Burden of Daesh stigma weighs heavily on kin of Iraq’s defeated militants

An unwritten policy of guilt by association with Daesh has left thousands of Iraqi households in a state of limbo — unable to move forward or back. (AFP/File Photo)
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An unwritten policy of guilt by association with Daesh has left thousands of Iraqi households in a state of limbo — unable to move forward or back. (AFP/File Photo)
An unwritten policy of guilt by association with Daesh has left thousands of Iraqi households in a state of limbo — unable to move forward or back. (AFP/File Photo)
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An unwritten policy of guilt by association with Daesh has left thousands of Iraqi households in a state of limbo — unable to move forward or back. (AFP/File Photo)
Wahid Husain, from Mosul, former Iraqi soldier, in Al-Jeddah camp 5, Nineveh province, Iraq. (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)
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Wahid Husain, from Mosul, former Iraqi soldier, in Al-Jeddah camp 5, Nineveh province, Iraq. (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)
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Updated 04 May 2021

Burden of Daesh stigma weighs heavily on kin of Iraq’s defeated militants

Wahid Husain, from Mosul, former Iraqi soldier, in Al-Jeddah camp 5, Nineveh province, Iraq. (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)
  • Iraqis with perceived links to Daesh face barriers to obtaining documentation or returning to their homes
  • Aid agencies fear children and women left stranded in camps may become a permanent underclass

NINEVEH/IRBIL/BOGOTA: Since the collapse of Daesh’s so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria, many Western nations have been reluctant to allow the families of fighters to return for legal, political and security reasons. But the issue is equally complicated in the two war-weary Arab countries that the “caliphate” straddled while it lasted.

More than three years after the territorial defeat of Daesh in Iraq, over one million Iraqis remain trapped in a precarious state of displacement. Those with perceived association with the terrorist group face added barriers to obtaining documentation or returning to their homes.

If their status is not resolved soon, aid agencies fear that those left stranded in Iraq’s sprawling camps risk forever being tarred as “Daesh families,” becoming a permanent underclass vulnerable to indoctrination and recruitment by organized crime or violent extremist groups.

“I did not agree with Daesh’s ideas. Since the beginning I used to fight with my husband, but he was brainwashed,” said Um Haidar, 42, who has spent the past four years in Al-Jeddah camp 5, a tent city of about 1,400 families in Iraq’s northwest Nineveh province.




Hayiya Mahmoud Emdid’s granddaughter with her sister inside their tent in Al-Jeddah camp 5, Nineveh province, Iraq. (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

“Before Daesh, my husband was a shepherd. When Daesh took control of our area, my husband joined them. He worked with Daesh as a river policeman.

“My husband wanted us to leave our village. He told me he didn’t want to harm his relatives or be harmed by them. We moved to an area called Dawr Al-Masafaa. We stayed there for a year. After we moved to Mosul. Since then, we have never been back to our village.”

Because of her husband and their son’s affiliation with Daesh, the tribal leaders who control the village of Al-Awsajah barred Um Haidar, her son’s widow and their children from returning after the liberation.

“Our house was destroyed by the people of our village. It’s gone now. Nothing is left,” she said. In the absence of a government-led peace and reconciliation effort, collective punishments of this kind are commonplace.

“I want to return to my area. I want to have reconciliation with the tribes. They don’t want us back because my husband was with Daesh,” said Um Haidar. “But he did not kill anyone.”




Hayiya Mahmoud Emdid with her grandchildren in Al-Jeddah camp 5, Nineveh province, Iraq. (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

Hayiya Mahmoud Emdid, another camp resident, tells a similar story of guilt by association. “Three of my sons joined Daesh. I don’t know how they died,” said Emdid, originally from Imam Gharbi, a village near Nineveh’s southern town of Qayyarah. “I have been told they were killed in the Old City of Mosul.”

Like Um Haidar, she too says she had tried to reason with her relatives whipped up by Daesh’s fanaticism. “I was angry when I was told that my sons joined Daesh. But they joined to make a living for their families,” Emdid said. “I am here in the camp because of my sons — me and the wives of my sons. We tried to stop them from remaining with Daesh, but we could not.”

As a result, the village refuses to take them back. “It’s a punishment for us. We don’t know our future. Our sheikh does not want us to go back. His brothers were killed by Daesh.”

The stigma attached to these families is robbing the youngest camp residents of a normal childhood. Many are unable to renew or apply for documentation, including birth certificates required to enroll in school.

“The children here are rejected by society,” said Abdullah Hamid Salih, the mukhtar (chieftain) of Al-Jeddah camp 5, who lived under Daesh’s reign in Mosul. “When they go out of the camp, they are not accepted by society. Most of the people here can’t go back to their areas due to tribal conflicts.”




Salih Mahamad, age 53, with his grandchildren in Al-Jeddah camp 5, Nineveh province, Iraq. (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

Salih, once a successful shopkeeper, has given up on returning to his former life, and instead wants the government in Baghdad to offer his wife and their five children a chance to start over somewhere entirely new.

“The best would be for the government to offer places for these families in another area, as the tribal issues will not be solved,” he said. “If the children stay in the camp, they will grow up hating the government, hating the region. It will be a new generation of Daesh.”

Daesh’s lightning advance across northern Iraq and Syria in the summer of 2014 left a trail of death and destruction in its wake.

Those who chose to remain under its rule, or were prevented from escaping, endured the cruelties of the group’s warped ideology, experienced hunger as shortages began to bite, and watched helplessly as their home towns became battlefields.

It is perhaps no surprise that those who fled, who lost their homes and whose loved ones succumbed to the group’s savagery are so reluctant to welcome back their erstwhile neighbors, now perceived as Daesh collaborators.

“I can’t protect these families if they come back. They can be attacked by other people in the village,” said Ramathan Abo Ahmed, mukhtar of Imam Gharbi.

“People would say they have family members who were killed by Daesh and until now they haven’t had compensation or a death certificate. People would not accept families that are linked to Daesh coming back.”

Some former residents have been accepted back into the community on a case-by-case basis, but the decision is not taken lightly.

Daesh in Iraq

* 18 - Countries in which Daesh operated before defeat.

* $1bn - Annual budget of terror group at that time.

* 30,000 - Estimated Daesh membership at the time.

“We have women whose husbands were with Daesh, but they did not support Daesh. They are living in the village,” Ahmed said. “But the ones who are still in the camps, they harmed people. These women followed their husbands when they joined Daesh.

“We thought about the children. But some of the women supported Daesh more than their men. The only way to get them back is for the tribal leaders all to agree to their return. We held a meeting with the tribal leaders and security forces of Qayyarah and the people of the area. They don’t want them back.”

This unwritten policy of guilt by association has left thousands of households in a state of limbo — unable to move forward or back.

“We are extremely concerned about the fate of families with perceived Daesh affiliation,” Belkis Wille, a senior researcher with the Conflict and Crisis division at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told Arab News.




Children play in Al-Jeddah camp 5, Nineveh province, Iraq. (AN Photo/Kareem Botane)

“Not only are they generally often cut off from returning to their communities and reintegrating in their communities, but, at the official level, they’re cut off from all government services, which include welfare programming, health care, the ability to get compensation to rebuild their homes, and obviously for their children, the big concern is that their children are often cut off from education and are unable to enroll in school.

“The authorities, in some cases, have tried to engage with tribal leaders and with communities to try and convince them to allow certain families to return home, often with limited success. In other instances, the government hasn’t really tried to do that.

“If the government were to ensure that everyone in Iraq, regardless of any family affiliation to Daesh, was able to renew their documents, then these families would be able to move to new areas — areas where they are perhaps not stigmatized (so much), larger cities where they can live with more anonymity, and within those new locations they could establish a life for themselves and reintegrate into the community.”

Even if the government resolved the issue of documentation, such families would still face opposition returning to their homes because state-led reconciliation efforts have been entirely neglected.

“The government has been extremely slow in paying out compensation to people whose property was destroyed by Daesh or by fighting against Daesh,” said Wille.

“If that compensation was coming more quickly, that might help ease tensions. There are so many other transitional justice mechanisms that could be established to allow for truth-telling, for apologizing, things that have worked in many other countries, that the government has just not invested in.

“Until those exist, the government has a limited ability in pushing tribes and communities to accept these families back.”




A amputee uses crutches to walk in a debris-strewn street in the old neighborhood of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on November 7, 2018. (AFP/File Photo)

Adnan Al-Daraji, administrator of Al-Jeddah camp 5, says the families in his care find themselves in a unique predicament that Baghdad is working hard to resolve.

“The Iraqi government wants to end the displacement in Iraq as we are not at war anymore,” Al-Daraji said. “There is support coming from the government for people to return and leave camps. But when it comes to this camp, there is more patience as most of the families here are Daesh families.”

Al-Daraji knows Iraq’s displacement crisis cannot go on forever if the country is ever to stabilize and prosper. “The camp has to be closed at some point and people should return to their areas with dignity,” he told Arab News.

Um Haidar believes her husband was probably killed when the Daesh-run guesthouse in Deir ez-Zor in which he lived was destroyed in an airstrike. The couple had moved to the northeast Syrian province to escape the fighting in northwest Iraq.

“My son stayed in Mosul. He was with Daesh too. We stopped receiving news of my son when we moved to Syria,” she said.

As a lone parent, sick with hepatitis, Um Haidar was permitted to re-enter Iraq on humanitarian grounds. Here, she and her surviving children began their search for acceptance.

“If my children stay here in the camp, if they are rejected by their relatives and the people of their village, they will carry hatred,” she warned. “I can tell they feel this way.”


Egypt sends letter to UN Security Council about Renaissance Dam

Egypt sends letter to UN Security Council about Renaissance Dam
Ethiopia began work on the dam in 2011. Egypt and Sudan are calling for a binding and comprehensive deal with Ethiopia that guarantees the rights and interests of all three countries. (AFP/File)
Updated 14 June 2021

Egypt sends letter to UN Security Council about Renaissance Dam

Egypt sends letter to UN Security Council about Renaissance Dam
  • Cairo fears the GERD will threaten its water supply from the Nile

CAIRO: Egypt has sent a letter to the head of the UN Security Council to highlight developments in the Grand Ethopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) dispute, as it and Sudan drafted a resolution about the dam to be presented to Arab foreign ministers next week.

Ethiopia began work on the dam in 2011. Egypt fears the GERD will threaten its water supply from the Nile, while Sudan is concerned about the dam’s safety and its own water flow.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry’s letter to the UN Security Council included the country’s objection to Ethiopia’s intention to continue filling the dam during the upcoming flood season. It also expressed the government’s rejection of Ethiopia seeking to impose a fait accompli on the downstream countries through unilateral measures.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Hafez said the letter aimed to reveal the truth about the intransigent positions Ethiopia was taking as these were stalling the efforts made over the past months to reach a fair, balanced and legally binding agreement on the issue.

HIGHLIGHT

The Council of Arab States, at the level of foreign ministers, is scheduled to hold an extraordinary session in Doha on Tuesday at the request of Egypt and Sudan to discuss developments regarding the dam issue.

Hafez said that an integrated file was also deposited with the UN Security Council to serve as a reference for the international community on the issue, as well as to document the constructive and responsible positions taken by Egypt.
Hossam Zaki, assistant secretary-general of the League of Arab States, said there was an Arab consensus supporting Egypt and Sudan’s rights in the Nile waters and that there was not a single country outside this consensus.
He indicated that Ethiopia’s attempt to “drive a wedge” between Arab and African countries on the Renaissance Dam issue would not succeed.
The Council of Arab States, at the level of foreign ministers, is scheduled to hold an extraordinary session in Doha on Tuesday at the request of Egypt and Sudan to discuss developments regarding the dam issue, he added.
Zaki said the session would be held on the sidelines of the consultative meeting of Arab foreign ministers that was being held in Doha.
Egypt and Sudan are calling for a binding and comprehensive deal that guarantees the rights and interests of all three countries.


Greece says Turkish patrol boat damaged coast guard vessel

Greece says Turkish patrol boat damaged coast guard vessel
This handout picture released on January 29, 2020, by the Turkish Defence Ministry Press Service shows migrants in a rubber boat rescued by Turkish navy soldiers on January 28, 2020, off the Libyan coast. (AFP)
Updated 14 June 2021

Greece says Turkish patrol boat damaged coast guard vessel

Greece says Turkish patrol boat damaged coast guard vessel
  • Greece in April had accused Turkey of seeking to “provoke an escalation” in the Aegean with “dangerous” maneuvers and illegal assistance to migrants

ATHENS: The Greek coast guard said that one of its patrol vessels was “harassed” by a Turkish patrol boat on Sunday, causing minor damage, a day before the Greek and Turkish leaders hold talks in Brussels.
There were no injuries in the incident, which occurred east of the Aegean island of Lesbos, the coast guard said in a statement.
It said “a patrol vessel of the Turkish coast guard harassed a patrol boat of the Lesbos coast guard, causing minor damage.”
Such incidents are common in the Aegean Sea during patrols for boats carrying migrants from Turkey to Greece.

SPEEDREAD

• A patrol vessel of the Turkish coast guard ‘harassed a patrol boat of the Lesbos coast guard, causing minor damage.’

• Such incidents are common in the Aegean Sea during patrols for boats carrying migrants from Turkey to Greece.

• Greece had accused Turkey of seeking to ‘provoke an escalation’ in the Aegean with ‘dangerous’ maneuvers and illegal assistance to migrants.

Greece in April had accused Turkey of seeking to “provoke an escalation” in the Aegean with “dangerous” maneuvers and illegal assistance to migrants.
Athens wants Ankara to better police migration routes and take back hundreds of asylum seekers found ineligible for refugee protection.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is to hold talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Brussels.
Mitsotakis said on Friday that good bilateral relations will depend on de-escalation efforts and on whether “Turkey participates constructively in the dialogue and respects the conditions set by the EU” in accordance with international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.


Algeria awaits results after voters snub elections

Algeria awaits results after voters snub elections
Algerian elections staff count ballots for parliamentary elections at a polling station in Bouchaoui, on the western outskirts of the capital Algiers, on June 12, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 14 June 2021

Algeria awaits results after voters snub elections

Algeria awaits results after voters snub elections
  • The movement has urged boycotts of all national polls since it mobilized hundreds of thousands of people in early 2019 to force longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his cronies from power

Algeria on Sunday awaited the results of a parliamentary election boycotted by the long-running Hirak protest movement and marked by widespread abstention.
Turnout was just 30.2 percent, electoral commission chief Mohamed Chorfi announced after Saturday’s vote — the lowest in a legislative poll at least 20 years.
He said it would be “96 hours” before official results are announced.
Fewer than 1 percent of registered voters cast their ballots in Kabylie, a mainly Berber region east of Algiers, and the cities of Bejaia and Tizi Ouzou.
“As expected, the majority of Algerians snubbed the ballot boxes. The low turnout confirms the strong trend toward rejecting the vote,” read the front page of French-language daily Liberte.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, himself elected on an official turnout of less than 40 percent in late 2019, put a brave face on the figures.
“For me, the turnout isn’t important. What’s important is whether the lawmakers that the people elect have enough legitimacy,” the president said.
The Hirak protest movement, which apart from a hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic had held twice-weekly demonstrations for reform until they were effectively banned last month, rejected the polls as a “sham.”
The movement has urged boycotts of all national polls since it mobilized hundreds of thousands of people in early 2019 to force longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his cronies from power.
But voting day was mainly calm, except in Kabylie, where ballot boxes were ransacked and security forces detained dozens of people, rights groups said.
Two prominent journalists detained on the eve of the election and released Saturday, Khaled Drareni and Ihsane El Kadi, condemned their “arbitrary” arrests.
“I believe you have the right to know that two journalists ... were subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention for no apparent reason,” Drareni wrote on his Facebook page.


IRC denounces deadly attack on Syria hospital

IRC denounces deadly attack on Syria hospital
A member of Syria’s Civil Defence service inspects the damage caused by the shelling at Al-Shifaa hospital in Afrin, Syria. (AFP)
Updated 14 June 2021

IRC denounces deadly attack on Syria hospital

IRC denounces deadly attack on Syria hospital
  • Saturday’s attack on the opposition-held northern town of Afrin killed at 21 people

BEIRUT: The International Rescue Committee on Sunday condemned the shelling on the Syrian city of Afrin that put a hospital out of service and killed civilians and medical staff.

Saturday’s attack on the opposition-held northern town killed at least 21 people, mostly in shelling on the hospital, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor.
“We utterly condemn this deadly attack on Al-Shifaa Hospital, one of the largest medical facilities in northern Syria,” said IRC’s Syria director Wolfgang Gressmann.
“This is the 11th attack on healthcare that has been recorded so far this year, and brings the total number of verified attacks on healthcare since January 2019 to 124.”
Of the 21 killed, 17 were civilians, including at least 4 hospital staff members, the Observatory said, adding that 23 people were also wounded.
The IRC said the attack completely destroyed the emergency room and the labor and delivery room.

This is the 11th attack on healthcare that has been recorded so far this year.

Wolfgang Gressmann, Syria director of IRC

“The hospital is now out of service,” the statement said. “It is vital that these attacks stop.”
According to the Observatory, Saturday’s artillery fire originated from northern Aleppo province where militias backing Iran and the Syrian regime are deployed near a region run by Kurdish forces. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) issued a statement denying any involvement in the shelling.
The Afrin region, like all areas held by pro-Turkish rebels, regularly witnesses targeted killings, bombings and shootings.
The conflict in Syria has killed nearly 500,000 people since it started in 2011 with the brutal repression of peaceful demonstrations.
Separately, the Lebanese army on Sunday said it intercepted a small boat carrying 11 people, mostly Syrians, attempting an illegal sea crossing out of the crisis-hit country. A statement said a naval force spotted the boat off the northern port city of Tripoli and that its passengers were all detained and referred for investigation, the army added.
The boat was carrying “10 people of Syrian nationality and a Lebanese national,” it said.
Their journey’s end was not specified but neighboring Cyprus, a member of the European Union, has been a popular sea smuggling destination in recent months.
In May, the Lebanese army intercepted a boat near Tripoli carrying 60 people, including 59 Syrians.
Lebanon, home to more than 6 million people, says it hosts more than a million Syrian refugees.
They have been hit hard by widening poverty rates and growing food insecurity brought on by the country’s economic crisis.

 


Netanyahu ‘might be down but he’s not out’

Netanyahu ‘might be down but he’s not out’
(L to R) Israel's outgoing PM Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with his successor incoming Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 13, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 13 June 2021

Netanyahu ‘might be down but he’s not out’

Netanyahu ‘might be down but he’s not out’
  • Celebrations by Netanyahu’s opponents to mark the end of his premiership began outside his official residence in Jerusalem, the site of weekly protests for the past year

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year hold on power ended on Sunday after a parliamentary vote on a new coalition government headed by a right-wing hawk.

Embattled Netanyahu earlier vowed that “if it’s our destiny to be in the opposition, we’ll do so with our heads high until we take down this bad government and return to lead the country our way.”

Khaled Elgindy, nonresident fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, told Arab News: “Netanyahu might be down but he’s not out.”

Elgindy said Netanyahu and his supporters “will do everything they can to bring down this highly fragile (new) government whether it takes a week, a month or a year.”

The new Cabinet was cobbled together by centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid and ultranationalist Naftali Bennett.

The latter, a hawkish hi-tech millionaire, is likely to serve as prime minister for two years before former TV host Lapid takes over.

Wadi Abunassar, director of the Haifa-based International Center for Consultation, told Arab News that it is difficult to talk of the “end of the Netanyahu era” because he is expected to be the leader of an aggressive opposition.

“Many things could happen in the Israeli political arena, including the collapse of the Bennett-Lapid government,” said Abunassar.

Celebrations by Netanyahu’s opponents to mark the end of his premiership began outside his official residence in Jerusalem, the site of weekly protests for the past year.

Dimitri Diliani, spokesman for the Democratic Reform Current — a Palestinian movement — told Arab News that the new Israeli government was not born out of a struggle between pro- and anti-peace camps.

“In general, both the previous government and the newly sworn-in one are in favor of expanding settlements and further Israelization of Palestinian Jerusalem, and against the two-state solution,” he said. “Palestinians aren’t placing any hope or expecting any change in policies concerning them.”

Bennett, a former defense minister, has promised that “Israel won’t let Iran have nuclear weapons.”

But Netanyahu said “Iran is celebrating” the prospect of a “dangerous” and weak new government.

It is the most unusual of coalitions, spanning the spectrum of Israeli Zionist parties and including Ra’am, an Arab party.

Mansour Abbas, head of Ra’am, succeeded in getting $16 billion pledged for Arab communities and recognition of a number of Bedouin towns in southern Israel.

Aaron David Miller, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Arab News: “From his perspective, Netanyahu’s most stunning achievement was his success in expanding Israel’s relations in Asia, Africa, Latin America and with great powers, while expanding settlements and putting the Palestinian issue in the deep freeze.”