Influential Iraqis Exploit Extremists’ Families For Cash In Anbar
Trapped in special camps and pilloried by the rest of Iraqi society, the families of Islamic State group members have no choice but to pay influential outsiders to help them with legal and bureaucratic matters.
An Iraqi family leaves an IS-stronghold carrying a white flag. (photo: بولنت كلك \جيتي)
The Iraqi woman in her 50s, who wished to be known only as Umm Abdullah, has been trying for more than a year to speak to her sons, who were arrested on suspicion of being members of the extremist group known as the Islamic State. They were arrested after the Iraqi military pushed the Islamic State, or IS, group out of Saqlawiyah, northwest of Fallujah in Anbar
She was eventually able to do so after she arranged a phone call with them. But for that privilege, she had to pay a local tribal leader US$1,000.
We are easy prey here. Given the charges against us perhaps it is logical that we have nobody to complain to.
Um Abdullah says she met the man after he promised her he could help recover the body of her husband, who had died in prison. “At first, I thought he was helping me out of sympathy,” Um Abdullah told NIQASH; she is currently living in a camp for displaced families who have ties to the IS group in Amiriyat al-Fallujah, south of the city of Fallujah.
“But then he asked me for US$10,000 for the return of the body. Since then, whenever I have a problem like this, I go to him and he solves it for me. We agree on the amount I pay him beforehand.”
Although the tribal leader helps her, Umm Abdullah is far from happy about it. “We are easy prey here. Given the charges against us [as allies of the extremists] perhaps it is logical that we have nobody to complain to and nobody listens to us. But our situation now means that mean-spirited individuals are profiting from our problems. We have become a source of income to those with influence,” she says. “As members of the families of the IS group, we have no right to complain and we will never be right,” she says, adding that some women have suffered sexual abuse in this situation.
Umm Abdullah is not the only individual in such a situation. Hundreds of families are living in camps set aside specifically for families with ties to the extremist IS group. Quite often it is difficult for these individuals to do anything related to Iraqi bureaucracy, whether that involves getting hold of a certain document, undertaking legal measures or speaking to a relative in a prison somewhere. Records of the IS collaborators, fighters and their families are kept digitally, and the records can be accessed by many civil servants. The measure is seen as an important way to prevent the return of the IS group in any form.
Children playing at the Shahama camp, near Tikrit, another camp for IS families.
But it certainly handicaps the families who are tarred with the extremist brush. If these Iraqis want to do anything, and if they want to bypass the bureaucracy involved, they need an influential advocate. It is no longer difficult to find somebody like this. Those who provide assistance for payment have even started to promote their services among the IS-allied families through an informal system of brokers.
Khaled al-Heeti, 35, was recently able to return to Fallujah, after getting out of the camp for IS families. His brothers had joined the extremist organization but al-Heeti disavowed them, so that he could go back to his life.
“I’d been trying to get back to Fallujah for more than a year,” he told NIQASH. He was only able to get the right documents after he contacted an “influential person, through some other people I know,” al-Heeti explains. “He was willing to help me if I paid him and the amount was not as high as some others in the camp have had to pay, who cannot leave.”
This system of paying for influence also begs the question: Where are the IS families in the camp getting their money from, to pay these power peddlers? After all, most of them are families who have lost male relatives and breadwinners.
And the IS-tainted families are being exploited, confirms Abdul Rahman al-Jumaili, who runs a business helping locals fill in government forms and write official letters, from out of a small bookshop near Fallujah’s central court.
Every day, he sees dozens of powers of attorney given to a certain set of lawyers in Fallujah by members of the IS families. Sometimes the case is very important and could lead to the family leaving the camp or having their names cleared, among other life-changing issues. But many times, al-Jumaili notes, it’s just a routine procedure that anybody could undertake without fear of failure.
“Most of the authorizations I see are for routine issues. But the IS families are being abused by being forced to pay huge amounts of money for even the simplest of transactions,” al-Jumaili told NIQASH. “The families fear that society will punish them, and the circle of corruption keeps getting bigger and bigger.”