Iraq The Wrath of Mo­sul

ISIS’S vic­tims are thirst­ing for re­venge—and tak­ing it how­ever they can. Will any­one stop them?

Newsweek - - NEWS - EMILY FELD­MAN @ Emi­ly_feld­man

days af ter the is­lamic

State group fled Mo­sul, Saeed Qu­raishi was in a judge’s of­fice in Iraq’s Nin­eveh prov­ince when two women ar­rived. They were hand­ing over sus­pects with links to ISIS. But these weren’t hard­ened fight­ers. They were their chil­dren, all un­der the age of 3. “We don’t want them,” the women said. “Their fa­thers are [ISIS], and they raped us.”

Qu­raishi watched as the women walked away, leav­ing their cry­ing ba­bies be­hind. He won­dered if the women’s fam­i­lies had pres­sured them to give up the chil­dren. “It was a hor­ri­ble sit­u­a­tion,” says Qu­raishi, an Iraqi hu­man rights worker, who asked to use a pseu­do­nym be­cause he feared for his safety. “Even if it was their de­ci­sion, that is not easy.”

The in­ci­dent wasn’t

iso­lated. In the months since Iraqi forces ousted ISIS from Mo­sul, those reel­ing from the group’s bru­tal treat­ment have been hun­gry for re­venge. Many have cut ties with their fam­i­lies and ac­cused neigh­bors of Isis-re­lated crimes. Oth­ers have be­come vig­i­lantes, ren­der­ing jus­tice as they see fit. Ear­lier this year, aid work­ers and jour­nal­ists dis­cov­ered more than two dozen bod­ies float­ing down the Ti­gris River near Mo­sul. The dead—many bound and blind­folded—were ISIS sus­pects, likely ex­e­cuted by state-af­fil­i­ated forces.

ISIS’S vic­tims have good rea­son to be an­gry. Af­ter seiz­ing Mo­sul in June 2014, the mil­i­tants forced their dra­co­nian laws—no cig­a­rettes, no min­gling be­tween men and women, no mu­sic or pri­vate in­ter­net—on the city’s roughly 1 mil­lion res­i­dents. The group rou­tinely tor­tured and ex­e­cuted civil­ians. They oc­cu­pied homes, tak­ing what­ever they wanted. They trained child sol­diers and en­slaved women and chil­dren. When U.s.-backed forces started oust­ing fight­ers from the city last Oc­to­ber, ISIS went on a ram­page, ex­e­cut­ing sus­pected spies and civil­ians at­tempt­ing to flee. Be­fore los­ing Mo­sul in early July, the mil­i­tants had killed or wounded more than 8,000 mem­bers of the Iraqi se­cu­rity forces.

Are they ju­ve­nile vic­tims, or are they mur­der­ers?”

To­day, few Iraqis seem con­cerned about the treat­ment of ISIS sus­pects and their fam­i­lies. And de­fense at­tor­neys are shun­ning ISIS clients for fear of os­tracism and ret­ri­bu­tion. That fear was re­cently am­pli­fied, Hu­man Rights Watch re­ported, af­ter Iraqi au­thor­i­ties is­sued ar­rest war­rants for more than a dozen lawyers de­fend­ing ISIS sus­pects. All were charged with af­fil­i­at­ing with the group.

The only peo­ple will­ing to stand up for the ac­cused are work­ers from a hand­ful of hu­man rights groups. Scott Port­man is one of them. He’s the Mid­dle East and North Africa direc­tor for Heart­land Al­liance In­ter­na­tional, a U.s.-based non­profit that em­ploys lo­cal lawyers and so­cial work­ers in Iraq.

Port­man says the coun­try’s cur­rent prob­lems with ret­ri­bu­tion go back to 2015, when the Iraqi-led coali­tion ramped up its fight against the mil­i­tants. In Tikrit, Ra­madi and Fal­lu­jah, lo­cals re­ported that gov­ern­ment forces and mili­tias were ex­e­cut­ing and abus­ing ISIS sus­pects, in­clud­ing teenagers and child sol­diers.

But the scale of re­ported abuses mul­ti­plied dur­ing the re­cent bat­tle for Mo­sul, the most pop­u­lous city ISIS held in Iraq. Now, Port­man says, the level of anger against per­ceived sym­pa­thiz­ers is as bad as it was about a decade ago, dur­ing the blood­i­est years of the Iraq War. Se­cu­rity forces, who suf­fered heavy losses against the mil­i­tants, have packed hun­dreds of ISIS sus­pects—in­clud­ing mi­nors— into fetid makeshift pris­ons. They’ve de­tained the mil­i­tants’ wives and chil­dren in camps. At one, de­scribed in a July U.N. re­port as “be­low hu­man­i­tar­ian stan­dards,” 10 peo­ple died in eight days. Iraqi au­thor­i­ties have rounded up at least 1,400 more wives and chil­dren of ISIS sus­pects

since then (though none have been brought be­fore a judge). One rea­son they are pur­port­edly do­ing so is fear of re­venge at­tacks. “It is dif­fi­cult to con­trol peo­ple’s de­sire for ret­ri­bu­tion,” Port­man says, “when they have lost so many of their friends.”

That de­sire for vengeance makes it hard to guar­an­tee due process in the courts. Even sus­pects with good lawyers may face in­ex­pe­ri­enced, over­whelmed or venge­ful of­fi­cials. Qu­raishi, who runs train­ing work­shops for judges and prose­cu­tors on be­half of Heart­land, says some are sym­pa­thetic to young fight­ers or peo­ple forced to join the group. But oth­ers, like one pros­e­cu­tor he met at a work­shop, see no dif­fer­ence be­tween an ISIS leader and a 12-yearold re­cruit. “We should burn them,” Qu­raishi re­calls the man say­ing.

The stag­ger­ing num­ber of peo­ple be­ing de­tained makes the sit­u­a­tion even more dif­fi­cult. Qu­raishi says that Kur­dish and Iraqi au­thor­i­ties have locked up some 5,000 ISISlinked ju­ve­niles. The over­crowd­ing has led to a back­log in the coun­try’s courts; sus­pects can wait months to face a judge. When they fi­nally do, the time judges spend re­view­ing their cases is of­ten brief. Nin­eveh’s coun­tert­er­ror­ism court, which has been op­er­at­ing out of an aban­doned home, was work­ing its way through about 2,000 cases in early July, ac­cord­ing to a forth­com­ing Hu­man Rights Watch re­port. The Daily Tele

graph re­ported that the 12 judges at that court were hear­ing be­tween 40 and 50 cases a day.

Heart­land and other hu­man rights groups have been try­ing to mit­i­gate these prob­lems for ISIS sus­pects, some of whom are ar­rested and re­leased in one city only to be re­ar­rested in another. Psy­chol­o­gists and so­cial work­ers are re­unit­ing sep­a­rated fam­ily mem­bers, find­ing so­lu­tions for or­phaned chil­dren and in­ves­ti­gat­ing re­ports of mis­treat­ment. Their le­gal teams are ad­vis­ing hun­dreds of judges, prose­cu­tors and lawyers to care­fully con­sider the cir­cum­stances of each case.

“Were these peo­ple re­ally rad­i­cals and crim­i­nals? Or are these peo­ple who were forced to be with ISIS?” Qu­raishi asks. “Are they ju­ve­nile vic­tims, or are they mur­der­ers?”

Qu­raishi fears that mis­treat­ing or wrong­fully con­vict­ing peo­ple could have se­ri­ous con­se­quences. Os­tra­cized women and chil­dren, like those kids left at the Nin­eveh court, could be­come easy re­cruit­ment tar­gets for ex­trem­ist groups. And putting mi­nors be­hind bars along­side hard­ened ji­hadi fight­ers, he adds, could cre­ate a new gen­er­a­tion of killers.

“We need them to un­der­stand that rule of law con­sid­ers ev­ery­body,” he says, “the vic­tims and the crim­i­nals.”

ICED The body of a dead mil­i­tant in Mo­sul. Few Iraqis seem con­cerned about the treat­ment of sus­pected ISIS mem­bers and their fam­i­lies.

BRING­ING DOWN THE BLACK BAN­NERS Op­po­site: Sus­pected ISIS mil­i­tants packed into a makeshift cell near to Mo­sul. Above, an Iraqi mili­tia mem­ber takes down a sign on a lamp­post in the city. ISIS’S vic­tims have good rea­son to be an­gry. Among other things, the group rou­tinely tor­tured and ex­e­cuted civil­ians.

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