As of September 10, more than 1,300 family members of Islamic State fighters have been detained by Iraqi forces. These individuals, primarily women and children, are placed at a camp in northern Iraq. According to officials, these families surrendered to Kurdish forces when an Iraqi offensive mission forced the fighters out of Tal Afar, a northern town near Mosul. It is widely speculated that these family members will not be charged by the Iraqi government with any crimes.
Although the officials maintained a level of anonymity in their statements to uphold military protocol, it is strongly believed that these families will be repatriated in the coming weeks to their home countries. A vast majority are from Central Asia, Russia, and Turkey, but there are also minorities of people from Japan and South Korea. These foreigners primarily travelled to Iraq and Syria in an attempt to live in a caliphate occupied by an Islamic State group.
Feyruza, a detained person originally from Russia, stated that she moved to Tal Afar to practice her religion freely and openly, something that she was unable to do in her prior home of Azerbaijan. This woman and many others moved to northwestern Iraq in early 2015 in order to begin living the way she desired, also claiming she was unaware of the atrocities that were occurring. She continued, “We were told that in Iraq they had implemented Islam and we came here and it was true. We lived our lives as Muslims and we were very happy until the warplanes came and destroyed everything.”
Many of these foreigners were content living in these areas until operations to regain control over that land began. This most recent attempt occurred after Iraqi forces successfully regained control over the country’s second-largest city, Mosul, following nine months of persistent efforts. Fortunately, several humanitarian groups have entered into the region to provide shelter and aid to displaced women and children. However, they account for a mere fraction of the hundreds of thousands of people that are internally displaced as a result of recent events. Many of the women now face uncertainty, as they are unsure if their spouses survived. A Kurdish commander, General Kamel Harki, stated that some of the captured Islamic State fighters were placed in the custody of Iraqi authorities. Others, however, were killed after attempting to regain control from the Kurdish forces through a counterattack.
The United States has led a coalition with the Kurdish militia to impede the growth of the Islamic State. These efforts have been supplemented by troops deployed by the Syrian government, as well as Russian Airstrikes, and Iranian military units. As a result of these efforts, the Islamic State has lost a significant amount of its territory in Syria and Iraq over the last several months. Tal Afar has officially been freed of Islamic State control as of late last month, and the Pentagon has praised the security forces in this region on their operation. The Prime Minister of Iraq said in a statement, “To Daesh criminals we say: Wherever you are we will come to liberate and you have to choose only death or surrender.”