Tribal justice awaits returning Iraqis who joined IS

AL-OBEIDI, Irak (AFP) – In the unforgiving deserts of Iraq, there is just one way to deal with defeated members of the Islamic State (IS) 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 extremists.

As for the families of IS members, many have already fled, fearing reprisals.

The former army commander for operations in the western province of Anbar, where IS once held sway after a sweeping offensive across Syria and Iraq in 2014, told AFP returning extremists 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 IS “caliphate”.

“They’ve all fled to neighbouring Syria,” say residents of Al-Obeidi village in the heart of what was the last extremist 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.

Iraqi forces are seen in the centre of the city of al-Qaim, in Iraq’s western Anbar province near the Syrian border after retaking it from IS group extremists a day earlier. – AFP

“No pardon will be possible,” said the moustachioed Iraqi whose home was dynamited by members of his own tribe who had joined IS.

“We will punish them as prescribed by God so justice is done to the tribesmen who have been wronged” during the extremist 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 IS” 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 IS 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 extremists”.

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

“One extremist’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 IS,” 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 IS also occupied before it was retaken.