Dozens of families accused of having relatives in ISIL have been forcibly displaced to an ‘open-air prison’ camp.
By Laurene Daycard &Sebastian Castelier
Shahama camp, Iraq – Covered with a painful rash, Nessrine Hamad, six, has tears in her eyes.
“She has been like that for three days,” her mother, Kawzhar Youssif Hamad, tells Al Jazeera. “It is because of the dirty water. Most of the children here have sores on their skin.”
Dozens of families accused of having relatives in the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL, also known as ISIS) have been forcibly displaced to Shahama camp by the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), under the control of the Iraqi army. The camp, located north of Tikrit, has been described by Human Rights Watch as akin to an “open-air prison“.
Civilians detained at Shahama are prevented from coming and going freely. They are only allowed to leave via ambulance for medical emergencies, and even then, several told Al Jazeera that they were rejected by the main hospital in Tikrit after staff discovered they had come from Shahama.
Raad Kamil Hachim, 43, who hails from Iraq’s Baiji district, said his wife was pregnant and close to giving birth. She lay on the ground in the shadow of their tent, moaning in pain.
“We receive no medication,” Hachim’s wife told Al Jazeera. “They tried to ban me at the [hospital] reception, and I had to beg them to let me in. The doctors wouldn’t cooperate, either.”
As Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi congratulates his army for defeating ISIL in Mosul, human rights violations committed during the military campaign continue to raise concerns.
The publication in May of disturbing images and video footage from photojournalist Ali Arkady led to fresh allegations of war crimes, including cases of torture and arbitrary executions, against Iraqi security forces.
In the final phase of the battle against ISIL in Mosul, numerous cases of torture and executions of men and boys fleeing Mosul were reported. And last week, videos surfaced that allegedly showed Iraqi soldiers beating suspected ISIL members and throwing them off a cliff.
In Salah al-Din governorate, south of Mosul, a decree passed in August 2016 ordered the expulsion of any civilians with familial ties or other alleged affiliations to ISIL – a kind of “guilt by association”.
Weis Dalli Saeed, 70, from Iraq’s Shirqat district, was sent to Shahama in January. He blames his son, who joined ISIL last year.
“I told him several times that ISIL is s**t, but he met the wrong people and was brainwashed … We are suffering greatly because of him,” Saeed told Al Jazeera, describing brutal treatment by Iraqi soldiers en route to the camp.
“Four soldiers hit my forehead with a wooden stick and told me that they would shoot me with a bullet if I did not leave from my home,” he said. “We killed no one; we stole from no one. Six months here, in this heat – this is too much. We have never even met a judge.”
A few tents away, Jassim Muhammad Shwaish, 72, whose son was an ISIL member, holds a sheet of paper in his hand.
“This is a document that was issued by a court last month, proving that there are no charges against me,” Shwaish told Al Jazeera, noting that his 30-year-old son was killed by an air strike a year and a half ago.
Despite the court ruling, he added, members of Iraq’s PMF threatened to harm him if he did not relocate to Shahama, Shwaish said.
“The PMF wanted to take revenge, so they stole our furniture, water tanks and refrigerator,” he added.
Other Shahama residents told similar stories. Kawzhar Youssif Hamad, 27, said PMF forces blew up her home with dynamite on the day she was arrested in January. Her husband, Ibrahim, joined ISIL when the group took control of Shirqat.
“I could divorce him and be free from here,” she said. “But what if he came back? I would be killed.”
In the village of al-Aithah, near Tikrit, 220 homes were destroyed by explosives and fire between September 23 and October 23, according to Human Rights Watch.
“Relocating people is entirely against international law,” said Belkis Wille, a senior Iraq researcher for Human Rights Watch. “You’re only allowed to relocate people for security reasons [such as living in front-line areas].”
In addition to being prevented from coming and going freely, civilians detained in Shahama camp said they were barred from having mobile phones. In addition to these restrictions, the lack of clean water, food and medical services make living conditions even harder.
Wahida Mohamed al-Jumaily, better known as Um Hanadi, leads a force of around 180 men within the PMF in the Shirqat region. Many international networks have reported on her role as a female commander; she notably told CNN that she “beheaded” ISIL fighters: “I cooked their heads, I burned their bodies.”
Speaking to Al Jazeera about the situation at Shahama, Jumaily said that families of ISIL fighters were sent to the camp for their own protection.
“[This is done] to take care of them and to protect them from being targeted by the families of those who died under ISIL rule,” Jumaily said. “We, as Muslims, always have mercy … We could tell them to run away … but we took them to an IDP camp, where they can receive medication and access to aid agencies.”
Jumaily said that Shahama is a “temporary thing”, noting that a rehabilitation programme will be set up when the entire governorate is fully freed.
Then, with sudden hostility, she added: “ISIL families are ISIL. They carried out bombings in the USA, in France, everywhere. They are dangerous. So, why is the global press writing of this as a war crime?”
Photo: Sebastian Castelier/Al Jazeera]