Islamic State shadow follows families as Iraq closes camps

Ahmed Khleif, who says is a relative of men accused of being Islamic State militants, is seen in al-Jadaa 5 camp, in al-Qayyarah, Iraq November 24, 2020. REUTERS/Charlotte Bruneau

AL-QAYYARAH, IRAQ (Reuters) - Tuqqa Abdullah and her Iraqi family have wandered from one displaced people's camp to the next in the past three years, buying time and hoping they will one day be able to go home.

Just 14 when her father took the family to the then Islamic State (IS) stronghold of Mosul, she has inherited a legacy that might take generations to overcome. In the meantime, her options are running out.

When Iraqi forces captured Mosul in the dying days of the three-year-old IS caliphate in 2017, Abdullah's father and older sons were killed.

The surviving family members were among many thousands of relatives of suspected IS members moved into temporary camps.

Last month, Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi launched the closure of the remaining camps, arguing that the families belong at home.

But many of their occupants remain barred from returning by their local communities, who associate them with the group that imposed its brutal rule over large swathes of northern Iraq.

When the al-Jadaa 1 camp where Abdullah and her family were living shut down, they did not head back to their village near the northern town of Al-Qayyarah but went instead to al-Jadaa 5.

"We have nowhere to go if this camp closes," said Abdullah, who shares a tent with her mother, grandmother and younger siblings.


The Baghdad government says it has closed all but three of the 47 camps outside the Kurdistan region and hopes to shut those three by early next year, rejecting allegations by humanitarian aid groups that the process is too hasty.

It is not clear when the 26 camps in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region will close.

In the recent spate of camp closures, Ahmed Khleif and his family also sought shelter at the al-Jadaa 5 camp, even though it is only about 15 km (9.32 miles) from their home.

"If Jadaa closes, we have nowhere to go. Only suicide is left," Khleif said.

The governor of Nineveh province where the al-Jadaa camps are located, Najm al-Jabouri, told Reuters some families of alleged IS members were able to go home but that a compromise with some tribal leaders over returns had yet to be reached.

"We still have about 1,000 families or more for whom it is difficult for them to return to their places of origin," al-Jabouri said.

Near the town of Gayyara where al-Jadaa camp is situated, Abdulkareem al-Wagaa, head of al-Jabouri tribe, was among tribal leaders who decided the fate of relatives of IS members in a meeting in 2016. He says only those who pledged allegiance to, took pride in or benefited from the group are barred from home.

Khleif continued his work driving a taxi during IS rule, putting him under suspicion of using family connections. Three of his sons are in prison for alleged IS links, he said.

Hussein Ali, the son of the mayor in Khleif's hometown and in charge of his file, says that he wishes all families could return, but local authorities cannot guarantee Khleif's safety.

Even when not under suspicion, families associated with IS often have to go through a more bureaucratic and costly process to renew identify cards or other documents.

Tuqqa said her family has been saving and selling the food parcels they get from the camp in recent months in the hope of having enough money to renew her documents and be able to work.

Al-Jabouri, Nineveh's governor, said he was concerned the families had been isolated together for a long time, adding that the government was still looking for a safe way to reintegrate them.

"We have revenge in our society," he said. "Not all families can return to their places of origin, this is a real problem that we are trying to find solutions for."

(Reporting by Charlotte Bruneau and Amina Ismail; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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