photo: Eddy van Wessel

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Monday, July 31, 2017

War in Iraq: Why looting should be treated as a crime

It is possible that the gold jewellery you bought from a shop, or via the internet, was once a wedding present given to a Yazidi women, kidnapped by Islamic State (IS) when it captured the Iraqi province of Sinjar in August 2014; just like that painting you found in a market that used to belong to an Iraqi, whose house was looted by IS in Mosul.

Looting has always been a problem during Iraq’s many wars - but it has been especially prevalent during the past three years of IS rule.

The group didn’t just seize all the gold and valuables of the 6,000-plus Yazidis that it captured.
 
When I drove into the ruined town of Sinjar soon after it was liberated in late 2015, I noticed that every door of every house had been left wide open by looters. More recently, Iraqis who returned to check on their homes after IS had been driven out found that most of their valuables and furniture had gone.

Inside the occupied cities, IS gave its fighters the houses of those who fled its rule. When the time came for the fighters themselves to escape, they stripped the houses bare. The furniture eventually turned up in second-hand markets across Iraq.

It wasn’t only private possessions that were taken; heritage sites in Iraq and Syria were looted and antiquities smuggled out and sold on the black market. Some of these artefacts have been recovered from safe houses in Mosul - but most have disappeared.

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Children survive 'Islamic State' hungry and traumatized

Children have been among those worst hit by "Islamic State" occupation and the battle to liberate Mosul. They suffer malnutrition for lack of food, and toxic stress from the violence they witnessed, Judit Neurink reports.
"Look, he is walking again!" Hanan Mohammed, 43, smiles, setting her two-year-old down on his skinny legs. The family of three recently escaped the Old City of Mosul, where fighting had been going on for weeks, and food and water had been scarce for months.

"Daesh left us hungry," she says, using the local abbreviation for the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS) militant group. "There was nothing to buy, and what was there was very expensive." That's why she could not feed her children and lost a six-month-old baby to malnutrition. Her son had started walking, but stopped again for the same reason.

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Iraqi refugees seek family reunion in Germany

The German consulate in Irbil is helping Iraqi refugees overcome bureaucratic obstacles on their way to rejoining family members in Germany. Judit Neurink reports from Irbil.
"I miss him so," Mahdia, 17, says, as tears roll down her face. Her twin brother Mehdi fled to Germany a while ago and she is now with their family in the office of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in the Iraqi Kurdistan capital of Irbil to prepare the paperwork needed to join him there.

Her father, Abas Khalil Elias, wipes his eyes too. He looks haggard after living in a camp for the past three years, trying to feed his eight remaining children by working on the fields. Before the "Islamic State" (IS) group entered their village of Khanasur in the Yazidi province of Sinjar in August 2014, he was a driver. The Yazidi family fled to the Sinjar mountains where a corridor was created to keep them out of IS' hands. Thousands of other Yazidis were not so lucky; IS captured at least 6,000 women and children and killed thousands of men.

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Fallujah still bears scars of 'Islamic State' occupation

A year ago the Iraqi town of Fallujah - captured by IS in 2014 - was liberated. When Judit Neurink visited the town, she found the scars of occupation still prevalent.

The scenes in the town are depressing. Dead bodies are still being found under the rubble of destroyed buildings. And at least once a week, injured children are being brought into the only partly operational hospital after playing with or stepping on explosives left behind by the "Islamic State" (IS).

"Only about half of the town has been cleared," Hamid Abud Fahd, assistant director of a local health center, told DW. "The government has no money, but the rest needs to be cleared urgently, and the city has to be rebuilt."

Only those who can afford it have left the camps around the city, where thousands of Fallujah's inhabitants still live a year on, to rebuild or repair their homes. And even if the government has started paying its civil servants again, there's no money on its way from Baghdad to help rebuild the many government buildings that have been destroyed.

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'IS' splits Iraq's Sunni community and families

Although the "Islamic State" (IS) group has been driven from the eastern half of Mosul, their influence is still keenly felt within the Sunni community. Judit Neurink reports from Khazir Camp.
Taking a break from shoveling sand against the bottom of the tent his family has been assigned in Khazir Camp southeast of Mosul, Ahmed Ali Hamna, 39, relates how he spent two years hiding from the self-styled "Islamic State" (IS). The former policeman recently arrived from Iraq's second city Mosul.

"When Daesh catches you, they will behead you," he tells DW, using the local Arabic name for IS. That risk was not new to him: As a police sergeant in Mosul, he was always at risk for not joining the group. "For two years, I hid, going from house to house. And when you do go out, you make sure your trousers are short and your beard long enough, so you nobody notices you."

A young woman appears from the tent. She is his widowed sister, Hamna says. "Daesh killed her husband, my cousin. They took him from his home because he was in the intelligence services before. After a month in prison, he was executed."

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Islamic State families fear persecution in Iraq

An Iraqi aid worker calls them a ticking time bomb. Almost 170 families are being held in isolation in the Shahama camp, near the city of Tikrit, without access to even a phone to check on their loved ones. Al-Monitor received permission from security forces to visit the camp and spoke with some of the people living there.

“We were not with Daesh [Islamic State (IS)], and they never gave us anything,” Samara Musa said inside the almost empty tent she occupies with her nine children. Her husband was picked up by the Iraqi army because his brother was with IS. Musa said, however, “We opposed his decision.” Her brother-in-law is currently in Syria with the extremist group.

Shahama is the only official camp for the family of IS members in Iraq. While the war against IS rages, women, children and some elderly couples whose husbands, brothers, fathers and sons joined IS find themselves locked in Shahama, the Iraqi army having judged them guilty by association, without the involvement of a single court or judge. Protecting the community is the official reason given for their treatment, but the inmates appear to need protection as well, from members of the community seeking revenge.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Stop the killing, create a corridor


We knew the fight for the West of Mosul was going to be a tough one. Yet the deaths of hundreds of civilians, under the rubble of collapsed buildings, are much more than collateral damage on the just cause to beat the Islamic terror group ISIS.



Were the buildings, where ISIS had collected civilians as a human shield, rigged by explosives set off by the group, as the Iraqi army is indicating? Or was the information the Iraqis fed the coalition on targets incorrect? Or did the Iraqis chose the location too lightly, just targeting the sharp shooters on the roof who were taking the attention away from the real targets next door?



There are many questions that can and should be asked, because killing hundreds of innocent civilians in one day can never justified.



The coalition has since said they take "deliberate actions to minimize unnecessary suffering" and that they will "continue to prioritize the protection of the people of Iraq".



But what is unnecessary suffering, if not the way men, women and children died, cramped in a cellar trying to survive from the ferocious bombing campaign?



I absolutely agree that ISIS needs to be defeated, but surely not to the costs of civilians who also spent almost three years under the cruel rule of ISIS.



The way they now get killed, makes you wonder about the care that the military has been taken in this battle.



By trapping ISIS on the Westbank of Mosul, one could predict that the fighting would be fierce as all these brainwashed men can do is fight till death that they believe will bring them paradise.



Their cause, the jihad, is omni important for them; civilians who are not supporting it are unbelievers and seen as the enemy.


These civilians are really caught in the middle, as on the one hand the ISIS top issued a special fatwa making it OK if Muslim civilians get killed in the fight for the good cause.


And on the other hand, the policy of Baghdad in the past has shown that it considered Mosul as a city that deserved ISIS for the way it showed its unhappiness with the Shiite government.


Moslawi civilians are very aware of the fact that Baghdad was forewarned about the activities of ISIS that led to its take over of the city in Juni 2014, and did nothing to prevent it.


They also remember very well that Iraqi troops got out when ISIS entered in stead of defending them, based on orders from then prime minister Nouri al-Maliki.


Even though civilians are grateful to and happy with the troops that liberate them from ISIS, and have shown this in every area the Iraqi army reached, that feeling does not extend to the Iraqi government.


Bombing civilians, and then refusing to come clean and taking the blame for what happened, is not 
helping to increase the popularity of the Shiite politicians in charge in Baghdad.


Moslawis have been through hell, as they told me, lost three years of their lives and are now confronted with the loss of houses and livelyhood.


They now need a government that they can trust, to be able to put their trust in the future and start rebuilding. And they need to be sure that ISIS will not in some way get back and retaliate.


What is needed first is to finish off ISIS in Mosul, but as the neighbourhoods left are old and cramped, the policy of leaving the ISIS fighters no corridor to escape should be reconsidered.


Let the fighters know they can leave, as long as they leave all behind, and part of the desperation will leave the battle for them too.


Finish them off elsewhere, where civilians are not going to be involved. Lure them to another place to smoke them out. Whatever policy is used will do, as long as inocent people are left off the hook.


We expect they will regroup in the border area of Syria and Iraq, which is mostly desert and hardly inhabited, so that sounds like the perfect place to contain and beat them.


Because if the government is honest about wanting to liberate Mosul, it needs to show it cares for its people. 


And only if Moslawis have the feeling that their urge to rebuild their city and their lives will be supported by politicians that run the country, they will be tempted to make this happen.