In Northern Iraq, Raising The Kurdish Flag Brings Military Response

Every year, locals in the semi-autonomous northern region of Iraqi Kurdistan celebrate Flag Day. It’s a day during which members of the Kurdish ethnic group celebrate their aspirations to nationhood and their feelings of unity toward other Kurds living in Syria, Iran and Turkey; the Kurdish remain one of the largest ethnic groups in the world without their own country and are spread throughout those nations and Iraq.

The commemoration was established by the Iraqi Kurdish parliament around nine years ago and every year since then, schools, universities, government buildings and many others celebrate with assorted ceremonies on Flag Day, December 17, while individuals show their pride by posting the flag all over social media.

This year there was one city where celebrating the Kurdish flag wasn’t particularly easy or pleasant though. The northern city of Kirkuk has been considered an Iraqi flashpoint for years because of the wide mix of ethnic and sectarian groups living there. The Kurdish have claimed the city for years and in many ways, were de-facto in charge. But 2017’s ill-fated Kurdish referendum on independence saw the city return to the control of the Iraqi federal government.

We will continue to consider that Kirkuk is under military rule … until the flag of Kurdistan flies in Kirkuk again.

Usually in Kirkuk, various Kurdish groups and parties come together to decide how Flag Day will be celebrated in mid-December. That meeting didn’t take place this year. What did happen was that the Kurdistan Communist Party raised the Kurdish flag over its own headquarters.

“After we raised the flag we were warned more than once by the Iraqi counter-terrorism forces that we should remove it,” says  Bakhtiar Mohammed, a senior member of the Communist Party. “But we decided not to do so. So they came here and removed it for us.”

Other Kurdish politicians in the area appeared to be both annoyed by the Communists’ move and slightly envious.

“If the party was aiming to try and normalize the relations [between the Kurds and the Arabs] in Kirkuk, they should be aware we have far bigger problems than a flag,” one official from the largest political party in this area, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, told NIQASH.

“There are other things happening in Kirkuk that are far more important than the flag raising,” added Rawand Mulla Mahmoud, deputy head of the PUK in Kirkuk. “There is the ongoing Arab-ization of Kirkuk as well as not choosing a Kurdish person as governor. We need to come together to find solutions to these things in Kirkuk,” he argued. 

For example, Rakan Saeed al-Jibouri, the acting governor of Kirkuk and an Arab politician, recently agreed to give agricultural land to over 50 Arab families. The decision is controversial because some see the land as belonging to Kurdish locals. After an intervention by the country’s new president, Iraqi Kurdish politician Barham Salih, Iraq’s highest court ruled that the Kirkuk governor had not acted appropriately and that any issues over the property needed to be resolved in other ways.


Kurdish flags produly displayed in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan.


The idea of Arab-ization – that is, changing the demographic makeup of the area so that one ethnicity dominates it was something that former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein was well known for. He tried to push Kurds out of areas where they had previously been dominant and this is one of the issues at the heart of the battle for supremacy in Kirkuk: The Kurds say they were here first, while the Arabs say Kirkuk belongs to Iraq. The issue is supposed to be resolved constitutionally with a census and an eventual referendum. In reality, all this has done so far is to have the opposing sides try to get more voters living in the disputed area, so that when it eventually does come to a vote or a headcount, superior numbers will win.

The PUK says it intends to organize protests about the new governor’s behaviour.

Kurdish flag-raising has been a problem in Kirkuk before. In March 2017, the former Kurdish governor of Kirkuk, Najmuddin Karim, caused controversy when, with the support of most council members, he decided to raise the flag over all state institutions here. Whether he had a right to do so was eventually also debated in Iraq’s highest court. Even after the court decided that he did not, local politicians refused to obey the court order because, they complained, it was politically motivated. Even after the independence referendum upset the situation in Kirkuk, a Kurdish flag was raised over PUK headquarters in February 2018. It was removed after just a few hours.

“Raising the Kurdish flag is illegal and Kurdish parties should abide by the decision of the courts in Baghdad,” says Mohammed Khader, an Arab politician in the provincial government.

For many Kurdish locals, the whole issue of the flag and Kurdish control of Kirkuk is also linked to the absence of Iraqi Kurdistan’s other large political party. Of around 33 senior officials belonging to the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, only one has returned to their job in Kirkuk since the conflict and clashes here in 2017. That is the head of a Kurdish section at the provincial department of education. All of the other senior jobs formerly held by members of the KDP are being done by Arab or Turkman locals.

The KDP has been staunch about its insistence that Kirkuk is “occupied”. 

“The KDP will return to Kirkuk when the Kurdish flag does,” says Fatih Bek, a ranking KDP party member for Kirkuk. “That is why no [KDP] official has returned to Kirkuk as yet. We will continue to consider that Kirkuk is under military rule and that there is a process of Arab-ization going on, until the flag of Kurdistan flies in Kirkuk again, the way it used to fly there before October 2017.”


source: Niqash

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In Northern Iraq, Election Campaigning Takes A Divisive Turn

Forget about campaigning on the basis of a political manifesto, the strengths of your policies and ideas or a united vision of the future. In Iraqi Kurdistan most of the campaigning for the upcoming federal elections has been all about criticism of one’s opponents.

Almost all of the political parties trying to get elected in the semi-autonomous, northern region have focused more on what’s wrong with the others, rather than what is right about them. Old grudges have been brought up, new and hateful campaigns launched and plenty of false reports and so-called “fake news” has been posted on Kurdish-language social media. Attack ads are the standard. Some community leaders fear that the language being used and messages being sent are so aggressive, that eventually violence may result.

“From what we have seen in election campaigning over the past few days we would say that these violent messages are going to have a detrimental impact on the relationships between political parties after the elections as well,” says Ata Sheikh Hassan, a spokesperson for one of the region’s largest parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, or KDP, in the city of Sulaymaniyah. “All parties should work through their own channels to calm things down. There are risks that if things go on like this, we will see clashes between the different security forces.”

We are critical of our competitors on political grounds. And I would actually think it was strange if this did not happen.

There’s another big difference to this year’s campaigning and that is the way locals are using social media. Previously a lot of campaigning, postering and speechifying went on, on the streets and in town squares. There would be motorcades and marches as well as special events and parties. But that has changed this year.

 Zmanko Jalal, a senior member of another well-supported Iraqi Kurdish party, the Change movement, thinks that part of the reason is economic. Due to the financial crisis that has prevailed for months now in Iraqi Kurdistan, a lot of people are in dire straits and not in the mood for celebratory marches and parades.

“Unlike in previous years, there is a lack of enthusiasm about elections,” Jalal notes. “Different parties are not relying as much on street side campaigning.” Additionally he believes that local political parties are certain they will find more success with voters online. “There were not as many users of social media previously,” he explains.

And that is a problem when it comes to trying to enforce good standards or even the rules around electioneering. Campaigning on social media is almost impossible for the election authorities to constrain or regulate.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s female candidates appear to have been a particular target of bad will online. A video showing Jwan Ihsan, who heads the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK’s campaign in Sulaymaniyah, apparently unaware that the Iraqi government had abolished a certain ministry, was posted on social media and was widely shared. The same thing happened to Heshu Rebwar Ali, a senior female member of the KDP. Her inability to answer a certain question was criticized on social media and then videos and pictures from Rebwar Ali’s  stolen mobile phone were posted online.


Campaigning on Kurdish streets. Photo: Hama Sur


Ihsan told NIQASH she believes the social media campaign against her was an organized one, “launched by certain parties who see me as a major rival in the elections,” she says.

Yusuf Mohammed, the head of the Change movement, believes he’s also been targeted on social media. He was the victim of just one of many fabricated reports posted on Kurdish-language Facebook platforms.

“This kind of disinformation campaign brings shame to the democratic process in Iraqi Kurdistan,” Mohammed told NIQASH. He notes that these kinds of falsified pictures are being used in an organized way as political enemies pay for some of the region’s most popular Facebook pages to put out reports that make other politicians look bad.

Local observers suggest that one of the newest political parties competing in this year’s elections, New Generation, is responsible for some of the heated campaigning. While other Iraqi Kurdish political parties signed the UN-supervised Electoral Charter of Honour, the New Generation was the only party to decline.

However the New Generation’s spokesperson, Rabun Marouf, denies any wrong doing, insisting that their campaigning was completely normal.

“We are critical of our competitors on political grounds,” he told NIQASH. “And I would actually think it was strange if this did not happen.”

The fog of propaganda has already dominated the run up to this moment. Unfortunately this indicates that election campaigning is going to be very difficult.

The New Generation plans to continue doing this, Marouf insisted: “We want to make the citizens of Iraqi Kurdistan aware of how existing political parties have acted against their interests for over 27 years.”

The Change movement, known for its opposition to the parties in power, has also run a  highly critical campaign – in particular, they have continued in their tradition of complaining about the behaviour of the KDP.

Party leader Mohammed told NIQASH that his party wants to highlight the shortcomings of the authorities through the media, “to show that these people shouldn’t be in charge of our government,” he explained.

Locals have expressed concern about this style of campaigning but, as Rizkar Haji Hama, a senior, local member of Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission, or IHEC, says it is impossible to control campaign content, especially on social media.

“We know about the violent and divisive campaigns launched by the parties against one another on social networks,” Hama told NIQASH. “Measures should be taken to prevent this but IHEC cannot do anything because nobody can be held responsible for the online content and we cannot reach the owners of the various pages to punish them.”

As of this week, IHEC has received about ten complaints about divisive campaigning and Hama says they will be investigating these further, although he isn’t sure that anything much will come of that.

Some locals have also tried to improve the situation independently of authorities. On the day election campaigning could legally begin, a group of civil society activists and journalists issued a statement calling upon local political parties to refrain from defaming opponents, using coarse language or deliberately exacerbating tensions.

“Today we enter the period of election campaigning,” their statement said. “The fog of propaganda has already dominated the run up to this moment. Unfortunately this indicates that election campaigning is going to be very difficult, highly competitive and will introduce tensions.” Unfortunately it seems they were absolutely correct in their predictions.

source: Niqash

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In Northern Iraq, Forces Prepare For Extremists’ Last Stand

Over the past two weeks, Iraqi army captain, Mohammed al-Saedi, a senior officer in the 92nd Brigade, and his men have been watching columns of smoke rising from the centre of Tal Afar. The northern Iraqi city is one of the very last strongholds of the extremist group known as the Islamic State in Iraq.

“Preparations for the battle in Tal Afar are being completed and there are many battalions coming to the outskirts of the city,” al-Saedi told NIQASH. “This includes the Iraqi army, the federal police, counter terrorism forces and the Shiite Muslim militias.”

 The columns of smoke coming out of Tal Afar are caused by bombing by the international coalition fighting the Islamic State, or IS, group as well as Iraqi planes. They are bombing the city to weaken the IS group’s defences there.

There are serious concerns that we will see destruction as bad as that which happened in western Mosul.

The fight for Tal Afar has started but so far land forces have not advanced and officials are reluctant to give away the exact timing as to when this will happen. However al-Saedi says he expects a relatively uncomplicated fight. More senior officers than al-Saedi, such as Najim al-Jibouri, the commander of the Ninawa theatre of operations, have also expressed this opinion even though some US commanders have differed.

The location of Tal Afar city is of strategic importance. It sits around 70 kilometres away from Mosul and is around 60 kilometres away from the Turkish and Syrian borders. There are three small towns in the Tal Afar district, with the towns of Rabia and Ayadiyah controlled by the IS group and Zamar under the control of Iraqi Kurdish troops.

Before the security crisis sparked by the IS group began, an estimated 300,000 people lived in Tal Afar, mostly Shiite and Sunni Muslims of the Turkmen ethnic group. There were also Arabs and Kurds there. After the IS group took over the area, all the Shiite Muslims left, as did the Iraqi military, fearing death or punishment. Several thousand of the Sunni Muslim population remained.

The main challenges facing pro-government forces in Tal Afar include the size of the district – it is double the area of Mosul city – and the fact that some neighbourhoods in Tal Afar city are similar to those on the western side of Mosul: That is, the houses are older and densely packed in small alleyways.

“The centre of Tal Afar is full of narrow, overlapping neighbourhoods, with lots of old houses abandoned by residents,” confirms Kamal al-Ajmali, one of the community leaders from Tal Afar. “All those houses are bound to be booby trapped with explosives. There are serious concerns that we will see destruction as bad as that which happened in western Mosul.”

“The IS group has been preparing for this battle for a long time and Tal Afar is the extremists’ last stronghold,” al-Ajmali added. “They may well fight to the bitter end here. I believe the government should have started operations to push the IS group out of Tal Afar at the same time as they started fighting for Mosul. Because they did not, large numbers of IS extremists were allowed to escape from Mosul, together with their families, and to get to Tal Afar.”

Tal Afar is now under siege. The Iraqi military is deployed to the east in the Badush area, Shiite Muslim militias are in the south and the west around Tal Abta and Sinjar city, and Iraqi Kurdish forces are in the north.

Another major problem for the pro-government forces though is the loss of fighters they have had to deal with over the past months fighting in and around Mosul, in the longest stretch of fighting against the IS group. In comparison, fighting in Fallujah took just three weeks and in Tikrit it was around four. In Mosul, it was nine months.  

During this time, the crack counter-terrorism troops, lauded as heroes by many Iraqis, suffered many casualties. Yet Iraqi commanders have decided that these units will spearhead the attack in Tal Afar, just as they did at first in Mosul.


Senior Iraqi army officers in an official photo by the Iraqi Ministry of Defence.


According to government sources, fighters participating in the fighting for Tal Afar will include a number of the counter-terrorism units, the 9th and the 6th armoured divisions, the 3rd brigade of the quick response troops, the federal police and four factions of the Shiite Muslim militias.

The last component is the one that is causing some problems between Turkey and Iran. During the fighting in Mosul, only one Shiite Muslim group took part, the Al Abbas brigade. Turkish officials have been warning against the participation of more Shiite Muslim militias for months, fearing illegal acts and revenge killings against the Sunni Muslims who remained in the area. Turkey cares about these because they are mostly of Turkmen ethnicity. Shiite Turkmen believe that their neighbours who stayed all support the IS group.

Turkish troops remain in Iraq, in a camp that is about 50 kilometres away from the battlefield. Despite the fact that their presence has ignited a diplomatic spat between Iraq and Turkey, the Turkish soldiers have remained there, to threaten Iran should Shiite Muslim militias get too close to the Turkmen of Tal Afar.

However Turkey’s fears have apparently been eased recently, an Iraqi MP told NIQASH on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the press. Secret talks were held and “Iraq made pledges that there would be no sectarian violence,” the politician told NIQASH.

In order to ensure this, the Iraqi government had decided upon four Shiite Muslim militias to fight at Tal Afar. Three of them were militias that were known to be more loyal to the Iraqi government, associated directly with the senior cleric, Ali al-Sistani, as opposed to those militias that openly pledge loyalty to the neighbouring Iranian government. The fourth faction would be the group known as the Hussein Brigade; most of the fighters are Shiites originally from Tal Afar who will know the city’s geography better than most.

Other Shiite Muslim militias, including those who have expressed loyalty to Iran – such as the Badr organization and the League of the Righteous – will secure the outskirts of the city, ensuring the extremists cannot escape, as well as take charge of security in Tal Afar’s smaller towns.

A final problem will be the waves of displaced locals that the authorities are expecting. As signs of an impending battle mount, locals from inside Tal Afar have already started trying to leave, says Ahmad al-Jibouri, an MP for Mosul. “The number of displaced families isn’t that high yet,” al-Jibouri said. “But it will increase when fighting starts. The government needs to take measures to shelter those people.”

“We estimate there will be around 35,000 people coming from the city,” Husam al-Abbar, a member of the Ninawa provincial council, notes. “But we are well prepared to receive them,” he added, pointing out that there were 2,890 tents erected at Salamiyah camp and 3,600 more at the Bartala camp, both near Mosul. Additionally, there were also empty tents left by displaced people who had returned to Mosul.  

source: Niqash

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In Northern Iraq, Some Kurdish Men Prefer Their Brides Budget

Once upon a time it would have been frowned upon but, thanks to displacement caused by the security crisis, more Kurdish and Arab families are intermarrying in northern Iraq. Because marriage in Iraq and in Iraqi Kurdistan still tends to be a conservative tradition, where couples are arranged through families or matchmakers, and men have far more choice than women, it seems that it is usually Kurdish men marrying Arab women.

The increasing number of inter-ethnic marriages are happening for a number of reasons, not all of them savoury.

Ibrahim al-Obaidi, 53, was displaced from southern Iraq and ended up living in a camp with his family in Iraqi Kurdistan.

“I was always opposed to marrying girls off too young but this hard life in the camps and our economic situation has changed my mind,” he admits. “I have seen my daughters growing up in the camp and I got so worried about them, because of harassment from others in the camp and the way they mix with others here, that I decided to let them marry and not worry how old they were,” al-Obaidi explained.

It is the high cost of getting married in Kurdistan, that encourage us to marry into an Arab family instead.

There are many advantages to marrying a daughter into the Iraqi Kurdish community, al-Obaidi continued. “I guarantee my family a foothold in this region through intermarriage with the Kurdish people, who have similar traditions to ours anyway,” the father explained. “During the time we have been here, we have become more accustomed to their culture and they to ours,” he notes.  

Ahmed al-Marsouni, 61, has already returned to Anbar’s Karmah district after having spent some time in Iraqi Kurdistan, after he took his family there, due to fears about the security crisis caused by the extremist group known as the Islamic State. But when he came back south, he left his 18-year-old daughter behind in the semi-autonomous northern region, the interior of which has remained comparatively safe over the past three years.

When he arrived back home, he says he saw his daughter’s schoolbooks in the house and recalls how he was reluctant to let her marry a young Kurdish man. It was not just because of her age – she was 16 at the time – but also because he feared the couple, who did not speak the same language, might not be able to understand one another and therefore would not get along. The whole family was opposed to the union but al-Marsouni cast a deciding vote and the pair married.

But that was two years ago and now the two families have started learning one another’s language. The couple is far ahead of their in-laws.

“In the next few days our son-in-law will come to visit us for the first time since we returned last year,” al-Marsouni says. “Our daughter will come with him and we are all waiting for her eagerly. I am proud of this decision even though at the time I forced everyone to accept it,” he adds.  

Abdul Rahman Hewa is a young Iraqi Kurdish man who recently married an Arab girl. He says it was the high cost of marriage to a Kurdish girl that led him to his bride – that, and the fact that he decided that Arab women were “wiser and better looking than Kurdish girls. They take care of their husbands better.”

“These marriages have become much more acceptable recently,” Hewa explains. “It is the high cost of getting married in Kurdistan and the customs imposed on young men like me, that encourage us to marry into an Arab family instead. Then the couple can start married life free of the financial burdens that Kurdish society imposes on you, if you marry a Kurdish girl.”

Hewa says his wedding cost him around US$5,000 – that was for the ceremony and party and for language lessons so he and his new wife can understand one another better.

“I would have needed triple that amount – at least – to buy the gold that Kurdish families usually ask for, when their daughters marry,” Hewa says; gold jewellery and gifts are an important part of Kurdish weddings as families and the bride and groom gift each other the precious metal – it’s often seen as a kind of dowry. 

The displaced Arab brides-to-be meet their potential husbands in different ways. Sometimes it is due to immersion in the host community where couples’ families come to an arrangement, other times it is due to random meetings in markets.

Hazem Razkar, 35, first spotted his Arab wife at the markets with her family, in the Iraqi Kurdish tourist town of Shaqlawa where he lives. “I was lucky because I speak pretty good Arabic and I was able to find out where she lives – that’s not difficult for us because we tend to know where people are living in our small community – and speak to her family,” Razkar says.  

His wife’s family was actually renting an apartment from Razkar’s family friends so he was able to meet the girl briefly. After that he proposed formally, asking her family for their daughter’s hand.

“We’re very happy now,” Razkar says. In fact, he and his wife often work as mediators, even as marriage brokers, for other Kurdish-Arab couples. “We try to bridge the gap between the two groups and arrange for the families to meet. We also translate and help the families understand one another.”

“What I really noticed about the Arab women was that they never asked for money, the same way the Kurdish girls did,” says Assad Obaid, who owns a small jewellery store in Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan and who recently married an Arab woman himself. “I noticed this after dealing with so many people in my shop, both Kurdish and Arab.”

Obaid admits that he had heard about the growing number of successful Kurdish-Arab marriages but that he wed his wife simply because he fell in love.

She had come to his store with her family to buy gold jewellery for her sister’s wedding. “I was able to communicate with her family through a young Kurdish man who speaks Arabic,” the 36-year-old store owner explains. “And I didn’t have to pay a huge amount of money for gold for her. But to me, she is the ultimate treasure anyway.”

source: Niqash

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In Northern Iraq, Tribal Traditions Build On Ancient Class System

Although Iraqi Kurdish cities may appear relatively liberal, there is still a kind of class war going in in many parts of the semi-autonomous northern region. In some areas, one’s “class” is based upon which tribe one comes from and this classification often impacts on when and who can marry into the clan.

For almost a century the Sheikh tribe, composed of the Barazanji, Sawlah and Kalaei clans, has lived in the Karmayan area. Women from within the Sheikh tribe have never been allowed to marry outside of the group. Other families were seen as of a lower class.

Sometimes fathers will ask the local authorities not to approve any marriage that crosses tribal bloodlines.

“The people of this tribe consider themselves better than other groups,” agrees Ata Mohammed Saleh, a member of the Sheikh tribe. “This has created a barrier between them and other tribes which has never been removed. Even today about half of the Sheikh tribe still insists that its daughters marry inside the tribe.”

Fayan Mohammed is 30 and at this age, she is almost too old to be married. She says she had suitors but her father refused to allow her to marry them because they were from outside the tribe. Men, on the other hand, are allowed to marry outside the Sheikh tribe.

“I’m from this tribe but I don’t believe that the Sheikh tribe is better than anybody else,” Mohammed says. “We are all human beings.”

The story for the Bigzadah clan, which belongs to the Jaf tribe, is quite different. Previously this tribe had the same kinds of rules about intermarriage. In fact, for the Bigzadah tribe, even men were not allowed to marry outside the group.

“But this situation has now changed completely,” says Ahmad Sarteeb of the Bigzadah clan. “The Bigzadah men and women are now marrying outside the tribe.”

This is apparently because many of the tribe’s young women would end up never getting married and the tribe began to suffer from a population decrease.

In the past marriages would be approved by the families and then sealed by local clerics and community leaders. The Iraqi Kurdish government didn’t really come into it. Now there is the option to get married in a civil ceremony in Iraqi Kurdistan – yet somehow this hasn’t impacted the young men and women from the tribes looking for spouses. In fact, sometimes fathers will ask the local authorities not to approve any marriage that crosses tribal bloodlines.

Even the attitudes of local clerics have changed. “God says that humans were put into tribes and groups so they could come to know one another,” argues local cleric Karawan Rashid, not to treat others like inferiors. 

source: Niqash

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In Northern Iraq, Soldiers Wonder What To Do With Enemy Extremist Corpses

There’s a saying the Kurdish have, when all hope has been lost: Even the devil has left them. This is how Sayed Hazar, the deputy commander of the military police to the east of Mosul, describes the corpses of the extremists he has been dealing with, since the beginning of the military operation to push the Islamic State group out of that city.

Hazar had just removed three corpses out of one of the extremist Islamic State, or IS, group’s many tunnels in the area. He buried these bodies himself but he says many others were buried in mass graves. The holes were dug, the corpses placed in them, then the holes are filled in by bulldozers.

“We have been trying to deal with the bodies of these militants humanely,” Hazar told NIQASH. “Because even the devil has left them.” 

We have the body of his son but I couldn’t tell him. I had to bury him with all the others. 

Most of the corpses are unidentified. If the bodies have any identification on them at all, most of it is forged, Hazar says. The only thing that can be done is to remember where the bodies are buried should anybody come looking for them later, and want to identify them. “The only thing we really know about them is the place of their burial,” Hazar says.

Many of those killed are Iraqis who joined the IS group but there are also foreigners among the dead.

“The Iraqi Kurdish military bury the IS dead on the spot in order to avoid any possible problems with diseases,” Jamal Eminki, chief of staff of the Iraqi Kurdish forces, also known as the Peshmerga, told NIQASH. “There is no way we can transport the bodies anywhere else because of the fighting.”

The Kurdistan Clerics’ Federation says that they are sure the corpses are being “treated in a humane manner”. Usually there are no actual clerics at the burial though, the organisation’s head, Abdullah Mulla Sayed says, due to security conditions.

At one stage there was even a suggestion that all the corpses be brought to one graveyard so as to create a kind of monument to this war. The site could also be used to raise money for the families of the dead.

“But the council at the Ministry did not approve this idea,” says Mariwan Naqshbandi, spokesperson for Iraqi Kurdistan’s Ministry of Endowment and Religious Affairs, who suggested the plan. “Because they were concerned that later on, the dead might be considered by some to be righteous men later.”

In mid-January authorities in the Kirkuk area buried more than 80 corpses in a mass grave in the Banja Ali area. Most of them were killed when the IS group launched a surprise attack on the city of Kirkuk in October 2016.

The bodies were kept for a certain amount of time, in the hopes that families would come and claim their relatives, explains Sardar Ali, of the Kirkuk municipal authority. Some of the dead were claimed by relatives but those who were not, were simply buried. 

“We had to deal with the bodies as unidentified because none carried any ID,” Ali told NIQASH. “But we also did DNA tests so that we can give these to families of the fighters if they come looking for them.”

The Independent Commission for Human Rights in Iraqi Kurdistan has sent letters to a number of different offices requesting that the IS corpses be treated humanely and that they should not be used in any humiliating manner. The letter was sent to both the local military and to media organisations.  

“The IS corpses should be buried in easily identifiable places and according to international standards,” says Diya Butros, the head of the Commission. “The IDs of the those buried should be put into glass bottles and then left there, so their families can identify them later. Improper actions taken against the dead are also human rights violations.”

However, many of those suggestions are not necessarily being implemented. Butros says this is understandable. “The situation is not stable and we are in a state of war.” 

In general, it is clear there is no overarching plan for the corpses of the IS group fighters and they are being buried and identified by a number of different organisations and authorities during the course of the security crisis.

For example, Hazar of the military police, says he was going up a mountain near Khazar when he got a call from someone in Mosul to ask if he knew anything about the fate of his son, who had joined the IS group.

“We have the body of his son but I couldn’t tell him this,” Hazar says. And because the Iraqi Kurdish authorities haven’t decided what should be done with the enemy corpses, or if they should facilitate the bodies being given back to grieving families, Hazar says he has no choice but to bury the body of that particular man, in the same way he has buried all the other IS corpses.  

source: Niqash

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