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Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Iraq steps up repatriations from Islamic State camp in Syria, hoping to cut back militant threats

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BAGHDAD — Iraq is stepping up repatriation of its residents from a camp in northeastern Syria housing tens of 1000’s of individuals, largely wives and kids of Islamic State fighters but additionally supporters of the militant group.

It’s a transfer that Baghdad hopes will cut back cross-border militant threats and finally result in shutting down the ability.

After U.S.-backed and Kurdish-led fighters defeated the Islamic State group in Syria in March 2019 — ending its self-proclaimed Islamic “caliphate” that had dominated over a big swath of territory straddling Iraq and Syria — 1000’s of IS fighters and their households had been taken to the camp referred to as al-Hol.

Lots of them had been Iraqi nationals.

Right now, Iraqi officers see the ability, near the Iraq-Syria border, as a serious risk to their nation’s safety, a hotbed of the militants’ radical ideology and a spot the place 1000’s of youngsters have been rising up into future militants.

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It is “a time bomb that may explode at any second,” warned Ali Jahangir, a spokesman for Iraq’s Ministry of Migration and Displaced. Since January, greater than 5,000 Iraqis have been repatriated, from al-Hol, with extra anticipated within the coming weeks, he stated.

It’s primarily girls and kids who’re despatched dwelling. Iraqi males who’ve dedicated crimes as IS members not often ask to return for worry of being placed on trial. Those that categorical readiness to return, have camp authorities ship their names to Baghdad, the place the federal government does a safety cross-check and grants last approval.

As soon as in Iraq, the detainees are often taken to the Jadaa camp close to the northern metropolis of Mosul, the place they endure rehabilitation packages with the assistance of U.N. businesses earlier than they’re allowed again to their hometowns or villages.

The packages contain remedy classes with psychologists and academic lessons meant to assist them shed a mindset adopted beneath IS.

Iraq has been urging different international locations to repatriate their residents from al Hol, describing the camp at a convention held in June in Baghdad as a “supply for terrorism.”

On the gathering, Iraq’s International Ministry spokesman Ahmad Sahhaf stated it was important for all international locations with residents at al-Hol “to repatriate them as quickly as potential as a way to finally shut the camp.”

The choice, he warned, is a resurgence of the Islamic State group.

The heavily-guarded facility, overseen by Syrian Kurdish-led forces allied with the US, was as soon as dwelling to 73,000 individuals, the overwhelming majority of them Syrians and Iraqis. Over the previous few years, the inhabitants dropped to simply over 48,000 and about 3,000 had been launched since Could.

These nonetheless on the camp embrace residents of about 60 different international locations who had joined IS, which is why closing al-Hol would require efforts past Iraq and Syria, an Iraqi Protection ministry official stated, talking on situation of anonymity in keeping with laws.

The camp at the moment has 23,353 Iraqis, 17,456 Syrians and seven,438 different nationalities, in accordance with Sheikhmous Ahmad, a Kurdish official overseeing camps for displaced in northeastern Syria. And although the foreigners are a minority, they’re seen by many as probably the most problematic at al-Hol — persistently loyal to the core IS ideology.

Up to now this yr, Ahmad stated, two teams of Syrians have left the camp for his or her hometowns in Syria. Earlier in September, 92 households consisting of 355 individuals returned to the northern metropolis of Raqqa, as soon as the capital of the IS caliphate. In Could, 219 individuals returned to the northern city of Manbij.

Syrian nationals are launched when Kurdish authorities overseeing the camp decide they’re now not a risk to society. The discharge of different nationalities is extra sophisticated, since their international locations of origin should comply with take them again.

These of non-Syrian or Iraqi nationalities dwell in part of the camp referred to as the Annex, thought-about the house of probably the most die-hard IS supporters. Lots of them had travelled 1000’s of miles to hitch the extremist group after IS swept throughout the area in 2014.

In late August, 31 girls and 64 kids from the camp had been returned to the previous Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan on a particular flight, the Kyrgyz Ministry of International Affairs introduced and thanked the U.S. authorities for offering “help and logistical help” for the repatriation.

However different international locations — notably within the West — have largely balked at taking again their nationals who had been a part of IS.

Regardless of the extremist group’s defeat in Iraq in 2017 and in Syria in 2019, IS sleeper cells nonetheless perform lethal assaults. Stories of grisly crimes inside al-Hol itself have shocked rights teams, which describe the camp’s situations as inhumane, notably for kids.

Human Rights Watch has cited insufficient meals, water and medical care, in addition to the bodily and sexual abuse of inmates by guards and fellow detainees. Ageed Ibrahim of Rights Protection Initiative, a human rights group in northeastern Syria, has appealed for humanitarian help to enhance dwelling situations for individuals nonetheless within the camp.

The U.S. navy says lowering the camp’s inhabitants is a essential step within the ongoing combat in opposition to IS and an necessary a part of its long-term defeat.

The USA has some 900 troops stationed in japanese Syria alongside an unknown variety of contractors. The troops, who first arrived eight years in the past, work alongside the Syrian Democratic Forces, an umbrella dominated by Kurdish fighters.

The camp “is definitely a safety concern over time,” stated U.S. Maj. Gen. Matthew McFarlane, the commanding basic of the anti-IS coalition. He cited the discount of killings contained in the camp as a sign that lowering the inhabitants there helps enhance safety.

“Our State Division, working with different ministries of overseas affairs, are targeted on lowering the numbers there to enhance the situations in that camp,” he stated.

The U.S. navy posted on X, previously referred to as Twitter, just lately that profitable repatriations from al-Hol be sure that “security, safety, and stability are maintained within the area.”


Mroue reported from Beirut.

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