In Iraq’s Mosul, women desperate for news of ‘disappeared’

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MOSUL, Iraq, June 13, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – Every Friday since Mosul was prised
from the Islamic State group’s clutches last July, women gather in the Iraqi
city’s Al-Minassa Square, desperate to learn the fate of husbands and sons.

Dressed in black, with children in tow and brandishing photos, some fear
their men have fallen victim to a cruel double jeopardy.

They had been imprisoned by or forced to work for IS, only for Iraqi
forces to suspect them of collaborating voluntarily with the jihadists — and
lock them up.

That is what some mothers and wives fear, faced with official silence.

“Instead of being free today and compensated, they are being kept behind
bars,” said 80-year-old Umm Abdullah, tormented by her son’s disappearance.

She fears her child will be falsely accused, 12 months since Iraqi forces
expelled IS.

When the jihadists seized Mosul in 2014 after a lightning offensive, men
working in the security forces or in other state jobs who did not run away
were left with nowhere to hide.

Seen as representatives of an “apostate” state, many of them were forced
to publicly repent and swear allegiance to IS.

The women of Al-Minassa resemble the Mothers of the ‘Plaza de Mayo’ who
relentlessly pursued justice for sons who vanished under Argentina’s 1976 to
1983 junta.

– ‘Sure they are detained’ –

Standing on the steps of the square, 38-year-old housewife Shaima believes
she knows what happened to her policeman husband.

Shaima, 38, said jihadists raided the family home and abducted her husband
on November 25, 2016, a fate that befell many of his colleagues.

When Iraqi troops battled to retake the city, “he was used with other
prisoners as human shields”, she said.

Soldiers then arrested him “because he didn’t have identity papers and had
grown a thick beard during his detention by IS”, said the mother of six,
fighting back tears.

When outgoing prime minister Haider al-Abadi visited Mosul in March, the
women tried to approach him and ask about their men, but bodyguards pushed
them back.

Security officials told AFP the families of all those arrested in Mosul
have been informed.

But Shaima said she has had no official word and resorted to other
channels. She had “received information… he is detained” at Baghdad’s Al-
Muthana airport, along with suspected terrorists.

Abu Luay, a 56-year-old unemployed man, spends his time looking for his
two sons, snatched from their home by IS fighters on October 4, 2016.

The sons, Luay and Qusay, have never reappeared.

After several months of investigating, “we’re sure they’re detained by
security forces, but we don’t know why”, Abu Luay said.

– Thrown In ‘Abyss’ –

Not all those who had been held by IS survived the brutality of its rule.

“Many of the disappeared were executed by IS and their bodies thrown in
the ‘Khafsa’,” said human rights activist Sami Faisal, referring to an area
that translates from Arabic as the “abyss”.

The site, a sinkhole that folklore says was left by a meteor, could be one
of the biggest mass graves in Iraq, as it was an IS execution ground.

Collating testimony from families, Faisal said he has compiled 1,820 names
of men and women who have disappeared.

Many on the list were soldiers, civil servants, journalists and activists
from Mosul and the surrounding area.

A separate list of missing Yazidis comprises 3,111 names, although the
number fluctuates as members of the minority re-emerge alive after having
years enslaved by IS.

Deciding when a person can be declared dead is an issue which the
authorities are tackling.

The Iraqi judiciary has ruled “two years without news of a person who has
disappeared in a context of terrorism sufficient to officially pronounce
their death”.

Mosul’s mayor, Zoheir al-Araji, said the justice ministry registers
complaints by relatives of the disappeared.

The cases go “to the government and security authorities to investigate
their fate”, he said. “But so far without results.”

Bereft of her two sons, Umm Luay tries to take some solace from photos and
memories.

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