Thousands of Iraqi families bear the burden of Daesh legacy

Thousands of Iraqi families face crushing social and legal discrimination — all because of the choices their male relatives made under the Daesh group’s rule. They’ve been disowned by relatives and abandoned by the state. (AP)
Updated 24 April 2019
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Thousands of Iraqi families bear the burden of Daesh legacy

  • The wives, widows and children have been disowned by their relatives and abandoned by the state
  • Registrars refuse to register births to women with suspected Daesh husbands

MOSUL, Iraq: When Ahmed Khalil ran out of work as a van driver in the Iraqi city of Mosul three years ago, he signed up with the Daesh group’s police force, believing the salary would help keep his struggling family afloat.
But what he wound up providing was a legacy that would outlast his job, and his life.
In Mosul and elsewhere across Iraq, thousands of families — including Khalil’s widow and children — face crushing discrimination because their male relatives were seen as affiliated with or supporting Daesh when the extremists held large swaths of the country.
The wives, widows and children have been disowned by their relatives and abandoned by the state. Registrars refuse to register births to women with suspected Daesh husbands, and schools will not enroll their children. Mothers are turned away from welfare, and mukhtars — community mayors — won’t let the families move into their neighborhoods.
The Daesh group’s “caliphate” that once spanned a third of both Iraq and Syria is now gone but as Iraq struggles to rebuilt after the militants’ final defeat and loss of their last sliver of territory in Syria earlier this year, the atrocities and the devastation they wreaked has left deep scars.
“They say my father was Daesh,” said Safa Ahmed, Khalil’s 11-year old daughter, referring to Daesh by its Arabic name. “It hurts me.”
Iraq has done little to probe the actions of the tens of thousands of men such as Khalil who, willingly or by force joined, worked and possibly fought for IS during its 2013-2017 rule. Instead, bureaucrats and communities punish families for the deeds of their relatives in a time of war.
Khalil was killed in an airstrike in Mosul, in February 2017, during the US-backed campaign to retake the city that Daesh seized in 2014. It was liberated in July 2017, at a tremendous cost — around 10,000 residents were believed to have been killed in the assault, and its historic districts now lie in ruins.
His widow, Um Yusuf, and their seven children were left to bear the stigma of his Daesh affiliation. She cannot get social assistance, and her teenage son Omar is being turned away from jobs.
They live in an abandoned schoolhouse, living on what they can make selling bread on the streets of the devastated city. Just three of the children are in school — the oldest two dropped out because of bullying about their father, and the youngest two cannot enroll because the civil registrar’s office won’t issue their IDs.
“It’s true their father made a mistake,” Um Yusuf said. “But why are these children being punished for his sin?“
Under Iraq’s patrimonial family laws, a child needs a named father to receive a birth certificate and an identity card, to enroll in school and to claim citizenship, welfare benefits and an inheritance.
But in post-Daesh Iraq, virtually every bureaucratic procedure now includes a security check on a woman’s male relatives, further frustrating mothers and children.
A UN report this year estimates there are 45,000 undocumented children in Iraq. Judges and human rights groups say an urgent resolution is needed or the country risks rearing a generation of children without papers or schooling.
“By punishing entire families, you marginalize them and you seriously undermine reconciliation efforts in Iraq,” said Tom Peyre-Costa, a spokesman for the Norwegian Refugee Council, which provides legal aid to Mosul mothers struggling to get their children ID papers.
At Al-Iraqiya school in western Mosul, one of the city’s first to reopen in 2017, principal Khalid Mohammad said he faces pressure from the community to deny enrollment to children whose fathers are in jail or missing — an absence many interpret as proof of Daesh affiliation.
“If anyone complains and someone is sent to investigate, I could lose my job,” he said.
At a legal office and clinic supported by the Norwegian Refugee Council, Nour Ahmed was looking for a way to claim legal custody of her undocumented younger son, in order to collect food and fuel aid for the family.
Her husband, she said, was abducted two years ago in Mosul by a group of pro-government militiamen who likely thought he was an Daesh member. Ahmed insists he wasn’t. He has been missing to this day.
Born in 2016 at a hospital run by Daesh, their son was given a birth certificate notarized by the Daesh group. As Iraq doesn’t recognize Daesh documents, the 3-year-old has no legal mother or father.
Ahmed was told she would need to find her husband to re-register her son’s birth. If she submitted a missing person’s report, it would raise questions about the child’s parentage, jeopardizing his right to citizenship.
“I just want to find him,” said Nour.
Adnan Chalabi, an appeals court judge, said he sees more than a dozen cases each day related to civilian documentation, brought largely by the wives, widows or divorcees of IS suspects. There is little he can do to help, he said, without a change to the law first.
“Daesh held the city for three years. Did people stop getting married, divorced, and having children during those three years?” he said. “We need a legislative solution.”
There is little appetite to change the country’s family and patrimony laws, said Iraq’s parliament speaker, Mohamad Halbousi, though there is a proposal to open civil registries for a limited period, to register undocumented children.
“These families need to be cared for. They cannot be left to melt away into society,” he said.
Outside a mosque in Mosul, where Um Yusuf was selling bread with her children, the widowed mother of seven said she was losing the strength to look after her family.
“We are deprived of everything,” she says. “The whole family is destroyed.”


Displaced by conflict, Libyan students fear for their future

Updated 24 May 2019
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Displaced by conflict, Libyan students fear for their future

  • “We’ve fallen behind... and I don’t even know where we will sit our final exams..." one high school student said
  • More than 75,000 people have been driven from their homes in the latest fighting

TRIPOLI: The fight for control of Libya’s capital is depriving tens of thousands of pupils of their education, with high school students displaced by the violence fretting about their future.
“We’ve fallen behind... and I don’t even know where we will sit our final exams or how they will calculate my grades,” said Mayar Mostafa, a teenager in her last year of high school.
Mostafa said the fighting has forced her and her family to flee their home in a southern Tripoli suburb, while her school has shut its doors.
All this has left her “psychologically stressed out,” she lamented.
Mostafa is among those who are living in limbo — not knowing when they will be able to resume their studies to salvage the school year, or when life as a whole might return to normal.
On April 4, strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an offensive to seize the capital Tripoli and unseat the internationally-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).
More than 75,000 people have been driven from their homes in the latest fighting and 510 have been killed, according to the World Health Organization.
More than 2,400 have also been wounded, while 100,000 people are feared trapped by the clashes raging on the capital’s outskirts.
Fighting between Haftar’s self-styled Libyan National Army and forces loyal to the GNA continues to rage south of Tripoli, and the UN envoy has warned of a “long and bloody war.”
Mostafa remembers the day the fighting erupted, saying she was woken by “the deafening sound of machine-gun fire and cannons.”
“We had to flee our home in the midst of a decisive school year,” she said.
“I was planning to go to university next year... Now I don’t know my fate.”
According to the UN’s agency for children, UNICEF, the fighting is “directly affecting some 122,088 children.”
“The academic year has been suspended in all schools in conflict-affected areas, and seven schools are currently sheltering displaced families,” UNICEF said last month.
It noted that an “attack on an education warehouse destroyed 5 million schoolbooks and national school exam results” in April.
In many schools classes are suspended because teachers have been trapped by fighting and are unable to reach work.
According to Rachad Bader, the head of a crisis cell set up by the Libya’s education ministry, “most schools in Tripoli have remained open,” despite the violence.
“But that is not the case for schools in Ain Zara and Abou Slim” in the southern suburbs of the capital, he said.
These “are the areas hardest hit by the military operations,” Bader added.
“I hope that the fighting will stop soon, otherwise we will have to look for alternatives for displaced children so that they won’t have to loose their school year,” he said.
The education ministry has given time off to teachers and students for the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan which began on May 6, hoping that by the end of that period fighting will have abated.
Meanwhile, in areas of Tripoli spared by the conflict, teachers have banded together to give free remedial classes during Ramadan to students displaced by the violence.
“It is generous on their part, knowing that they have sacrificed their Ramadan holiday to help us catch up,” said Mostafa, who along with 25 other students is taking maths classes.
“We are really grateful for their help in such difficult times,” she said.
But she is still afraid that she will not get good grades in her final exams.
English teacher Gofran Ben Ayad says the impromptu teaching initiative is key for the students.
“What is remarkable is that most of these students are brilliant and have shown that despite the psychological trauma they have suffered and their forced displacement, they are still able to learn,” she said.
Ahmad Bashir said he found out about the catch-up lessons through the Internet and “didn’t waste time” in registering for classes.
“My high school — the Khaled Ben Al-Walid in Ain Zara — has been closed for six weeks, and this is a decisive year,” he said.
“I don’t know what my future will be like after this war,” added Bashir, who like Mostafa is in his last year of high school.
He hopes the education ministry “will be understanding” in the timing of end-of-year exams, and take into account the plight of displaced students.