Iraqi sheikh: ISIS suspects families placed in ‘camps’ in Anbar

Reports emerged that homes of ISIS suspects families were destroyed, but a sheikh and Anbar’s head of police dismiss the claims

Dina al-Shibeeb

Published: Updated:

Families of ISIS “criminals” have been separated from those who fell victim of the militant group in the western Iraqi province of Anbar, by placing them in “separate camps,” a sheikh has told Al Arabiya English.

“We need to separate families of ISIS criminals from the victim families, to avoid friction and confrontation between them,” Sheikh Abdulwahab Sarhan al-Dulaimi, head of the Anbar Tribes Council Against Terrorism, said.

“This is to protect [ISIS suspects’ families] their lives and to prevent revenge acts,” he added, emphasizing “there is no vengeance taking place between tribes [in Anbar].”

In February 2016, Iraq announced Ramadi city, Anbar’s capital, had been liberated from ISIS militants. ISIS captured Ramadi in May 2015 in the largest defeat for Iraq’s military since the fall of Mosul in 2014.

Many observers were fearful that Anbaris, who supported ISIS, would be targeted by families who lost family members at the hands of the militant group.

But US-based Al-Hurra TV recently reported that tribesmen in Anbar were taking revenge against ISIS culprits and sympathizers by bombing their homes.

In an interview with Al-Hurra, Sheikh Omar Al-Alwani said if a home belongs to one of the ISIS criminals, “we take 10 signatures from tribal notables and destroy their homes.”

Speaking to Al Arabiya English, Major-general Hadi Irzij, head of Anbar police, dismissed the claims.

“We do have cases of homes being blasted, but these residential places were already booby-trapped by ISIS, and sometimes animals enter these homes and the bombings take place,” he said.

“Intentionally destroying homes by people is not happening,” he added, describing local authorities as being “in control of the security situation.”

Irzij also vowed to arrest take to trial would-be vigilantes, if they took the law into their own hands. “We cannot allow this to happen,” he said.

He said the security apparatus had a data bank, which has a “a security indicator.” “Those who have no security indicator will be allowed to return home.”

Irzij said “there is a memorandum of understanding signed by sheikhs, which states those who committed a crime against innocent lives will not be allowed to enter at the moment,” leaving them stuck at their camps.

He said about 51,000 families have returned to their homes in Ramadi, and 59,000 returned back to another city in Anbar called Fallujah.

“Each family has approximately five members,” he said. “This is a big number.” The population of Anbar is approximately 1.561 million.

The sheikh, meanwhile, reiterated that Iraqi courts, local authorities and the central government are the “ultimate deciders” over the “crimes committed in Anbar” by ISIS militants.

He said tribal customs ushered in and became fortified after the weakening of the central government in Baghdad following the 2003 invasion of Iraq that saw the toppling of late President Saddam Hussein’s government.

“Some security sides were not competent in administering investigations, that’s why tribal customs came in continuation for the law to protect societal peace,” he said.

Moderate Islam to reign

The sheikh said once all of the families return back, “we will start the reconciliation phase which will be done through the tribal customs…but punishments will be done through the Iraqi courts.”

“We are also trying to ask cooperation from families of the criminals to hand in their sons who committed crimes against Iraqis and the Anbaris to the courts. We will provide them a safe journey back home,” he added.

He said the second course will be “education” which will be taken care of eventually by the Sunni religious authority in Iraq.
Teaching them moderate Islam will be “the heart of the subject.”

“Moderate Islam has long been our Islam,” he said in defense. “With God’s willing moderate Islam will prevail in our areas.”

He said an accord was agreed by Anbar’s tribes eight months ago that mandated moderate Islam to be the status quo in the province, “banning hardline imams and preachers at mosques.”

It also mandates “religious schools, all the educators should be highly-educated and learned.”

“Radical interpretation of Islam entered our province after 2003, with Al-Qaeda and its involvement with foreign agendas. They are the ones who brought these poisonous thoughts to Islam and in Iraq, especially in Anbar.”

While some consider ISIS as a hardline Sunni group, the sheikh said “all those who imagine that ISIS as representative of Sunnis in Iraq are wrong, because ISIS is a vengeful and killing machine against the Sunnis,” he said. “We paid the biggest price.”

ISIS controlled more than a third of Iraqi territory before a US-led campaign of airstrikes began in August 2014. On Oct. 18, the Iraqi army, backed by US-led coalition airstrikes, launched a wide-ranging operation aimed at retaking Mosul, the country’s second largest city.