Mosul – Iraqi authorities are holding 1,400 foreign wives and children of suspected ISIS militants, according to security and aid officials.
Iraqi army and intelligence officers told Reuters that most of the wives were from former Soviet states, such as Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and Russia, as well as few from France and Germany.
Iraqi authorities are holding the wives and children at an Iraqi camp south of Mosul and most of them arrived there on August 30, after Iraqi troops expelled the terrorist group from Mosul, one of its remaining strongholds in Iraq.
An intelligence officer stated that the forces are still verifying their nationalities with their home countries, especially that many of the women no longer had their original documents.
Mosul’s Nineveh operation command Army Colonel Ahmed al-Taie declared that the forces are holding ISIS’ families under strong security measures while they wait for government orders on how to deal with them.
“We treat them well. They are families of tough criminals who killed innocents in cold blood,” Taie said, adding that when they interrogated the women they discovered that almost all of them were misled by a vicious ISIS propaganda.
Reuters reporters saw hundreds of the women and children sitting on mattresses with bugs in tents without air-conditioning in what aid workers described as a “military site”.
They also noticed that Turkish, French and Russian were among the languages spoken.
A French speaking Chechen origin veiled woman stated that she wants to go back to France but doesn’t know how. She said she did not know what had happened to her husband, who had brought her to Iraq when he joined ISIS adding that she used to live in Paris.
According to a security officer, most of women and children and their husbands surrendered to Peshmerga forces near Tal Afar, north Mosul. Peshmerga forces then handed the women and children over to Iraqi forces but kept the men in their custody presuming they were militants.
Most of Tal Afar’s 200,000 residents fled the city prior to its liberation from ISIS control by the Iraqi forces.
An interior ministry official said Iraq wanted to contact the embassies of the women and children and discuss their return conditions, adding that they can’t keep this number in their custody for a long time.
Army Lieutenant Colonel Salah Kareem declared that so far there are at least 13 nationalities among the women.
Aid workers and authorities are worried about tensions between Iraqis who lost their living in the camp after they lost their homes and the new arrivals.
An Iraqi military intelligence officer declared that they are keeping the families in the camp for their own safety especially that many Iraqis seek revenge for the harsh treatment they received under ISIS control.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), which supports 541 women and their children, announced that Iraq must swiftly move to clarify its future plans for these individuals.
In a statement issued, NRC declared that it is imperative that these individuals are able to access protection, assistance, and information.
“They are in de-facto detention,” the statement added.
Western officials are worried that radicalized fighters and their relatives will return to their home countries after the collapse of ISIS. Meanwhile, French officials indicated they would prefer for any ISIS-affiliated citizens to be prosecuted in Iraq.
Last month, a French diplomatic source told Reuters that the general philosophy is that adults should go on trial in Iraq, while children would benefit from judicial and social services in France.
A French woman of Algerian origins, 27, said that even her mother doesn’t know where she was. She said she had been tricked by her husband into coming with him to Iraq through Turkey and Syria when he joined ISIS last year.
Holding her infant, the woman asked to remain anonymous, said her husband had told her they were going for a vacation week in Turkey and had already bought the plane tickets and made hotel reservations.
After four months in Mosul, she ran away from her husband to Tal Afar in February. She was hoping to make it back to France but he found her and would not let her leave.
She tearfully recounted how her five-year-old son was killed in June by a rocket while playing on the streets.
The woman said she doesn’t care anymore whether her husband is dead or alive.
After walking for days, she and a few other families surrendered at a Peshmerga checkpoint near al-Ayadiyah, a town near Tal Afar.
Kurdish officials said dozens of fighters surrendered after the fall of Tal Afar without adding further details. A Tal Afar resident said that during the final days of the battle he had seen between 70 and 80 fighters fleeing the town.