Teenage brides trapped between Daesh and its victors

Rawan Aboud, the wife of a Daesh militant is pictured at Al-Hol displacement camp in Hasaka governorate. (Reuters)
Updated 12 April 2019

Teenage brides trapped between Daesh and its victors

  • The SDF is struggling to cope with the number of suspected militants and supporters languishing in detention centers and camps

AL-HOL CAMP/SYRIA: Rawan Aboud tried to escape Daesh after the death of her abusive first husband, a militant killed fighting for the group. She was jailed and forced to marry another fighter. When he died, she finally fled.

Now she is interned with fanatic supporters of the violent militant group she has sought refuge from since the age of 13.

“I married age 12,” said the Syrian girl, now 18. “My husband then brought me to Raqqa. He beat me and said I was an apostate for trying to leave.”

Thousands of women, especially foreigners who flocked from Europe and North African countries, willingly joined Daesh.

Some remain ardent supporters of its ideology and live in camps they fled to in eastern Syria which are under the control of the US-backed forces that drove Daesh from its final piece of territory last month.

But many like Aboud, married off by conservative Muslim families in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, had no choice.

Aboud, several Syrians and a Lebanese woman also wed as a child to a man who joined Daesh are now detained alongside its die-hard adherents in a guarded section of Al-Hol camp.

Regarded as suspect by Kurdish-led forces that helped defeat the militants and persecuted by women they are locked up with, they fear they will rot in detention or face death at the hands of their extreme fellow detainees.

Aboud has spent three months at Al-Hol along with more than 60,000 people who fled the battle for Baghouz, the final shred of populated territory that Daesh had held until its defeat there last month.

In an interview with Reuters this month, she wore a green coat, fingerless gloves and eye make-up behind her veil, which she only wears to avoid drawing the attention of Daesh supporters.

She said her husbands were dead, not martyred, as slain militants are usually described by supporters.

“My first husband was killed fighting three years ago, thank God.”

Aboud tried to flee Daesh territory and was jailed in its Raqqa stronghold. When the US coalition began bombing the city, her nine-month-old daughter was killed. 

Militants moved her and other women from town to town as they retreated, and married her to another fighter who also killed several months ago. She then escaped with her other daughter, now four. They face an uncertain future.

“I want to go to my family in Idlib. But right now I’d settle for just another part of the camp, away from the foreigners. Somewhere I can use a phone,” she said.

The security forces that guard Al-Hol have denied her requests to move, she said. “They keep saying tomorrow and asking, why did you marry” a Daesh fighter.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that run the camp did not immediately respond to a request for comment on her detention.

“Because I fled and how I dress, the other women call me an infidel. They throw stones at me. When I queue for water, they say this isn’t a line for Syrians.”

Amal Susi, the Lebanese woman in the same section of the camp, complained of similar treatment and feared never returning home.

The 20-year-old surrendered herself and her two children in 2017 to the SDF after her husband was killed in Raqqa. Months later she was returned to Daesh territory in a prisoner swap, she said. “It was back to zero,” she said.

Her husband took her as a teenager to Syria to live in Daesh’s self-declared rule.

Susi is also waiting to be transferred to another section of the camp.

The SDF is struggling to cope with the number of suspected militants and supporters languishing in detention centers and camps while some Western countries refuse to allow their citizens to return.

Most Syrians and Iraqis roam Al-Hol camp separately from foreign women who are guarded by the SDF. Many foreigners use derogatory militant terms against non-extremists and blame their plight solely on Daesh’s enemies.

Aboud, Susi and many others hope to get as far away from them as possible.


Iraqi protesters block commercial ports, split capital

Updated 19 November 2019

Iraqi protesters block commercial ports, split capital

  • Iraqi civilians are increasingly relying on boats to ferry them across the Tigris River as ongoing standoffs shut key bridges in Baghdad
  • The Jumhuriya, Sinak and Ahrar bridges connect both sides of the city by passing over the river

BAGHDAD: Anti-government protesters blocked access to a second major commercial port in southern Iraq on Tuesday, as bridge closures effectively split the capital in half, causing citizens to rely on boats for transport to reach the other side of the city.
Since anti-government protests began Oct. 1, at least 320 people have been killed and thousands wounded in Baghdad and the mostly Shiite southern provinces. Demonstrators have taken to the streets in the tens of thousands over what they say is widespread corruption, lack of job opportunities and poor basic services, despite the country’s oil wealth.
Security forces have used live ammunition, tear gas and stun guns to repel protesters, tactics that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday would be punished with sanctions.
“We will not stand idle while the corrupt officials make the Iraqi people suffer. Today, I am affirming the United States will use our legal authorities to sanction corrupt individuals that are stealing Iraqis’ wealth and those killing and wounding peaceful protesters,” he said in remarks to reporters in Washington.
“Like the Iraqi people taking to the streets today, our sanctions will not discriminate between religious sect or ethnicity,” he added. “They will simply target those who do wrong to the Iraqi people, no matter who they are.”
Over a dozen protesters blocked the main entrance to Khor Al-Zubair port, halting trade activity as oil tankers and other trucks carrying goods were unable to enter or exit. The port imports commercial goods and materials as well as refined oil products.
Crude from Qayara oil field in Ninewa province, in northern Iraq, is also exported from the port.
Khor Al-Zubair is the second largest port in the country. Protesters had burned tires and cut access to the main Gulf commercial port in Umm Qasr on Monday and continued to block roads Tuesday.
Iraqi civilians are increasingly relying on boats to ferry them across the Tigris River as ongoing standoffs between demonstrators and Iraqi security forces on three key bridges has shut main thoroughfares connecting east and west Baghdad.
The Jumhuriya, Sinak and Ahrar bridges, which have been partially occupied by protesters following days of deadly clashes, connect both sides of the city by passing over the Tigris River. The blockages have left Iraqis who must make the daily commute for work, school and other day-to-day activities with no choice but to rely on river boats.
“After the bridges were cut, all the pressure is on us here,” said Hasan Lilo, a boat owner in the capital. “We offer a reasonable transportation means that helps the people.”