By Eleanor Beevor
It has been years since the Iraqi city of Mosul was officially liberated from ISIS. But it will be many more before the agonies that the group wreaked upon the city are able to heal. Unsurprisingly, the legacy of ISIS’s occupation of the city has left its social fabric shattered.
Mosulites had no choice but to live under ISIS’s rule. However, not all chose to respond in the same way. Some residents were more than willing to support the terrorists – ISIS were able to take Mosul as fast as they did because they had allies inside the city. Meanwhile, many more were forced to work alongside them against their will. Others tried to keep a low profile and survive, and some resisted where they could. But now, Iraq’s judicial system seems hell bent on punishing anyone who might have collaborated with ISIS, with little regard for the circumstances of each case.
It is easy to see why Baghdad wants to send the strongest possible signals to deter Iraqis from joining jihadists. However, the sweeping trials and executions of those suspected of collaboration have horrified both Iraqis and international observers. A tragic but common story over the last few months has been one of people facing terrifying sentences on little more than the testimony of an informant, who claims that the defendant was an ISIS supporter, collaborator, or a perpetrator of the terrorist group’s violence.
Whilst this might well be true in many cases, there are many people strongly proclaiming their innocence. And when evidence is so thin, and potentially biased, it is hard to be sure either way. In this ruthless legal crackdown, it is all too easy for people with old grudges to make an accusation of ties to ISIS, and see the accused face terrible consequences.
Informant’s identities are not revealed in court cases, and a vague eyewitness testimony is seen evidence enough to convict someone. CBS described the case of a 20-year-old who is now facing a death penalty for being an ISIS fighter, because he was seen holding a gun. He says that he was forced to take a role as a security guard at a factory held by ISIS. He claims he never took part in any fighting, but the job required him to hold a rifle.
This widespread suspicion and danger of being accused has ramifications that go beyond the judiciary. It is affecting whether or not some people can even return home to Mosul. Belkis Wille, Human Rights Watch’s Senior Researcher on Iraq told Al Bawaba:
“There is a segment of the population who have been prevented from entering the city because they are no longer welcome, because they are seen to have had a family member who joined ISIS. There are neighbourhoods in the city which are, for valid or invalid reasons, are viewed by the security services and by other residents as having been overtaken by ISIS.
As a result, you continue to have tensions within communities, and you have efforts by the security forces to prevent people from getting assistance - which includes humanitarian assistance and basic services. These are some of the neighborhoods that during the fighting were destroyed the most heavily, and that are in the most desperate need for things like water, electricity, and reconstruction. At the moment there is a pushback by the security forces and others from allowing these areas to be rehabilitated.”
It is entirely understandable that many of Mosul’s residents should no longer wish to live alongside those they believe inflicted suffering upon the city as members of ISIS.
However, social harmony will not be brought about by the punishing streak that has become dangerously enshrined in Iraqi state operations. More worryingly, punishments for what individuals may have done are being extended to their entire families. Belkis Wille continued:
“There is a lack of leadership within the government about standing up for the position that says: “If you have a loved one who joined ISIS, that does not implicate you, and it does not mean that you committed a crime and can be punished, and to punish you by association is a form of collective punishment that represents a war crime.” Instead, what we see is a range of measures to collectively punish segments of the population.”
Unfortunately, there is not much of an Iraqi government to speak of at the moment, given the inconclusive election results, and the inability of any of the dominant coalitions to assemble enough seats for a new cabinet. But to allow this reckless spate of convictions to run unchecked is a highly risky path for Iraq, because it will further undermine faith in state institutions. Dr. Muhanad Seloom, an expert in Iraqi politics at the University of Exeter told Al Bawaba:
“Post-ISIS societal tensions must be understood within the context of the religious and ethno-sectarian political conflicts in Iraq. To address these tensions, the Iraqi government must restore confidence of the local population in the justice system. Those who are accused of collaboration with ISIS must be processed through the judicial system, with due process guarantees. Only where there is sufficient and credible evidence of committing most serious crimes, can suspects be arrested.”
But until fresh political leadership calls for government policy to promote reconciliation over blanket punishment, Iraq’s best hopes for meaningful peace come from its traditional leaders, and its citizens. Some individuals have demonstrated compassion, and outstanding foresight.
Although they are still in the minority, the leadership of the Jubhuri tribe in the al-Shura region south of Mosul is attempting to promote reconciliation between the families of ISIS militants, and the victims of those militants. They are also attempting to bring the children of ISIS family members into local schools. Meanwhile, many brave Mosul residents are calling for fresh starts and for peace, and are embracing the freedoms that life free from ISIS offers. The city will need their courage, and their vision for reconciliation.
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