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.”


Help build solid basis for Libyan elections and don’t fixate on dates, Security Council told

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 25 January 2022

Help build solid basis for Libyan elections and don’t fixate on dates, Security Council told

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Lawyer and activist Elham Saudi condemned “weak” vetting that resulted in candidates implicated in corruption and crimes against humanity being cleared to stand
  • US envoy highlighted concerns about deteriorating human rights situation in the country and continuing reports of violence and abuse targeting migrants, asylum seekers and refugees

NEW YORK: Mediators need to take into account the lessons learned in Libya in the past two years and focus on “creating milestones” for the country’s political transition, rather than fixating on the time frame involved, according to Elham Saudi, co-founder and director of Lawyers for Justice in Libya.

These milestones include an electoral law, a code for conducting elections, and a solid constitutional basis “that appropriately sequences presidential and legislative elections in line with the broader road map to complete (the) transition effectively,” he said.

Addressing the UN Security Council on Monday during its regular meeting about developments in Libya, Saudi said that when these steps are implemented, elections will naturally follow and will be “far easier to manage, protect and successfully deliver.”

Stephanie Williams, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on Libya, recently reiterated the importance of holding elections “in the shortest possible time frame.” She said this month that “it is possible, and needed, to have elections before the end of June.”

However, Saudi said that “focusing on the dates for the elections instead of a clear process to facilitate them risks once again compromising due process for the sake of perceived political expediency.”

Growing polarization among political powers in the country and disputes over key aspects of the electoral process — including shortcomings in the legal framework for the elections, contradictory court rulings on candidacies, and political and security concerns as cited by the High National commission for Elections — resulted in the postponement of the elections, which had been scheduled to take place on Dec. 24 last year.

Saudi reminded members of the Security Council that “accountability is a prerequisite to political progress. Poorly defined and fundamentally weak vetting criteria applied to candidates applying for elections resulted in individuals implicated in corruption or crimes against humanity and human rights violations, including persons who have been indicted by the ICC (International Criminal Court), being accepted as candidates.”

Following the postponement of polling in December, Libya’s House of Representatives established a “road map committee” to develop a new path toward national elections. The committee will present its first report for debate on Tuesday in Tripoli.

Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN’s under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs, welcomed what she described as renewed efforts by Libya’s Presidency Council to advance national reconciliation but lamented the political uncertainty in the run-up to the elections. which she said has “negatively impacted the overall security situation, including in Tripoli, resulting in shifting alliances among armed groups affiliated with certain presidential candidates.”

She expressed concern about the human rights situation in Libya, citing “incidents of elections-related violence and attacks based on political affiliation, as well as threats and violence against members of the judiciary involved in proceedings on eligibility of electoral candidates, and against journalists, activists and individuals expressing political views.”

DiCarlo added: “Such incidents are an obstacle to creating a conducive environment for free, fair, peaceful and credible elections.”

Taher El-Sonni, Libya’s permanent representative to the UN, told the Security Council that while some people had been surprised by the postponement of elections, it had been widely expected.

“In light of the crisis of trust and the absence of a constitution for the country, or a consensual constitutional rule as advocated by most political forces now, it will be very difficult to conduct these elections successfully because the elections are supposed to be a means of political participation and not a means of predominance and exclusion, and a means to support stability and not an end in itself that may open the way for a new conflict,” he said.

El-Sonni called on the UN to offer more “serious and effective” support to the electoral process and send teams to assess the requirements on the ground.

“This would be a clear message to all about the seriousness of the international community in achieving elections that everyone aspires to, without questioning it or its results,” he said.

The Libyan envoy invited the council to “actively contribute” to the processes of national reconciliation and transitional justice, “two concomitant and essential tracks that have unfortunately been lost during the past years, although they are the main basis for the success of any political solution that leads to the stability of the country.”

He also once again called on the African Union to support his country’s efforts in this area.

Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis, senior advisor for special political affairs to the US mission at the UN, said it is time for the wishes of the millions of Libyans who have registered to vote to be respected.

“It is time to move beyond backroom deals between a small circle of powerful individuals backed by armed groups, carving up spoils and protecting their positions,” he said “The Libyan people are ready to decide their own future.

“Those vying to lead Libya must see that the Libyan people will only accept leadership empowered by elections and that they will only tolerate so much delay.”

Like many other ambassadors at the meeting, DeLaurentis also addressed the migrant crisis and reports of violence and abuses directed at migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Libya.

“Libyan authorities must close illicit detention centers, end arbitrary detention practices and permit unhindered humanitarian access to affected populations,” he said.


Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa
Updated 25 January 2022

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa

Coalition in Yemen begins military operations in Sanaa
  • More than 50 Houthis killed in operations targeting Marib and Al-Bayda

RIYADH: The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen said on Monday that it had began “military operations” against “legitimate targets” in the capital, Sanaa, Saudi state TV reported.
The coalition said the operation is in response to threats and out of military necessity to protect civilians from hostile attacks.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia launched missiles toward Saudi Arabia and the UAE earlier on Monday, sparking widespread condemnation from the international community.
Meanwhile, the coalition said it carried out 14 operations targeting the Houthi militia in Marib and Al-Bayda during the past 24 hours, killing more than 50 fighters and destroying nine military vehicles.


US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue
Updated 25 January 2022

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue

US ‘prepared to meet directly’ and ‘urgently’ with Iran on nuclear issue
  • The comments came after Iran said it will consider direct talks with the US during ongoing negotiations in Vienna

WASHINGTON: The US State Department on Monday repeated that it remains open to meeting with Iranian officials directly to discuss the nuclear deal and other issues after Iran’s foreign minister said Tehran would consider this but had made no decisions.
Speaking at a briefing, State Department spokesman Ned Price also said the US had not made Iran’s releasing four Americans a condition of reaching an agreement for both nations to resume compliance with the nuclear deal, saying that achieving such an agreement was an uncertain proposition.
Earlier on Monday, the State Department said the US was prepared to hold direct talks with Iran after Tehran said it would consider such an option.
“We are prepared to meet directly,” a State Department spokesperson said.
“We have long held the position that it would be more productive to engage with Iran directly, on both JCPOA negotiations and other issues,” the spokesperson said, referring to the nuclear deal between Iran and major powers.
The spokesperson said that meeting directly would allow “more efficient communication” needed to reach an understanding on what is needed to resuscitate the 2015 deal.
“Given the pace of Iran’s nuclear advances, we are almost out of time to reach an understanding on mutual return to full implementation of the JCPOA,” the official said.
The comments came after Iran said Monday it will consider direct talks with the United States during ongoing negotiations in Vienna aimed at restoring the deal.
“Iran is not currently talking with the US directly,” Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said in televised remarks.
“But, if during the negotiation process we get to a point that reaching a good agreement with solid guarantees requires a level of talks with the US, we will not ignore that in our work schedule,” he added.
(With AFP and Reuters)


‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official
Updated 24 January 2022

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official

‘Horror scenes’ in Syrian refugee camps amid ‘extremely cold winter’: UN official
  • ‘No one should have to live in these conditions,’ Mark Cutts tells briefing attended by Arab News
  • Nearly 3m people internally displaced in northern Syria, most of them women and children

LONDON: Brutal winter conditions in northern Syria have ushered in mass-scale suffering for 2.8 million internally displaced persons, a top UN humanitarian official warned on Monday.

“We’re extremely concerned about the situation there,” Mark Cutts, the UN’s deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, said in a briefing attended by Arab News.

The IDPs, he added, are “some of the most vulnerable people in the world,” the majority of them living in temporary camps and tents.

“During this extremely cold weather, we’ve seen some real horror scenes in the last few days — about 1,000 tents have either collapsed completely or been very badly damaged as a result of heavy snow,” said Cutts, adding that temperatures have dropped to as low as -7 degrees centigrade.

About 100,000 people have been affected by the heavy snow, while 150,000 more have been affected by freezing conditions and heavy rain.

“These are people who’ve been through a lot in the past few years. They’ve fled from one place to another. The bombs have followed them. Many of the hospitals and schools in northwest Syria have been destroyed in the 10 years of war,” said Cutts, adding that what he and his team are seeing in camps now is a “real disaster zone.”

He said: “Our humanitarian workers have been pulling people out from under their collapsed tents … They’ve been clearing snow from tents with their bare hands.”

Children, the elderly and the disabled are suffering the most from the conditions, added Cutts, who appealed to the international community to “do more, to recognize the scale of the crisis, to help us get these people out of tents and into safer, more dignified temporary shelter.”

In a final plea, he said: “It’s absolutely unacceptable that you’ve got 1.7 million people living in camps in these appalling conditions — most of them are women and children and elderly people.

“These civilians are stranded in a warzone, and now, on top of that, they’re dealing with temperatures below zero. No one should have to live in these conditions.”


Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal
Updated 24 January 2022

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

Iran: ‘Possible’ to agree on prisoners, nuclear deal

TEHRAN: Tehran on Monday said it is “possible” to reach an agreement on the two issues of Iran-US prisoners’ release and the Vienna talks to restore the 2015 nuclear deal.

“They are two different paths, but if the other party (the US) has the determination, there is the possibility that we reach a reliable and lasting agreement in both of them in the shortest time,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said during his weekly press conference.

Khatibzadeh’s comments came in reaction to remarks made by the US envoy for Iran, Robert Malley, who on Sunday said it is unlikely that Washington would strike an agreement unless Tehran releases four US citizens.

BACKGROUND

The four US citizens held in Iran are Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi, 50, and his father Baquer, 85, as well as environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 66, and businessman Emad Sharqi, 57.

“Iran has not accepted any precondition from day one of the negotiations,” Khatibzadeh said.

He added that “the negotiations are complicated enough, and should not get more complex with complicated remarks.”