president, highlighting the depth of the rift  between them and redrawing their map of influence in Baghdad, negotiators told Arab News.

Electing the president is the second step in the process of forming a government. According to the political power sharing agreement adopted by Iraqi political parties since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, the post is allocated to the Kurds.

By the end of Monday, the last day for nominations, more than 30 candidates, including a woman, had declared their nominations for the post but the absence of consensus between the Kurdish parties on a single candidate, meant the vote was delayed until Thursday.

The president in the Iraqi constitution does not have wide executive powers, but could play a pivotal role in resolving disputes between Baghdad and Erbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region, and between the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish powers in Baghdad. 

The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the largest Kurdish parties in Iraq control more than 50 seats in parliament. The two parties have shared the federal posts allocated to the Kurds for the last 15 years. Voting for the PUK’s presidential candidate had become a tradition, but the insistence of the KDP to compete for the post this time has confused Iraq’s parties and forced them to renegotiate.

“It is time to get this position back to the larger Kurdish bloc,” Irdlan Noor Al-Deen, a KDP leader and MP said. “We are insisting to compete for the post ... and we will not discuss the option of stepping down.”

The failure of the Kurds to agree on a single candidate will threaten the stability of the Kurdish region and deepen the disagreement between the two Kurdish parties that arose in October last year when Kurdish forces associated with the PUK refused to fight Iraqi security forces after they launched a campaign to regain central government control over the disputed areas between Baghdad and Erbil. The offensive was in response to the independence  referendum held a month earlier.

The two parties are squaring up in elections scheduled for next week for the Kurdistan Regional Government.

Azad Warti, a PUK leader, said that if the political “fire” from the KDP continued after the elections “we will review our relationship with them.”

“There are a lot of joints areas between us ... and continuing with this approach means that we may not continue with them in the same front,” he said.

Last week, the PUK’s leadership nominated the Kurdish veteran politician Barham Salih, while the KDP nominated Fuad Hussein, the head of the Kurdistan Regional Presidency Office and personal secretary of Massoud Barzani, the most prominent Kurdish leader and former president of the Kurdish region.

It is not clear why Barzani, who headed the KDP, suddenly insisted on the presidential candidacy. Some observers see this step as an attempt to seek revenge against the Kurdish and Shiite forces that rejected the independence referendum and supported Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi when he imposed a series of financial and administrative sanctions on Kurdistan.

“Barzani is looking to get revenge from the leaders of the PUK because he believes that they let him down in his battle with Baghdad when he held the referendum,” Abdulwahid Tuama, a political analyst told Arab News.

“Also, getting the post for the KDP candidate will reinforce the divisions between the PUK and its Kurdish allies in Baghdad, and this will provide the KDP with a great opportunity to be the touchstone in the ongoing negotiations to form a government in Baghdad.”

The major Shiite blocs, which initially declared their support for Barham Salih, have now said they do not mind if the KDP takes over the president, but stipulated the replacement of the party's official candidate.

“Fouad Hussein was rejected by all Shiite political forces. We told Barzani that we have no objection to voting for his candidate, but he has to nominate someone else,” A key Shiite negotiator told Arab News.

“Hussein is the private secretary of Barzani and if he is elected as president of Iraq, it means that the president will be Barzani’s secretary.

“This is an insult to the country and to all, and we will never accept it.”

Iran and the United States have been the most prominent international players in Iraq since 2003. Both are deeply involved in the ongoing negotiations between Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties. 

Brett McGurk, the US envoy to Iraq and Syria, has played a key role in naming Barham Salih as a candidate for the PUK, while Gen. Qassim Sulaimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, flew to Erbil on Sunday evening to meet Barzani and “persuade him to abandon his stubbornness and accept a compromise that excludes both candidates (Salih and Hussein),” two Shiite negotiators told Arab News. 

“Sulaimani went last night to Erbil to smooth the tension and try to find a solution that would be accepted by all the related parties,” a key Shiite negotiator told Arab News.

“He will suggest to provide a new candidate who should be accepted by all Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni parties. 

The negotiator said parliament may vote to reelect Fuad Massum, the outgoing Iraqi president, as he is accepted by all.