Part II – After ISIS
ISIS recruits amongst Sunni Arabs. The others communities are considered profanes: Shias (the majority of Iraq’s population), Yezidis, Kurds (even though most of them are Sunni Muslims), Christians. These populations living under ISIS were persecuted in different ways ; enslaved, raped, robbed, humiliated. Sunnis had to join ISIS or be considered heretic as well.
The most symbolic example is Sinjar, the ancestral city of the Yezidis. Arabs and Yezidis used to cohabit in this land. When in 2014 Daesh invaded it and committed the genocide of Yazidis, Arabs had to fight with ISIS or suffer the same. Today, most Yezidis feel their former neighbours have betrayed them and they cannot live together again. Resentment against Sunni Arab populations is strong. Of course, all of them did not join; and amongst those who did, it is difficult to differentiate the ones who supported voluntarily and the others.
Today, as cities are freed from Daesh, how do these former neighbours, former enemies, live together ? Meethak, a young Iraqi, helps us to get an insight in this major issue for Iraqi society.
After liberation, amongst the people who stayed in Daesh-occupied cities, is it difficult to differentiate those who supported the Islamic State from the ones who were victims of it ?
Amongst people who supported Daesh, there are the ones who supported physically by joining ISIS. These ones were either taken by the Iraqi army, judged and most of the time executed. Or they are still with ISIS, following the group. They cannot come back.
And there are the sympathizers, who supported only “emotionally”, without taking action. The difference that the government would focus on was more whether the family fought and gave material, logistic support to Daesh. If they didn’t support in a material way, you can’t take any action against them. You can’t differentiate and blame them.
The government cannot blame Daesh sympathizers, but can the civil society, and the victims, blame them? Was there something similar to “épuration” in France in 1945, when the people who had collaborated with the Nazis were shaved or executed in an extrajudicial way by civilians ?
Regarding revenge of the civil society, the most important question concerns relatives of Daesh members. The Iraqi government enacted laws to allow people who had ISIS members in their families to come back. They could go to courts and abandon their relatives by signing on papers, saying that this person is not related to them anymore. But lots of them were blocked from coming back to their cities by the community itself. Their houses had been taken by other civilians, burnt, or stolen. It is a kind of community revenge against them, whatever part of their family joined ISIS, not matter if they have been killed or if they are still alive. We are talking about west of Iraq, a very tribal community, so this was made by tribes mostly. This non-acceptance is dangerous because it could give many reasons to this families to be radicalized, because they cannot do anything.
Again, it is very different according to the region. A lot of people were also able to go back to their cities. Civilian revenge came to a point of harassment, properties, isolating people from their neighbourhood, but not a point of execution. It didn’t reach a point to be very viral and happening in hundreds of cases. What is more a major problem is that the cities are destroyed. The economy is destroyed. The government has no money to rebuild, because all its money goes to cover the war. In Anbar everyone depends on UN and NGOs and mostly UNDP program. This is dangerous because a lot of youngsters don’t have jobs, can’t go back to their businesses, and it can create a violent atmosphere that ISIS or other groups: political parties, militia… can take advantage of.
Do you think that the sympathizers miss Daesh now?
A lot of people accepted ISIS ideology at the beginning. But after going to this point of destruction, I think they saw the results and they will not accept this ideology. Of course there is still people who would take a chance to support this idea, keeping quiet and see if ISIS would come back. But I don’t think they are a lot. It doesn’t mean I put the idea of sleeping cells away.
There is actually a suspicion of sleeping cells today, especially towards displaced people who left at the end of the conflict. In Mosul, when ISIS arrived in the city, there was a humanitarian corridor to escort civilians who wanted to leave. It is assumed that the people who wanted to flee Daesh could have done it. That is why the ones who left just before the end of the battle are suspected. Of course, this is biased because there are always people who cannot leave.
There has been a system to check on IDPs [internally displaced people]. Asayish [the Kurdish police] gather everyone who left a specific neighbourhood in Mosul for example. They check their identities, and try to find witnesses against the civilians. If enough people witness against someone, he is arrested. It is a shaky system, because who can tell the civilians are honest about it, that there is nothing personal in the accusation ? But so far the system apparently is working, because they managed to catch a lot of ISIS members like that.
Some people believe that all Sunnis support ISIS. Sunni make a reputation for this; it is true that the atmosphere and environment in Sunni areas have been a provider for ISIS to happen. But on the other side, the majority of Sunnis fought ISIS as well. Tribes work with the government, they are in the Iraqi army as generals, etc… but still, there is a reputation. My family is Sunni, but I’m just a person. I could describe myself as independent, liberal… But I got some harassment sometimes, in Kurdistan or when I am in the field as a journalist. When people learn I am from Anbar, they say: “all the shit is coming from you people”
Why didn’t you come back in your city?
It is not fitting with the way I want to live. It is hard to be open minded there: it is mainly a tribal and conservative area. It is difficult to be liberal there, so I don’t want to live there – with my respect to them.
For the people who lived under Daesh rule, is there a feeling of shame now?
They would deny it. I think they regret it, but it is hard to find someone who would say: “sorry, we’ve been wrong”. Instead, they would say: “It wasn’t us. ISIS was forced into our areas, we didn’t let them in, we didn’t support it”. And it is very hard to blame someone. There are too many reasons for it, including foreign policy, internal policy, education, accepting others… it is too much, that makes it hard to blame the people for the problems.
Article written by Cloé CHASTEL