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Anbar Tribes Seek Vengeance against Iraqi ISIS Members

Anbar Tribes Seek Vengeance against Iraqi ISIS Members

Tuesday, 14 November, 2017 - 08:15
A special forces soldier waves an Iraqi flag from the top of a church damaged by ISIS forces in Bartella, east of Mosul, Iraq. (Reuters)

In the unforgiving deserts of Iraq, there is just one way to deal with defeated members of the ISISI terrorist group who try to come home -- tribal justice.

No pardons are possible among tribes which have agreed among themselves to treat with the utmost severity those members who became jihadists.

As for the families of ISIS members, many have already fled, fearing reprisals, reported Agence France Presse on Monday.

The former army commander for operations in the western province of Anbar, where ISIS once held sway after a sweeping offensive across Syria and Iraq in 2014, told AFP returning members face short shrift.

"The Bumahal and the other tribes have agreed to adopt a common stance" on the issue, said General Ismail Mehlawi, himself a Bumahal.

In the vast region where tribal law prevails, the tribes have addressed the thorny question of what to do about any relatives who pledged allegiance to the self-proclaimed ISIS "caliphate".

"They've all fled to neighboring Syria," say residents of Al-Obeidi village in the heart of what was the last ISIS bastion in Iraq, which has just been retaken by Iraqi forces.

But if any return or are discovered in the area, they "will be treated with severity", Mehlawi said.

"No pardon will be possible," said the mustachioed Iraqi whose home was dynamited by members of his own tribe who had joined ISIS.

"We will punish them as prescribed by God so justice is done to the tribesmen who have been wronged" during the ISIS occupation.

The cycle of revenge has already begun in Al-Obeidi, said a security official in the Al-Qaim region whose 150,000 inhabitants belong to around half a dozen tribes.

"A week ago, Busharji fighters blew up the house of a member of their tribe who had joined ISIS" and who was himself accused of blowing up homes in Al-Obeidi, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Before destroying his home, the tribe shunned him, leaving the former ISIS man unprotected in a country where tribal law often takes precedence over the law and the courts.

Mohammed al-Mohammedi heads the municipal council in Hit near the Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi.

He told AFP that several months ago, he was approached by families demanding "the expulsion of relatives of ISIS members".

Despite the authorities being aware of what was happening, this has not prevented acts of vengeance from taking place, said the AFP report.

"One member’s house was destroyed by explosives, another was burned down and stun grenades have been thrown at the homes of other families whose relatives joined ISIS," Mohammedi said.

The perpetrators of the attacks were never identified.

But afterwards, several families moved out in a scenario mirrored in other places including Iraq's second city Mosul which ISIS also occupied before it was retaken.

"The families of ISIS members can't live here because it creates tensions," said Mohammedi.

Another senior tribal official in the Ramadi region, Sheikh Awad al-Dalma of the Budalma, has drawn up a list of more than 250 names.

These are of "267 terrorists from the Budalma, Bushaaban, Budhiab and Janabin tribes" he said were guilty of "murders or destruction of houses".

As for the Bumahal tribe, Sheikh Mohammed Sattam said "just two members joined ISIS in 2014. One was killed and the other fled and is now being sought."

"We will keep fighting whoever joined ISIS," he added, wearing the military uniform of a tribal combatant.

Several Anbar province tribes boast of having a long history of battling extremists.

When another extremist group, Al-Qaeda, staged bloody attacks in Iraq in the aftermath of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, tribal fighters took up arms.

A number of their members also hold senior positions within the Iraqi armed forces.

When ISIS proclaimed its "caliphate" across Syria and Iraq in 2014, several Iraqi Sunnis -- in a country that is two thirds Shi’ite -- decided to pledge allegiance to the group.

But Bumahal fighters, along with members of other tribes, formed Sunni units within the Popular Mobilization Forces a motley coalition of Shi’ite militias and local fighters determined to drive ISIS out of Iraq.

Such was the case with Faisal Rafie, Kalashnikov assault rifle in hand.

Behind him in a swirling sandstorm are piles of rubble -- what is left of houses ISIS blew up in Al-Obeidi.

Today, those who lost their homes are demanding justice.

"The ISIS terrorists destroyed our houses and stole everything from us because we were fighting against injustice and terrorism," Rafie said.

"Everything we owned, we sacrificed everything for the people of Iraq."

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