A lib­er­a­tion, then sus­pi­cion

Sol­diers hold Iraqi men af­ter Is­lamic State flees vil­lage

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Molly Hen­nessy-Fiske

BARTELLA, Iraq — As Iraqi forces traded fire this week with the Is­lamic State fight­ers who held his vil­lage hostage for the last 2 years, Taqayadin Hawas hun­kered down with his seven chil­dren and prayed not to die.

Mor­tar shells nearly lev­eled the house as his chil­dren wailed. With snipers out­side, the fam­ily couldn’t flee. He thought their home­would be their grave.

When the gun­fire stopped Tues­day, the fam­ily emerged to find their house and much of their vil­lage of 75 homes de­stroyed. One el­derly man had been killed by a mor­tar strike. Still, the 700 vil­lagers were ju­bi­lant.

Free of the mil­i­tant group’s stern Is­lamic stric­tures, men cut their beards, women re­moved their veils. Fam­i­lies pre­pared for reunions with fam­ily they had not seen in years.

But free­dom brought new prob­lems. The vil­lagers found them­selves treated with sus­pi­cion, held un­der guard, searched and ques­tioned even be­fore ar­riv­ing at the res­i­den­tial camps for Iraqis dis­placed by the war — were they in­no­cent civil­ians, or mil­i­tants in dis­guise?

Telling the dif­fer­ence between the two is one of the big­gest chal­lenges faced by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties and in­ter­na­tional aid groups.

“We don’t want to see peo­ple look­ing for safety pun­ished,” said Alex Mi­luti­novic, In­ter­na­tional Red Cross coun­try di­rec­tor in Iraq. “The screen­ing process, that’s what it’s for: So that peo­ple who com­mit­ted crimes will be pun­ished. ... The rest should be pro­vided as­sis­tance and sup­port. The ma­jor­ity of (dis­placed peo­ple) are not ter­ror­ists.”

Fred­eric Cus­sigh, head of the United Na­tions refugee pro­gram in the north­ern Iraqi town of Ir­bil, said his or­ga­ni­za­tion ar­ranged to fast­track screen­ing for women and chil­dren but that the rest must be screened care­fully be­cause Is­lamic State “could in­fil­trate with the civil­ians ei­ther to hide or per­pe­trate Iraqi fam­i­lies flee their homes Tues­day in the vil­lage of of Tob Zawa, where hun­dreds of peo­ple were quickly placed un­der guard and fam­i­lies were told they would be sep­a­rated. some at­tacks later on.”

At a check­point near Bartella, about 15 miles east of Mo­sul, hun­dreds freed from the vil­lage of Tob Zawa were quickly placed un­der guard and fam­i­lies were told they would be sep­a­rated. Women and small chil­dren were ush­ered ahead, men and older boys held back for a cou­ple of hours as Kur­dish sol­diers ques­tioned them and searched their cars, trucks and trac­tors, some haul­ing a mix of peo­ple, fur­ni­ture, sheep and calves.

It was dif­fi­cult to dis­cern which vil­lagers — if any — had sup­ported Is­lamic State.

An­ter Arafat, 64, said sol- diers ques­tioned him about the group’s oc­cu­pa­tion; they wanted to know who had sup­ported the mil­i­tants. Arafat told them the fight­ers had all fled.

He and oth­ers spoke of be­ing forced to pray five times a day, to grow beards and abide by strict rules that for­bade tele­vi­sion, cell­phones and smok­ing. Those whomissed prayers lost their elec­tric­ity. Women had to cover nearly every inch of their bod­ies, in­clud­ing their hands. Even men said they had to en­sure their an­kles were­cov­ered. They­saidtheir chil­dren had not seen doc­tors or at­tended school.

Kur­dish and Iraqi sol­diers guard­ing the con­voy of evac­uees were edgy at first. They warned those ap­proach­ing the vil­lagers that some might be armed with sui­cide vests.

Vil­lager Ab­del Hadi sat cut­ting his beard with scis­sors and a plas­tic mir­ror, hop­ing that would per­suade of­fi­cials at the camp that he was not al­lied with Is­lamic State. “I’m ex­pect­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. I don’t know what,” said Hadi, 33.

Also cut­ting his beard was Omar Mad­har, 35, whose wife and four chil­dren had al­ready been taken to a camp. As he trimmed, a friend who had driven 45 miles west

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