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.”


Egyptian Ministry of Health denies discovery of omicron variant in the country

Egyptian Ministry of Health denies discovery of omicron variant in the country
Updated 14 sec ago

Egyptian Ministry of Health denies discovery of omicron variant in the country

Egyptian Ministry of Health denies discovery of omicron variant in the country
  • It follows reports that two people infected with the new coronavirus variant were found on a flight from Ethiopia
  • Ministry of Health has ordered rapid lateral flow tests for all people arriving in Egypt from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini

CAIRO: The Egyptian Ministry of Health on Tuesday dismissed as rumors reports that two people infected with the newly discovered omicron coronavirus variant had been found on a flight arriving from Ethiopia.

Spokesman Hossam Abdel Ghaffar said: “This is not true. Egypt is still free of the new coronavirus variant.”

The Ministry of Health has ordered rapid lateral flow tests for all people arriving in Egypt from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini. Any passengers that test positive must return to their points of origin on same planes on which they arrived. Those who test negative must self-quarantine for seven days and take a PCR test at the end of that time.

Abdel Ghaffar stressed the importance of adhering to the precautionary measures implemented by Egyptian authorities to prevent the spread of the virus. He said these are designed to prevent the omicron variant entering the country, and added that although no cases of infection with the new variant have been discovered, “when it happens it will be announced with full transparency.”

Mohammed Al-Nadi, a member of the scientific committee charged with combating the coronavirus, said that although Egypt is free of the omicron variant so far, it is only a matter of time before cases are discovered in the country. He added that although many countries are attempting to prevent or slow the arrival of the variant, in the end it is likely to get through.

Egyptian authorities so far have done good job, Al-Nadi said, of isolating people arriving from places where the variant has been detected to reduce the chances of it spreading while information about it — such as its specific symptoms, how contagious it is and whether it is resistant to vaccines or treatments — is still uncertain.


Tens of thousands protest in anti-military marches in Sudan

Tens of thousands protest in anti-military marches in Sudan
Updated 30 November 2021

Tens of thousands protest in anti-military marches in Sudan

Tens of thousands protest in anti-military marches in Sudan
  • Protesters took to the streets in Khartoum and other cities to demand that the armed forces stay out of government
  • Sudanese security forces have cracked down on the rallies and have killed some 43 protesters so far

CAIRO: Security forces fired tear gas at anti-coup protesters in the Sudanese capital on Tuesday, as tens of thousands marched in the latest demonstrations against a military takeover that took place last month.
Protesters took to the streets in Khartoum and other cities around the country to demand that the armed forces stay out of government.
Deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was reinstated earlier this month under military oversight in a deal that many in the pro-democracy movement oppose. Since the generals seized power on Oct. 25 and rounded up more than 100 civilian government figures, protesters have repeatedly taken to the streets.
In a video streamed online from the Bahri neighborhood of Khartoum, a few protesters threw stones as security forces repeatedly fired tear gas and used sound bombs to try to disperse them. Leaders of the pro-democracy movement have consistently called on those taking part in demonstrations to remain peaceful. In a larger march not far away, demonstrators filled an entire street.
Sudanese security forces have cracked down on the rallies and have killed some 43 protesters so far, according the Sudan Doctors’ Committee, which tracks protester deaths. On Tuesday, the group announced that the latest death was that of a protester who died from hemorrhaging in the skull after being badly beaten by security forces during a march last week.
On Saturday, Hamdok announced the replacement of top officials in the country’s police forces, according to Sudan’s state news agency, firing those who oversaw the response to earlier demonstrations.
Tuesday’s demonstrations come after Hamdok emphasized that the Sudanese people have the right to peacefully protest. In a Facebook post on Monday, he said it is a right “the Sudanese people have secured through decades of struggle.”
The military’s signing of a power-sharing deal with Hamdok coincided with his release from weeks of house arrest. Since then, a number of other officials have also been let go but many remain in detention, along with many activists and protesters.
Hamdok’s reinstatement was the biggest concession made by the military since the coup but leaves the country’s transition to democracy mired in crisis. Sudan’s key pro-democracy groups and political parties have dismissed the deal as falling short of their demands for full civilian rule.
Sudan has been struggling with its transition to a democratic government since the overthrow of autocrat Omar Al-Bashir in 2019, following a mass uprising against three decades of his rule.


If Iran not serious this week, there will be a problem, senior E3 diplomats say

If Iran not serious this week, there will be a problem, senior E3 diplomats say
Updated 9 min 51 sec ago

If Iran not serious this week, there will be a problem, senior E3 diplomats say

If Iran not serious this week, there will be a problem, senior E3 diplomats say

VIENNA: There will be a problem if Iran does not show it is serious in nuclear negotiations with world powers this week, senior European diplomats said on Tuesday.
As talks resumed in Vienna, the diplomats from France, Britain and Germany, known as the E3, told reporters that they had still not resolved the thorny issue of what to do with advanced centrifuges which Iran is using to enrich uranium.

The E3 told reporters at a briefing there was urgency in reaching a conclusion on reviving the pact but they did not want to impose artificial deadlines.
Under the agreement, Iran limited its uranium enrichment program, a process that can yield fissile material for bombs, in return for relief from US, EU and UN economic sanctions. Iran says its nuclear program is for solely peaceful purposes.


Emotions run high as Syrians plead with UN Security Council to investigate war crimes

Emotions run high as Syrians plead with UN Security Council to investigate war crimes
Updated 23 min 42 sec ago

Emotions run high as Syrians plead with UN Security Council to investigate war crimes

Emotions run high as Syrians plead with UN Security Council to investigate war crimes
  • Torture survivor Alshogre urges delegates to hold Assad regime accountable for its treatment of political prisoners
  • Sentencing by a German court of former Syrian agent Eyad Al-Gharib to 4.5 years in prison hailed as historic

NEW YORK: The atmosphere in the UN Security Council changed when human rights activist and survivor of Assad regime prisons Omar Alshogre began to talk. Monday’s meeting had been convened to shed light on the prevailing impunity in Syria and the need for the council to do more to end it and ensure accountability for crimes committed during the country’s ongoing war.

The conflict began when the regime launched a brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters during the “Damascus Spring.” Since then, more than 350,000 people have died and millions more forced from their homes.

Alshogre, whose harrowing experiences as a political prisoner in Bashar Assad’s jails — “being detained, starved, tortured within an inch of my life” — had made the news worldwide, looked the representatives of world powers in the eye in the UNSC chamber and asked them: “If you were presented with the opportunity to save an innocent life without risking your own, would you do it? Most people would.”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the 25-year-old refugee continued. “The opportunity is presenting itself today. It presented itself yesterday, and every day since March 15, 2011. That is 3,912 missed opportunities to save lives in Syria. In that time, more than 350,000 people have been killed by the Syrian regime, according to the UN.”

The informal meeting was convened by council members Estonia, France, the UK and the US, along with a dozen sponsors including Qatar and Turkey.

Alshogre told the ambassadors that it was his own mother’s “courage to stand up to the brutal dictatorship” that saved his life and urged them to remember her name, “Hala,” and follow her example.

Despite her husband and sons being massacred in front of her eyes by Assad’s men and their “Iranian allies,” and “instead of complaining about her limitations, (my mother) found a way to take action.

“Despite many failed attempts to get me out of prison, she kept trying again and again. She persisted until I was freed,” Alshogre said.

“By saving me from prison, my mother set an example of how we all must act to stop the Syrian regime from taking more lives and hold its leaders accountable for the countless lives it has already taken.

“It doesn’t require a miracle. It just requires courage, action and persistence.”

A recent report by the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic concluded that thousands of detainees have been subjected to “unimaginable suffering” during the war, including torture, death and sexual violence against women, girls and boys.

The UNSC had tasked the commission with investigating and recording all violations of international law since the start of the conflict.

“At least 20 different, horrific methods of torture used by the government of Syria have been extensively documented,” the investigators wrote in their report.

“These include administering electric shocks, the burning of body parts, pulling of nails and teeth, mock executions, folding detainees into a car tire, and crucifying or suspending individuals from one or two limbs for prolonged periods, often in combination with severe beating.”

The perpetrators, however, still roam freely in Syria amid no tangible deterrence, as violations and crimes continue to this day.

The sentencing by a German court in Koblenz in February of former Syrian secret agent Eyad Al-Gharib to four and a half years in prison on charges of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity has been hailed as historic.

Al-Gharib had been accused of rounding up peaceful anti-government protesters and delivering them to a detention center, where they were tortured. The verdict marked the first time a court outside Syria had ruled on state-sponsored torture by members of the Assad regime.

Christoph Heusgen, Germany’s former permanent representative to the UN, said the verdict of the Koblenz state court sends a clear message to Assad that “whoever commits such crimes cannot be safe anywhere.” He added that “Assad’s state has turned the cradle of civilization into a torture chamber.”

Teams from war crimes units in Sweden, France and Germany have recently begun joint investigations into Syria’s war crimes, with Sweden focusing on torture and killings by both the Assad regime and Daesh.

In France, a preliminary investigation has drawn on the tens of thousands of photos of dead bodies taken between 2011 and 2013 by “Caesar,” the codename for a former Syrian military photographer.

While speakers at Monday’s meeting welcomed similar proceedings in courts outside of Syria, they said that such moves “do not come close to addressing the magnitude of the Syrian crisis.”

They lamented the UNSC’s inaction and the fate of its 2014 resolution to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, which was not approved.

“Several resolutions aimed at identifying those responsible for the use of chemical weapons met the same fate,” said the meeting’s sponsors in a statement. They reiterated their call for the file to be placed in the hands of the ICC.

As Syrian filmmaker Waad Al-Kateab, who also gave heart-wrenching testimony about life under Assad, played a video in the chamber showing an Aleppo mother at the moment she lost her child in an Assad bombing, some council members choked back tears.

Alshogre said: “We have stronger evidence today than what we had against the Nazis at Nuremberg. (We) even know where the mass graves are located. But still no international court and no end to the ongoing slaughter for the civilians in Syria.

“I understand that there are barriers to action, but I also believe in the international system and the UN and the principles they were founded upon.”

Alshogre made a final plea to the international community that, while it is too late to save those who died, there are millions of Syrian lives that can still be saved and “that is my biggest ask to you: That you save them.”


Geagea says delaying vote would condemn Lebanon to ‘slow death’

Geagea says delaying vote would condemn Lebanon to ‘slow death’
Updated 30 November 2021

Geagea says delaying vote would condemn Lebanon to ‘slow death’

Geagea says delaying vote would condemn Lebanon to ‘slow death’
  • Geagea pointed the finger at Hezbollah and Free Patriotic Movement for moves to delay parliamentary election
  • “With the current way things are going, state institutions — and so the state — is dissolving day by day,” he said

MAARAB, Lebanon: One of Lebanon’s main Christian politicians accused foe Hezbollah and its allies of working to postpone a parliamentary election set for March over fears of electoral losses, warning such a move would condemn Lebanon to a “slow death.”

Western donors that Lebanon is relying on to stem its financial implosion have said the vote must go ahead. Politicians from all sides, including Hezbollah, have repeatedly said it should happen otherwise the country’s standing would be dealt a further blow.

But Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces, pointed the finger at Hezbollah and its ally President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement for moves to delay it “because they are near certain that they will lose their parliamentary majority.”

Aoun said this month he would not sign authorization for the vote, approved by parliament, to be held on March 27 as the date was too early.

Asked whether a postponement would lead to more fighting after clashes last month between the Lebanese Forces and Hezbollah, Geagea, said: “Not fighting, but to more slow death.”

“With the current way things are going, state institutions — and so the state — is dissolving day by day,” he said at his residence in the mountains overlooking the coastal town of Jounieh.

Lebanon has no reliable opinion polling but should the election take place, Geagea’s party is widely expected to make gains, with the Free Patriotic Movement expected to lose seats, potentially robbing Hezbollah of its majority.

Without an election to shake up parliament “you will see more of the same,” Geagea said. The United Nations says the economic meltdown has left nearly 80 percent of people in poverty.

Lebanon’s government, formed from most major political parties in September following a 13-month period of political paralysis, has already not convened in nearly 50 days amid a push by Hezbollah and its allies to remove the judge investigating the deadly August 2020 Beirut port blast.

Geagea’s Lebanese Forces is the second largest Christian party in parliament. It has stayed out of the cabinet since a popular uprising against the sectarian elite in 2019.

But the group was thrust back into the headlines when tensions over the probe erupted into the worst street violence in more than a decade last month, reviving memories of the country’s 1975-90 civil war.

Seven people, all followers of Hezbollah and its ally Amal, were killed.
Hezbollah accused the Lebanese Forces of ambushing its supporters at the protest. Geagea confirmed supporters of his party, along with others, were involved in the clashes, but denied the move was pre-meditated and blamed Hezbollah for entering Beirut’s mostly Christian Ain Al-Remmaneh neighborhood, a strong support base for the Lebanese Forces.

During Lebanon’s civil war, the Lebanese Forces, under Geagea, was a right-wing militia that controlled swathes of territory including eastern Beirut.

Following October’s clashes, Hezbollah’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah accused it of seeking to start a sectarian conflict and warned Hezbollah had 100,000 fighters at his disposal.

Geagea denied Nasrallah’s allegation that the Lebanese Forces had 15,000 fighters, saying the party had 35,000 members of whom only some had personal arms and perhaps more than 10,000 — “the whole old generation” — had military training.

Geagea said the Lebanese Forces did not seek a physical confrontation with Hezbollah and were not concerned about the breakout of sectarian violence due to the role of the Lebanese Army in maintaining civil peace.

However, he said he had limited his movement and was not leaving his mountain residence in Maarab due to security threats, without giving further details.