Thu, Jan 04, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Thousands remain missing after Iraq’s victories over Islamic State

Iraqi government bureaucracy, inefficiency and neglect have left thousands of families across the nation hanging, even as the leadership celebrates the defeat of the militants

By Susannah George  /  AP, MOSUL, Iraq

An investigation by The Associated Press has found at least 133 mass graves left behind by the defeated extremists and only a handful have been exhumed. Many of the missing — especially the thousands of Yazidis unaccounted for since Islamic State fighters slaughtered and enslaved the minority — might ultimately be buried there.

Estimates total between 11,000 and 13,000 bodies in the graves, according to the investigation, but not all of the missing were spirited away by the Islamic State group. Some families in and around Mosul say their relatives were taken by unidentified gunmen after the militants were defeated.

“It was the middle of the day, 3:30 in the afternoon. A silver pickup truck drove into the village and took my brother,” Elias Ahmed said as he walked along the dusty main road leading to his home in the sprawling Bijwaniya agricultural village.

Ghazwan Ahmed was taken along with four other young men in August last year. They have not been seen since.

“The men who took him didn’t even identify themselves, they just said they worked in intelligence,” Elias Ahmed said.

Elias Ahmed spent weeks shuttling between the different headquarters of Iraq’s disparate security services in and around Mosul. The federal police, Sunni tribal paramilitary fighters, local police and the Iraqi army all control different sections of Mosul and the surrounding Nineveh countryside.

Each group maintains its own records of detentions and arrests.

Elias Ahmed went looking for answers at a court north of Mosul in the small, historically Christian town of Tel Keif, established especially to process those charged with terrorism.

Each morning, family members gather outside its gates in hope of tracking down missing relatives.

Inside, judges process close to 100 cases a day. Many trials last no longer than 30 minutes.

Yasser Hafahdy, an attorney from Mosul working at the court, defended the practice of arresting people without informing their families where they would be held or the charges against them.

He said the court was overwhelmed by the sheer number of Islamic State suspects arrested and could not spare the time or resources to reach out to families.

Since the court opened its doors in March last year, about a dozen judges have processed more than 15,000 cases. More than 60 percent have been found guilty, Hafahdy estimated.

“What we need is a Judge Dredd, you know, Sylvester Stallone,” Hafahdy said, referring to the 1995 dystopian action film in which a traditional justice system is replaced by armed judges who patrol city streets acting as police, judge, jury and executioner.

At a nearby detention center, hundreds of men sat in cramped rooms, and dozens of women and child detainees shuffled between a windowless room and an open courtyard.

“The Iraqi government was completely unprepared for all the people taken prisoner,” said an Iraqi lieutenant colonel overseeing a different detention center just south of Mosul. “Honestly, we expected more field executions, but human rights organizations were monitoring the operations, so we began taking people prisoner instead.”

The Iraqi officer, who spoke on condition that he was only identified by his rank because he was not authorized to talk to journalists, said that during the Mosul operation hundreds of people passed through his detention center on their way to Baghdad for trials.

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